It has been 20 years since an operational detachment from the United States Army’s Third Battalion began the invasion of Afghanistan. This was a moment that forged Australia’s role as the agreeable add-on to the US military and led to Australia’s involvement in conflicts in four Middle Eastern countries, where hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost and trillions spent on the development and deployment of weapons around the world.
Back in August, like many of us, I watched in shock as the Taliban rapidly progressed across Afghanistan and reduced twenty years of “progress” in a matter of weeks. Sitting in my Perth office on an unusually rainy afternoon, I was left thinking how it could have come to this.
Australian leaders and governments told us for years that the work the military was doing there would have a lasting effect; that their continued efforts in other parts of the world weren’t imperialism but liberation. They lied.
It is not the first time the government and military institutions have conspired to sell a narrative disconnected from reality. After all, these are the same people who told us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction; that the war in Vietnam was more than a misguided conflict based on domino theory; and that the detonation of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a necessary evil.
Twenty years of humiliation and abject failure has started to see the US imperialist impulse drawing to a close in the Middle East and its attention shift to a new region: the Asia-Pacific.
The same drivers in government, business and media that have pushed for war in the Middle East are now asking Australians to focus on a new enemy in China. A generation of politicians who have wreaked havoc on the climate, locked young people out of home ownership and who pocketed donations from defence contractors, such as Raytheon, are asking a generation of Australians to accept a return back to the Cold War era politics that the global peace movement worked so hard to get away from.
The pathway that Australia’s major political parties are putting us on is one where tensions in the region are escalating. They are pumping funds into military spending, selling us the narrative that conflict is inevitable, and preparing us for a deadly, avoidable and unnecessary conflict.
It does not have to be this way. As a community, we get to choose how we interact with the world, and it should not be at gunpoint.
The Australian Greens plan would see a reduction in defence spending, bringing Australia in line with many other countries around the world. This would not only free up billions for the development of new affordable housing and the proper funding of the healthcare system, but also for things that work much more proactively to make Australia safer, like international aid, development and proper care for our veterans.
The Australian Greens will always reject Australia’s role in an escalating arms race. We are committed to tearing up the AUKUS deal that would see Australia’s military have a fleet of nuclear submarines.
We would ban the development and sale of weapons, including autonomous weapons, and ratify the nuclear weapons ban treaty to ensure Australia never develops nuclear weapons.
We can stop the escalation of tensions with our neighbours by pursuing a foreign policy that is uniquely our own by closing joint military facilities, including Pine Gap. We can pursue goals based on cooperation, communication and diplomacy.
Having a conversation about re-evaluating Australia’s role in the global community is too often shut down by accusations of naivety, recklessness and even sometimes treason, but how we are perceived by the world and how we interact with it is our decision to make.
It is not a decision to be made solely by the likes of whoever the government of the day is and the unreliable narrators that make up the military, media and foreign policy institutions.
The culture of the opposition's unquestioning support for any issue around national security, intelligence and the military fundamentally weakens democracy. It is time Australia has the debate.
Decisions made on peace, disarmament and demilitarisation will shape our next 100 years. As a global community, we are facing the biggest challenge ever to humanity with the unfolding climate crisis. Let us work together with our neighbours to solve that problem, not create new ones.
[Jordon Steele-John is a Greens WA senator and the Australian Greens spokesperson for Peace and Disarmament.]