The defence of profit


There was no morphine in the first-aid kit; no protection for Snowden against the pain but the numbing shock of the wound itself. The twelve syrettes of morphine had been stolen from their case and replaced by a cleanly lettered note that said: "What's good for M & M Enterprises is good for the country. Milo Minderbinder." — Catch 22, by Joseph Heller.

Milo Minderbinder is running the war and everyone gets a share.

War has always been good for business. A cold war provides marvellous long-term security for military industries, so the "outbreak of peace" has posed certain problems for arms traders.

For $1995 you too could have been present at the Commercialisation of Defence Conference held in Sydney last June. Round two, the "Defence Opportunities for Industry Conference", is in Melbourne May 31-June 1 and in Sydney June 3-4.

The ongoing series of Defence Procurement conferences has been bringing together representatives of industry, government, the opposition and the defence forces to discuss the future of the Australian defence industry, or how to get "more bangs for the buck".

At last year's Commercialisation of Defence conference, Gordon Bilney, then minister for defence science & personnel, defined Australia's defence problems as twofold.

Support services for the armed forces have traditionally been provided in house. According to the ideology of privatisation, public enterprises are by their nature less efficient than private industry. Bilney's solution to this assumed inefficiency is to transfer these services to the private sector.

The second problem area for Bilney was the need to increase Australian industry's share of the arms export market. "A primary goal" of the

decision to turn millions of dollars' worth of jobs over to the private sector "was to develop a more intimate relationship between the defence force and Australian industry", said Bilney.

This "relationship" was expected to increase Australia's chances of cashing in on the growth in the arms trade in South-East Asia. In 1988 Kim Beazley cut export regulations in an attempt to get into this market.

Enter Milo Minderbinder, in the guise of AWA Defence Industries Ltd (electronic warfare, signal processing command and control, and electro-optics), British Aerospace (avionics, communications, military fire control systems, and currently involved in a contract to provide Indonesia with 24 Hawk aircraft), and Hawker de Havilland Ltd (subcontractors to major overseas aerospace companies).

All three companies have expressed interest in Sydney's proposed Advanced Technology Park. Their representatives gave the industry view at the conference.

All agreed on the need for greater links between private enterprise and defence.

Mike Terlet, of AWA, complained that the Defence Department "does not know how to deal cooperatively and interdependently [with industry], and until it does won't know how to — hence the Catch 22".

An ironic use of the reference. A Catch 22 situation is not merely a description of a learning difficulty; it is a profound paradox, usually invoked to describe the insanity of war. The real Catch 22 is that the defence industry needs to deal cooperatively with society to make a profit, but in order to make a profit it can't behave cooperatively with society.

The attitudes of the industry speakers pointed to an alarming growth of the kind of military-industrial complex in Australia that kept the Cold War going for years in the USA.

Peter Rowland, from British Aerospace Australia, said,

"In years to come the distinction between defence and commercial products, technologies and practices will become less and less distinct".

Bernie Sullivan, executive director of the Defence Manufacturers of Australia, suggested that "export market intelligence for the region to our north be made available to industry on request", and asked for defence attachés to promote Australian exports as a standard activity.

Most blatant of all was Will Laurie for Price Waterhouse, who are involved in monitoring contracts and tender preparation. He said that "more focused policies to support the international competitiveness of Australia's Defence Industry should find their way ultimately into appropriate influence on the present [defence export] guidelines".

With power brokers like these doing deals on what weapons we sell to our neighbours, who needs enemies?

Whatever the future defence needs of Australia, these decisions need to be democratic and public. Defence is the last thing we can afford to leave to market forces — for ourselves or for our neighbours in countries like East Timor and Bougainville, where many of these weapons will ultimately be used.

Milo Minderbinder was too busy making a profit to discover Snowden's secret.

It was easy to read the message in his entrails. Man was matter, that was Snowden's secret. Drop him out a window and he'll fall. Bury him and he'll rot, like other kinds of garbage. The spirit gone, man is garbage. That was Snowden's secret.