Australian news, and some related international items

“Collaborative” bases, and the ideology of AUKUS

What we need now under either the optimist or the more realistic pessimistic view is a massive campaign, a campaign that starts today against the background of this terrible shock, this awful sense of betrayal.

Pearls and Irritations, By Richard Tanter, Mar 24, 2023“……………………………………………. The Minister for Defence in the Albanese government made a ministerial statement last month, in which he talked about the joint facilities. But he also introduced a new category of bases under the US-Australia Force Posture Initiative that the previous Rudd-Gillard-Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison alliance supporting government had not thought of – collaborative bases.

Collaborative – an interesting word in its double meaning, isn’t it.

At the moment we don’t know how many Agreed Locations and Facilities there are on this list of collaborative bases identified in a secret part of the Force Posture Agreement – the bases given over by Australia to the US to be under varying degrees of US operational control. The most recent example is RAAF Tindal thanks to Scott Morrison, and we are going to see a lot more of that.

And the last part of nuclear permissiveness is the atmosphere that fills the room in Canberra when you listen to certain senior officials, compliant academics, and insider journalists talk about nuclear weapons for Australia.

In the past few years we have already had three former deputy secretaries of defence – the people who do the planning – saying in public it’s time for us to reconsider the decisions taken by the Fraser and Whitlam governments half a century ago to stop our development of nuclear weapons.

It’s time, they say, to think again about Australian nuclear weapons.

No, they say, we’re not advocating nuclear weapons for Australia, we just need to think about it.

But in the context of half a century of nuclear restraint, of full knowledge of what the possession of nuclear weapons will mean in our region, or what the actual effects of nuclear weapons use will mean in human and environmental terms, ‘just considering’ nuclear weapons acquisition means clearly much more than that.

The ideology of AUKUS

Ideology’s a funny word. Usually it’s used about other people. Like bad breath, ideology is something that afflicts the other guy, not us. Well, that’s nonsense. We all suffer from ideological thinking at certain times.

Ideology is that category of thinking that actually stops thought, which by its emotional logic takes means you don’t have to think about what’s actually being said.

In the ideological nonsense in The Age’s ‘Red Alert’ we saw a kind of triple equation, born of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and American plans to take the opportunity to reshape its alliances.

Russia = China – we don’t need to think about that, do we – they’re autocracies, and we’re not.

Putin = Xi. I’m happy to see that President Putin is to be indicted by the International Criminal Court for the war crime of his invasion of Ukraine. President Xi is not a particularly nice man, but a long way from Putin’s desperate criminality.

Ukraine = Taiwan. Putin invaded Ukraine, so Xi must be about to invade Taiwan – without any serious evidence, and in contrast to the behaviour of China since 1949.

This is the kind of talk that disables critical thinking. None of that makes any sense of the biggest historical defence spend we’ve ever seen, and nothing to say what will happen over the next forty years.

I think that China has some problems. If I lived in Tibet or Xinjiang I would be extremely concerned about what is happening to most of the people in those provinces of China in a deeply repressive kind of way.

If I lived in Vietnam I would know from a thousand years of history there’s a lot of pushing and shoving between China and its neighbours.

But the Vietnamese are still there – they have survived on their own resources.

I would be very concerned about some of the ways China treats its own citizens.

I would not like the concrete islands that China has made – and militarised – in the South China Sea.

True, China now has its first overseas base, in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa – a little one across the bay from giant American and French bases of longstanding.

There may be, may be, some kind of PLA naval access to a port in the Solomon Islands, largely, if it eventuates, because of the arrogance with which Australia has treated the Pacific Islands for decades – ‘family’ when we wanted; shoved into the outhouse of history when we don’t care.

I don’t know. That might happen. That would mean, oh dear, they will have two overseas bases – just 798 or so to go before they equal the Americans.

We need a country-agnostic policy of opposing all foreign bases in our neighbourhood – all.

