AUKUS military integration criticised amid calls for more social spending

August 2, 2023
Monaeka Flores and Shinako Oyakawa of the Pacific Peace Network from Guahan (Guam) and Okinawa respectively. Photo: Peter Boyle

More than 150 peace activists, trade unionists and concerned citizens turned out on August 1 to hear about the dangers of AUKUS, the military agreement between Australia, Britain and the United States which integrates Australia more closely into the US war machine.

The meeting, hosted by the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) at the Australian National University, heard from visiting activists Monaeka Flores and Shinako Oyakawa of the Pacific Peace Network from Guahan (Guam) and Okinawa respectively, as well as Marcus Strom, Convenor of Labor Against War (LAW); Wanning Sun, Professor of Media and Communication Studies at the University of Technology, Sydney; and Greens Senator David Shoebridge.

Signed by the Coalition in September 2021, Labor endorsed AUKUS in March, despite the military agreement never having been debated publicly nor presented to parliament for a vote.

Labor has committed upwards of $368 billion on multiple classes of US and British nuclear-powered submarines, starting with a US Virginia class submarine later this decade and rising to five by the mid-2030s. By the 2040s, the government plans to purchase an untested British design, to be built here.

The agreement requires Australia to dispose of, and store, quantities of spent fuel as nuclear waste after the submarines are retired.

Oyakawa, an Indigenous Okinawan activist with the Pacific Peace Network, spoke of the history of Okinawa, which was annexed by the Japanese Empire in 1879. The US military fought a brutal battle in World War II, to seize the territory from the Japanese.

The US occupied Okinawa at the end of the war, and did not return the island to Japan until 1972. From 1945 until today, Okinawa has been used by the US as a military base: it is currently the most militarised zone in Japan, with more than 70% of US military in Japan stationed in Okinawa.

This occupation involves the confiscation of ancestral land from the local people of Okinawa for military use. The bases are a source of environmental and social harm in Okinawa. For instance, there have been 49 military aircraft crashes in Okinawa since 1972; military aircraft operations are a source of noise and environmental disruption, while consuming vast quantities of fossil fuels.

Flores, an Indigenous activist from Guahan (Guam), described the massive US military presence. “The war never left our homeland,” Flores said.

Like Okinawa, Guahan was occupied by the US military after it was captured from another imperial power in the Spanish-American War of 1898, in which the US also occupied the Philippines and Puerto Rico.

Today, more than 30% of Guahan is occupied by US forces. The US Department of Defense brags that the Marianas Training Center is the largest live-fire weapons’ training range on Earth.

Flores called for less spending on war games and more on welfare, including social housing and healthcare.

The location of such a large US military build-up makes those living on Guahan part of “first strike communities” — in the firing line for destruction in the first hours of any future war.

Flores said Guam, Okinawa and Australia are “connected by the violence of empire” and that the peace movement needed to be centered on Indigenous sovereignty.

Strom emphasised that the AUKUS agreement is “not consequence-free policy”, carrying the risk of drawing Australia further into the US sphere of influence and increasing the chance of being attacked in a future war.

He refuted the argument that Australia needed an alliance with the US to bring balance to the Asia-Pacific region, noting that the US has 343 bases in East Asia. “This is a policy of empire, and empire means violence. This is not what the Labor Party should be fighting for.”

Strom said Labor has a tradition of “opposing some unjust wars”, citing Tom Uren, former Labor MP and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s so-called mentor, fighting within the party to turn it against the Vietnam War. A 1965 anti-war motion, put by Uren to Labor’s parliamentary caucus, was voted down. But by 1972, the newly-elected Gough Whitlam said he would withdraw Australian troops from Vietnam which he did by early 1973.

Speaking of the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the post-2003 Iraq War, Strom said that “war with China would make Iraq look like a tea party”. “We know AUKUS is a mad, bad and dangerous war policy,” he said, adding that LAW had successfully won anti-war and anti-AUKUS motions in 19 Labor branches in New South Wales, 11 in Victoria, four in South Australia, and two in Queensland. A pro-AUKUS motion at the Queensland Labor Conference was also defeated in favor of a motion criticising AUKUS.

Sun spoke about the media’s “Cold War” approach saying it had gone from being a “watch dog” on the government to being a “guard dog” for it.

“Warmongering has become a very good business model for media”, she said pointing to Peter Hartcher’s Red Alert feature in the Fairfax Media/Nine Network.

Shoebridge said it was “distressing to see our government cede sovereignty to the US government”, adding that the government “don’t trust the Parliament or public with these decisions”.

On the $368+ billion price tag for AUKUS submarines, Shoebridge said it is “enough money to solve any problem that can be solved with money”, including housing, education and healthcare. He called on everyone to build a regional and global peace movement.

[Join one of the national rallies on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombings to protest AUKUS.] 

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