The Guardian • Issue #2096

$100 billion arms budget

‘It’s what our ally the United States expects of us’

Senator the Hon Penny Wong Minister for Foreign Affairs, The Right Honourable James Cleverly, UK Foreign Secretary, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles, Lieutenant Colonel and Captain the Right Honorable Ben Wallace, UK Secretary of State for Defence.

Senator the Hon Penny Wong Minister for Foreign Affairs, The Right Honourable James Cleverly, UK Foreign Secretary, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles, Lieutenant Colonel and Captain the Right Honorable Ben Wallace, UK Secretary of State for Defence. Photo: Department of Foreign Affairs – flickr.com (CC BY 4.0)

The announcement by Minister for Defence, Richard Marles, that Australia’s military spending will reach 2.4 per cent of GDP is chilling news. This means a doubling of the military budget to an annual outlay of $100 billion a year by 2034. The reorganisation of the Australian ‘Defence’ Force was triumphantly outlined as Marles unveiled the new National Defence Strategy, in keeping with the 2023 Defence Strategic Review.

One hundred billion dollars! We live amid poverty, homelessness, and a health crisis with people who cannot see a doctor because bulk-billing is a fading memory. We have not only working poor, but homeless working poor. Mental health is at crisis levels. We have a dysfunctional society but one that can spend $100 billion every year on preparing us for a war that suits no-one’s interests except that of US imperialism.

Marles talked of “difficult” decisions that had to be made. Unforgivably, unashamedly, cravenly, he said that “it is what our ally the United States expects of us.”

His speech was remarkable, at one level, for its clarity of thought. He pulled no punches. China was named as the enemy, and Australian military strategy is about projecting force beyond our borders. He repeated almost as a mantra, the idea that Australia would be projecting force.

This commitment to ‘projection’ puts an effective full-stop to any notion that the Australian military can in any way be regarded as a defence force. The focus on the development of weaponry with the sole purpose of fighting an offensive war was made clear.

He spoke glowingly of the coming nuclear-powered submarines. These, in his estimation, “define projection.” The Navy can also look forward to nearly $70 billion to “build and support the Navy’s future surface combatant fleet and continuous naval shipbuilding. A new range of missile systems will be integrated into our Navy’s surface combatants which includes: Tomahawk, Evolved Sea Sparrow, and Naval Strike Missiles.”

The Army will benefit with the acquisition of “42 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems which will be equipped with Precision Strike Missiles and Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems. This will take the Army’s firing capacity from a tactical range of 30 kilometres today, to operational and strategically relevant ranges beyond 500 kilometres.”

The RAAF are an obvious part of Marles’ ‘projection’ dream. It will be receiving “longer range missiles for the Joint Strike Fighters, the Super Hornets and the Growlers. These will variously include: the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile, the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile – Extended Range and the Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile – Extended Range. Work will also continue on the development of hypersonic air-launched weapons for employment on the Super Hornets.”

There will be cuts to some areas of the military. These are, by-and-large, in those areas that do not have the capacity to ‘project’ force beyond our shores. There is no room for defence in this new nightmarish world. The number of Infantry Fighting Vehicles are to be  reduced, from 450 to 129. The Minister explained that “there was no capacity to ever move 450 Infantry Fighting Vehicles off our shores.” Still the fiction that our armed forces are a defence force is maintained.

Marles accepts that there is no threat to Australia. As he said, “an invasion of Australia is an unlikely prospect.” The ugly and twisted logic is that even if we are not threatened, we have determined that China is the enemy, and so ought to be able to threaten China!

The National Defence Strategy that Marles is now parading refers to “the prospect of major conflict in the region that directly threatens our national interest.” It goes so far as to say that “China has employed coercive tactics in pursuit of its strategic objectives.” To complete the exercise in irrational logic, Australia, in Marles view, “no longer has the luxury of a ten-year window of strategic warning time for conflict. This includes the capability to hold the military assets of an adversary at risk at greater distance from our shores.” The act of designating China an actual military threat is a dangerous step. Marles has already conceded that there is no prospect that Australia is in any danger of invasion. Its territorial integrity is secure, and yet there is a deliberate and provocative build-up of a military ready and willing to project force.

China has responded to this threatening posture. In a weekly press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Lin Jian made the point that, “China is committed to peaceful development and a national defence policy that is defensive in nature. We stay committed to the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region and the wider world, and pose no threat to any country. The security risks in the region mainly come from some major countries outside the region … We hope Australia will correctly view China’s development and strategic intentions, abandon the Cold-War mentality, do more things to keep the region peaceful and stable, and stop buzzing about China.’

An opinion piece in Global Times commented that “Australia has long hoped to play the role of a major power in the South Pacific, so it believes that fabricating or hyping up the ‘China threat’ rhetoric can enhance its strategic position in this region. However, … it will end up sacrificing its own interests to support the hegemony of the US.”

If there were any doubt about this, let Marles have the final word. He pointed out that “legislation to establish a seamless defence industrial base between the United States and Australia has passed the US Congress and our own parliament. Breaking down these barriers had been a generational dream. Now it is done.” A dream or a nightmare?

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