Australians have been startled that our government, apparently without any public consultation or debate in parliament, intends greatly to expand Australian arms production to become within ten years one of the top ten defence exporters, on a par with Britain, France, and Germany.
Currently, Australia exports about $2 billion of high-tech defence equipment, compared to $10 billion exported by the UK. A new financing facility of $3.8 billion will be set up for Australian defence companies planning to sell to foreign governments, including to those in unstable areas of the Middle East and Asia. The government will spend $20 million a year to promote this plan, augmenting spending of $200 billion on defence in the next decade, even though the director of defence strategy at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Andrew Davies, said he was “baffled” by the government offer to underwrite arms manufacturing, as there was plenty of investment funds already available.
Aid and development agencies have reacted strongly against this announcement, as switching funding from overseas aid into expanding arms production will do little to promote international stability and peace. Marc Purcell from the Australian Council for International Development pointed out that proliferation of weapons generally brings increased death and destruction.
Australia’s government has a responsibility and a duty to procure adequate defence, especially when technological advances result in extraordinary new weapons systems being developed, highly automated, with artificial intelligence capabilities, able to attack and kill without direct control by human beings. How do we avoid being caught up in a race to stay ahead with the latest and most sophisticated weapons?
The sudden push to expand arms production in Australia looks simply like an attempt to make money, doing little or nothing to reduce violence and the huge amounts of arms circulating around the world. Instead, we would be much better off than this putting our efforts into reducing the manufacture and spread of all forms of armaments.
The decision to expand arms production is consistent with the increasing militarisation of Australian politics and society, as evidenced in the way our military plays such a prominent role in Australia Day celebrations, and in the politicisation of Anzac Day.
Creeping militarisation in our culture
As Henry Reynolds wrote in Inside Story in 2014, Australians want to remember war and their dead, but not the reasons people were caught up in war, and without taking responsibility for the consequences.
The ANZACs of World War I fought so that Australians would never have to fight war again. But, instead, Australia has repeatedly been drawn into wars at the behest of the United States, most recently in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. Astonishingly, there has been no proper accountability for politicians who misled Australia into joining the 2003 invasion of Iraq along with Britain and the USA, with tragic consequences still unravelling. Instead, we repel refugees fleeing from disasters for which we were partly responsible.
As John Menadue wrote in his blog, Pearls & Irritations, ‘We go to war without even the Australian parliament being consulted’. Much of our overseas aid has been militarised to serve strategic and political purposes. And we downplay the truly significant social achievements of our country, federation, a living wage, high standards of human rights, and a functioning democracy. ‘We are sleep-walking into dangerous territory.’
We need to beware of politicians and commentators who wrap themselves in the Australian flag, particularly when they align us intimately with the USA with Trump as president.
Michael Keating has pointed out that the USA cannot maintain its dominant role in world affairs, and is suffering from imperial over-reach. It is heavily reliant on investment from China to finance US debt and living standards, and will not be able to finance a new arms race with China. Already, China’s GDP is 15 per cent more than that of the USA, and by 2030 the gap is projected to be up to 77 per cent. ‘Why would China be prepared to finance the US to enter an arms race with it? Or, to reverse the question, what country seeks to go to war with its banker?’, Keating asked.
Jeffrey Sachs in the Boston Globe on 30 October 2016 summarised the costs of the imperial ambitions of the United States with its nearly 5000 military facilities around the world. Since the neoconservatives in the Bush Administration misled the United States into attempting to impose western-style democracies in the Middle East, the Cost of War Project at Brown University estimated the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars at an astonishing $4.7 trillion.
Australia is in uncharted territory now, and needs to play a much more sophisticated role than previously in Asia and the Pacific, helping to mediate with China and the United States in consolidating a new network of international relations which will provide stability and prosperity for the entire region.