Aidex '91: Australia's grab for the war market

Issue 

From November 26 to 28, armaments manufacturers from around the world and military personnel and government officials from around the Pacific and Asia will flock to Canberra for Aidex '91, the largest exhibition of military hardware ever held in the southern hemisphere. They will visit Australia not to discuss desperate international problems such as world poverty or destruction of the earth's environment, but to inspect and place orders for the very latest in death-dealing technology. Defence Minister Robert Ray's mug shot regularly graces Aidex promotional material, along with a letter endorsing the exhibition. Aidex follows the Richmond air show, held in early October, which was a thinly disguised aerospace weapons bazaar. STEVE PAINTER examines the issues.

The vanishing peace dividend

Mass slaughter, enormous economic cost, environmental devastation: from any point of view, except that of the arms manufacturers and their bought politicians, the world arms trade is a disaster for humanity. The New World Order has done nothing to reduce the enormous wastage of valuable resources on military expenditure.

A few years ago, the end of the Cold War raised expectations of a peace dividend, possibly consisting of tax cuts, but at least involving reduced government spending as a result of reductions in military budgets.

In fact, most countries' military budgets have not been cut or have been reduced only marginally. The world has lost an important opportunity to reduce its militarisation, which reached historically unprecedented levels in the past two decades. World armaments expenditure now totals more than $1000 billion annually.

Most rational people might be expected to view this situation as a disaster, but many Australian politicians and corporate heads see it as nothing less than a gold mine. There's big money to be made, and they want a share of the action, regardless of consequences.

This approach is in line with the current of world thinking from which the Australian government slavishly takes its lead. The United States government is one of the world's largest subsidisers of military industries, and has no intention of changing its direction.

George Bush's recent arms reduction announcement was little more than a cynical public relations stunt to make cheap propaganda out of dumping some of the USA's obsolescent weaponry while applying pressure to the USSR for cuts that would weaken it in relation to the USA. There's little doubt Bush's cuts to some nuclear weaponry will be balanced by increased spending in other areas. Perhaps the emphasis will shift to conventional weaponry, but even that is not certain.

Far from taking advantage of the opportunity that exists for genuine arms reductions, the Bush "cuts" are just another crude manoeuvre in the USA's drive to remain the dominant military power. Such manoeuvres can only make the process of cutting armaments more difficult by increasing suspicions.

Meanwhile, the Australian government has shown that it is right up with the pace in the world cynicism stakes. The peace dividend struggled to even get its head above water here, and then it was thrust ruthlessly under again. It has now vanished without trace.

The Asia-Pacific region's share of the international arms trade has grown alarmingly in recent years. From 1977 to 1987, it increased almost 400%, from 6% to 23% of the international trade. The Australian government is making no attempt to reverse or even slow this growth of militarism in an already dangerously militarised world. In fact, it is contributing to it.

More than $9000 million was allocated for "defence" in the 1991-92 federal budget (9.3% of total expenditure), compared with $143 million for the environment. But even these figures don't reveal the full extent of military spending, a lot of which is hidden in other allocations.

Much of Australia's international aid budget, for example, will go into projects with direct or indirect military potential, such as patrol boats and other hardware. These are usually built in Australia and so aid Australian companies more than other peoples or governments. Then there's the training of international police and army personnel, some of whom return to their countries to put their newly acquired skills to work as torturers and death squad organisers.

Another budget allocation that hides military spending is industry assistance, which consists largely of subsidies to private companies, some of which will certainly be touting for business at Aidex.

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Out of control

What is it that makes politicians so committed to an industry that produces nothing useful, creates so much misery around the world and has no redeeming social features? Are they just short-sighted, or is there a more compelling reason for their attitude?

Supporters of the armaments industry claim that it creates jobs and leads to important technological spin-offs for civilian industry. But international research has proven that armaments spending creates fewer jobs than similar spending in other areas, and the technological spin-off factor is greatly exaggerated.

Research in the USA has shown that $1 billion spent on guided missile production creates about 9000 jobs, whereas the same amount spent on local transport creates around 21,500, or on education services around 63,000.

A large part of the reason for the commitment to arms exports is the fact that the arms industry is self-generating. Once it is set rolling, it tends very quickly to run out of control. Some Australian politicians blundered into promoting the arms trade while seeking ways to offset the cost of very expensive arms purchases. High-tech planes, submarines, ships, tanks, missiles and electronic spy bases come with

This is also a driving force for some other countries' growing involvement in the arms trade, notably Pakistan, India, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, China and the two Koreas.

