US forces get the nod in Darwin
US President Barack Obama announced during his visit to Australia on November 17 a deal with Australia to base 2500 US marines in Darwin. The deal militarises the Asia Pacific and cements Australia as an ally of US imperialist designs in the region.
Obama said a US marine task force would be set up in Darwin for humanitarian and disaster relief efforts, but advanced military training, including live firing of ammunition, will be part of the cooperation deal.
Under the deal, 250 marines will move to Darwin next year, and 2500 are expected by 2016. The task force will bring its own weapons and vehicles, including B-52 bombers.
Cartoon: Mark Rhodes. www.markart.com.au
Cluster munitions are also likely to be part of the arsenal, said Crikey’s This Blog Harms on November 17. This is despite Australia being a signatory to a treaty that bans such munitions.
There is a bill before the Australian Senate that explicitly exempts the US from having to abide by the ban on Australian soil or in Australian waters. Cluster munitions are particularly heinous because they leave hundreds of unexploded “bomblets” in their wake. These bomblets can kill civilians long after a conflict ends.
It is also likely that nuclear-powered warships will be regular visitors to Darwin harbour due to the deal.
The US has many bases in the Asia Pacific. One notorious example is the Okinawa base in Japan, which became a site of protest after two marines allegedly kidnapped and raped two young Japanese women in 2002. The US whisked away the two marines before they could be tried and has resisted attempts to extradite them for trial.
Suzuyo Takazato of Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence says that from 1972 to 2005, US soldiers committed more than 5500 crimes against civilians. Only 700 marines were brought to trial.
The University of Canberra’s Robin Tennant Wood told the Theconversation.edu.au on November 11 that “in the period 1952-2004, over 200,000 incidents or accidents including the deaths of almost 1100 Japanese civilians [in Okinawa] were directly attributable to the US forces”.
The deal can also be opposed on environmental grounds. The marine task force is to train with US weapons in the Northern Territory. Ammunition used by modern armies are often very toxic and can harm native wildlife and environs. US forces use depleted uranium as anti-armour ammunition. Depleted uranium can seep into the water table and the food chain.
If such weapons are used in the NT, this poses a danger to the health of Aboriginal people who often supplement their diet by hunting.
But most of all the deal is wrong because it would tie Australia closer to the US war machine. Under Obama, this machine has extended the war in Afghanistan into Pakistan with drone strikes and assassinations.
Accepting the deal with the US only endorses these actions. Despite Obama being elected with the expectation he would end the wars, he has escalated them.
The Australian military alliance with the US is about Western domination over the Asia Pacific — not to defend democracy, but to prop up dictatorships that support the interests of Western corporations. Under the dictator Suharto, Indonesia received huge amounts of military funding to repress independence movements, such as that of East Timor.
Western military aid to Indonesia’s brutal army helps it bloodily repress West Papuan independence. On October 19, Indonesian forces attacked a West Papuan independence conference and killed six people, wounded dozens and arrested more than 800.
The Australian government was silent when this happened. Western mining interests, such as those of the Freeport mining company that operates in West Papua, dictate that this brutality must be ignored.
This agreement is meant to shore up the US as a dominant power in the region. To its shame, Julia Gillard’s Labor government has welcomed it with open arms.