Rattling Talisman Sabre is dangerous

July 3, 2015
Protesters block the main gate of Rockhampton Army Barracks in 2013, the previous time the war games were held. Peace Convergenc

The Defence Department’s website says: “Exercise Talisman Sabre 2015 is a biennial combined Australian and US training activity, designed to … improve the combat readiness and interoperability between our respective forces. This exercise is a major undertaking that reflects the closeness of our alliance and the strength of the ongoing military-military relationship” and is “focused on the planning and conduct of mid-intensity ‘high end’ warfighting.”

The exercises began in 2005, making 2015 the sixth time they have taken place. This year more than 30,000 Australian, US and, for the first time, New Zealand and Japanese armed servicemen will be taking part. They are the largest military exercises Australia has hosted. They will take place at Shoalwater Bay in Queensland and Fog Bay, south-west of Darwin.

In view of their scale, and taking into account matters of strategic significance that are taking place in the Asia-Pacific region, Talisman Sabre is attracting remarkably little attention in the mainstream media.

Within the establishment generally there seems to be an acceptance of the idea that it is a necessary part of maintaining Australian security.

However, from the perspective of many who take an interest in such things, nothing could be further from the truth. Far from providing a security benefit, these exercises actually increase the risk of Australia becoming involved in a “hot” war.

There are two potential flash-points in our region — the Spratly Islands and the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. In the Spratlys, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam have territorial claims over tiny islands that China (the fifth claimant) is reportedly developing for its own purposes.

In the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, the dispute is between China and Japan. In each dispute the position of the US has been made clear — it will support any military action involving China, in opposition to China.

The Council on Foreign Relations, a US think-tank, has argued strongly that the US must consider confronting China militarily to maintain US influence and projected power in Asia. The US is fearful of losing its influence and the experts are advising it to do “whatever it takes” to hang on to it.

So what is the connection to Talisman Sabre 2015?

Australia’s military forces are so intimately integrated into the US military machine that there is no longer an identifiable separation. The late Malcolm Fraser argued this most persuasively in his excellent book Dangerous Allies. US President Barack Obama gave the game away in 2011 when addressing Australian troops in Darwin after announcing the stationing of US marines there: “You can’t tell where our guys end and you guys begin…”

Talisman Sabre 2015 is simply the latest and greatest manifestation of a process that has Australia completely enmeshed within the US military machine. Coupled with the presence of US-controlled surveillance facilities at Pine Gap, North West Cape and Kojarena; the “rotational deployment” of US marines to Darwin; the second in command of the US army in the Western Pacific being an Australian officer and the presence of an Australian ship in the US Seventh Fleet — there is no escaping this reality.

From China’s perspective, there can be no question about it. Australia is part of America’s military apparatus. It is no longer just “interoperability”, it is total integration.

The US position, and the way it takes Australia for granted, were brilliantly illuminated by the notorious, recent “mis-speaking” of David Shear, assistant US Defense Secretary, when he announced that US B1 bombers were to be stationed here as a deterrent to China’s “destabilising influence”.

If either of the disputes mentioned above gets out of hand, for example, if Japan — under its militaristic leader Shinzo Abe — is provocative and hostilities break out, the US will take sides with whatever party opposes China — and that means Australia will automatically become China’s military foe. There is no longer any possibility for Australia to remain neutral.

The situation is extremely dangerous and the risk of war is rising, not diminishing. The sabre in the title of the exercises is being rattled loudly — by our own country. Shrugging in the face of Talisman Sabre is no longer appropriate.

These exercises have given those who think clearly about the strategic issues that face Australia an opportunity to raise their voices. The Peace Convergence on Rockhampton in early July gives them a chance to bring these issues to the attention of the media and the public.

[Nick Deane is active with the Marrickville Peace Group and the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN).]

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