Another factor is that, because the arms industry has no necessary social role, it is completely dependent on political decisions, particularly changes to military budgets. It therefore works harder on influencing those decisions.

Moreover, fat government contracts and subsidies and huge profits create plenty of excess for making sure friendly politicians are well looked after. There's no shortage of scandals involving the arms trade internationally to illustrate this point. The Lockheed scandals of the '70s in Japan and elsewhere are legendary, and military-industrial donations made up a large part of US President Richard Nixon's slush funds at the time of Watergate.

In Japan, Lockheed used a charged but never tried war criminal, Yoshio Kodama, to bribe and coerce members of the Diet (parliament) into placing orders for its planes. In one day in 1972, it paid out US$3.4 million in bribes.

Since that time, the arms companies may have become more circumspect, but it's unlikely their methods have changed. Are some Australian politicians on the take from international armaments companies? It would be surprising if they were any different than their international counterparts.

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A deliberate drive

Some Labor politicians, such as former defence minister Kim Beazley and his successor Robert Ray, make no attempt to disguise their view that Australia should grab a share of the international arms trade. Right up to the eve of the Gulf War, Australian companies were chasing a lucrative deal to supply spare parts to the Iraqi air force.

Hence the Aidex exhibitions, of which this year's is the second. The first was held in 1989. There won't be a third, at least not in Canberra: the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly has said it will not give permission for such exhibitions in future.

Four sections of the Defence Department will participate in Aidex '91, at a cost of around $60,000. Austrade and the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce will also be in there scrambling for a share of the international armaments dollar.

All this reflects a deliberate drive by the federal government to increase military exports. In 1988, the government passed control over military-related export licences from the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Defence Department, which has been far freer in handing out the licences.

The decision followed a 1986 consultant's report to the Labor Party, litary-related exports could be doubled from around $250 million to $500 million annually. So far, this hasn't happened. Armaments exports in 1989-90 brought in only $115 million, but the government is determined to increase sales in South-East Asia.

According to Peter Jones, a research officer for Senator Jo Vallentine, "most of Australia's arms exports consist of defence electronics, aircraft spare parts, computers and software, ammunition, and a variety of bits and pieces like smokeless powder and cartridges".

Some of these items are produced by the government itself, through a company, Australian Defence Industries, which took over previously existing Defence Department manufacturing plants.

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A question of survival

Opponents of military spending are often accused of being emotional and impractical, but the truth is that peace is now a question of survival for humanity. This is not only because of the nuclear threat, which remains real even though it has receded with the end of the Cold War. Nor is it only because of the immediate effects of war, which often grab headlines.

The effects of smart bombs, Cruise missiles and other gadgetry are disastrous, but even more disastrous and unsustainable is the effect of never-ending military spending on the world economic system. This threat is all the more dangerous for the fact that it goes largely unnoticed.

With much of the world gripped by deep poverty and facing an environmental crisis that threatens the survival of civilisation, governments continue to spend something like $1000 billion annually on the arms trade.

Almost all of this is wasted spending. Most military equipment sits in army bases until it becomes obsolete and is written off, and the rest is destroyed in wars. In their drive to maximise their advantages over other armies, military forces constantly seek to replace their equipment with the most technically advanced.

One of the main reasons United States military heads pressed for war in the Gulf earlier this year was that they had huge amounts of ageing equipment that they wanted to replace. Because damage to US equipment was relatively light, after the war they simply mothballed large amounts of equipment in bases around the Gulf.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, the US military hadn't been able to dispose of its ageing equipment quickly enough. The Gulf War solved this problem — for the time being.

Most military personnel also produce nothing, although armies are usually highly skilled workforces capable of construction, environmental rehabilitation and other works that could alleviate a lot of the world's problems. Unfortunately, when these constructive capacities are put to work, it is usually for the wrong reasons, such vement with building militarily strategic roads in the Philippines in the '80s.

Moreover, much of the poverty in the Third World, which is placing enormous pressures on the environment, is exacerbated by the fact that military spending consumes up to one third of the budgets of some Third World countries.

The world's military industries gobble up many of the resources essential for dealing with problems such as ozone depletion, greenhouse warming, desertification, deforestation, famine, hunger and epidemics.

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Who are the merchants of death?

Many of the companies touting for a share of the arms trade at Aidex are household names, producing products we use every day. Some of their products are not so savoury.

  • Ansett Technologies (a division of Ansett Australia). Involved in designing and maintaining radar, surveillance, navigation and electronic warfare systems.

  • Arnold Industries. A Melbourne company making concertina barbed wire (black or galvanised, with or without sensors), barbed tape, razor wire and other contributions to civilisation.