I think Australia needs to be a little more careful and self-reflective about the way in which it talks about some of these undoubted sins of China.

We know something about islands that have been taken over for military purposes.

The forced removal of the people of the Chagos Islands so the US could build Diego Garcia – a British crime even recognised in the World Court.

Guam, an unvarnished American military colony since the end of the Second World War.

We know that China has bullied countries whose policies it doesn’t like with economic coercion – including Australia. We might, though, remember the seven decades of crushing US sanctions against Cuba – for the crime of defeating American plans. And now, again, the people of Afghanistan facing punishing sanctions for the crime of winning a war against the US.

We just need to be a little more honest and self-critical about this.

What China is doing in Xinjiang and Tibet is pretty recognisable as settler-colonialism with an overlay of ghastly pre-emptive counter-terrorism.

We know a bit about that sort of thing here.

And it doesn’t matter how we weigh the balances of these sins, whether we think any of these are equal or not.

But the important thing is that this must not stand.

I heard Lenore Taylor, the excellent editor of The Guardian Australia talking in a podcast the other day in an interesting way about a small sense of optimism buried in the Albanese proposal.

Taylor pointed out, and other people have noted the same thing, that in terms of the finances, the only thing that has been agreed to by the Albanese government concerns the forward estimates, the four year commitment from the budget in May.

The forward estimates, Taylor reminded us, amount to about $9 bn over those four years – probably mostly as an industrial subsidy to expand the US submarine-building yards.

Now, to you and me, $9 bn is a lot of money, but to the Defence Department, I suspect they waste something like that every month with costs overruns, white elephants, and renegotiating contracts when they change their minds.

This optimistic view suggests that the Albanese government, wedged by Morrison’s brilliant stroke of madness, has done the only thing it could do – gone along verbally, and got itself as much wiggle room as possible by pushing the serious spending out for years.

Events, they may be hoping, will save them from going through with the whole plan.

And on that they may not be wrong. The AUKUS scheme is so poorly conceived, so grandiosely conceived, so incalculably expensive, and so contingent on so many highly risky contingencies that it is very likely to go badly wrong.

So, they have, on this view, left themselves a back door out of the trap.

May be. Maybe not.

But the US has a long history of keeping recalcitrant junior partners in line, and Australian political, academic and media life does not lack for alliance supporters and enforcers who will keep a foot on that back door to keep it shut.

But it doesn’t matter, whichever view is right.

What we need now under either the optimist or the more realistic pessimistic view is a massive campaign, a campaign that starts today against the background of this terrible shock, this awful sense of betrayal.

A campaign which is made up diverse community-based groups, which has branches in suburbs and branches in country towns, broadly based with all sorts of elements and streams of opinion about peace.

Making the argument very clearly, based on experience, that the only times we have known Labor governments to stand up to the will of the United States have been on the back of huge long-running popular campaigns.

The first, now a long way back, was in the days of the Vietnam War, when Gough Whitlam became prime minister in 1972, and immediately responded to that high public pressure by ending our war in Vietnam, and of course, conscription of 19 year-olds for that purpose.

That only happened because of the pressure.

And the second was in the early 1980s when the Reagan administration, the most extreme rightwing administration since the early 1950s was pressuring Australia to take a greater role in the war against the then current demon, the Soviet Union.

It was again public pressure that forced the Hawke government to back down – in this city the role of the coalition of groups around People for Nuclear Disarmament and similar groups across the country – and then the electoral success of Nuclear Disarmament Party in the 1984 federal election.

We need that pressure – whether there is in fact a back door way out of this or not, there has to be huge public pressure on the Albanese Labor government.

Every time a Labor member of parliament or senator puts foot outside their office to appear in public, turns up at a public meeting, we need to ask them why have you betrayed us. Why have you allowed this to happen? What are you going to do?

We have to make it personal and objectionable and we have to make a whole lot of noise.

This must not stand.

Thank you.


March 26, 2023 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics

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