  • Asea Brown Boveri. Designs and makes electronic equipment and combat systems for warships.

  • Australian Defence Industries, the federal government's company. Among a wide range of activities, makes assault rifles, machine guns, rocket motors, ammunition, mortar bombs and hand grenades, explosive shells, military clothing. Is known recently to have exported to Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

  • AWA Defence Industries. Is involved in managing the Nurrungar spy base in South Australia. Specialises in electronic warfare and signals processing.

  • BHP. The "Big Australian" is into military aerospace and electronics equipment and military quality steel.

  • Blundstone. A Hobart company well known for its bush walking boots. Not so well known for one of its main activities — supplying military quality leathers.

  • Boeing International. One of the world's largest nuclear weapons contractors. Linked in Australia with Hawker de Havilland and other companies.

  • Bradford Insulation, a subsidiary of CSR. Has supplied insulation for guided missile frigates.

  • Control Data Corporation. A nuclear weapons A.

  • Daewoo Corporation. A Korean company producing weapons, ships, munitions.

  • General Electric. The world's second largest nuclear weapons contractor. Also produces non-nuclear electrical equipment for military purposes.

  • IBM. Another big nuclear weapons contractor.

  • ICI. A big producer of explosives.

  • Mercedes Benz. Supplies and maintains military and paramilitary vehicles.

  • Philips. As well as light bulbs and ghetto blasters, is involved with companies that make naval combat systems, and other military electronic equipment.

  • Rolls Royce. Likes to boast, in select company, that its engines power 250 naval vessels in about 25 navies.

  • Telecom. Has its own Defence Projects Group, involved in building military radar in the Northern Territory as well as telecommunications.

  • Thorn EMI. Provides electronics to military services in 43 countries.

The Renegade Activists Action Force has produced a 129-page book listing known weapons manufacturers in Australia. It is available for $5 from PO Box 24, Kings Cross NSW 2011.

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Actions in Canberra

There will be protest actions in Canberra throughout the week of Aidex. These include a vigil on Parliament House Lawns, November 22-28 and a blockade and other actions at the gates of the National Exhibition Centre (Natex), November 23-28.

Friday 22

Rally: Parliament House Lawns, 12.00 to 2.00 p.m. Contact: Canberra Program for Peace and RAAF (Renegade Activist Action Force).

Vigil: Parliament House Lawn sets up 12.00 noon, continues throughout week. Contact: Canberra Program for Peace.

Candlelight gathering: Parliament House Lawns, 7.00 to 10.00 p.m. Bring picnic and musical instruments. Contact: RAAF.

Saturday 23

March to Aidex site: gather Parliament House Lawns 10.00 a.m. Contact: RAAF.

Concert: venue to be announced. Contact: RAAF.

Blockade of exhibitions moving onto Natex site. Begins 7.00 a.m. Contact: RAAF.

Sunday 24

Workshops: Parliament House Lawns, 10.00 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. Contact: RAAF.

Ecumenical Service: Parliament House Lawns, 4.00 to 6.00 p.m. Contact: Pax Christi.

Candlelight gathering: Parliament House Lawns. 6.00 p.m.-overnight. Bring picnic and instruments. Contact: Pax Christi.

Monday 25

Rally: Parliament House Lawns, 10.00 a.m. to 12.00 noon. Contact: Sydney Anti Bases Action Coalition.

Action: Parliament House Lawns, 2.00-4.00 p.m. Contact: Sydney Peace Squadron.

Tuesday 26

Rally: Aidex site, 10.00 a.m. Contact: RAAF. Commencement of activities at Aidex site — continues throughout exhibition.

Parallel Conference: Point of Impact. Australian National University. Contact: Peter Jones (06) 277 3790.

Wednesday 27

Women's Action: Aidex site — morning. Followed by wedding of Jan and Jacob, 2.00 p.m. Contact: Wimmin for Survival (Hobart).

Thursday 28

Environment Action: Aidex site — morning. Contact: Friends of the Earth (Melbourne).

Contacts: Canberra Program for Peace, (06) 249 7951, Bobi Meyer. Pax Christi, (02) 281 8390, Dennis Doherty. Friends of the Earth (Melbourne), (03) 419 8700, Cam. RAAF, (02) 281 5100, Diana Ingram, Jan or Jacob. Sydney Anti Bases Action Coalition, (02) 281 8390, Dennis Doherty or Hannah Middleton. Sydney Peace Squadron, (02) 316 5790, Rob Samsa. Wimmin for Survival (Hobart), (022) 72 9182, Liz Denham.

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