The largest ever Australia-US joint military exercises have just finished. Talisman Sabre 2017, the seventh of these expensive biennial war games, wound up in Brisbane on July 26 on the USS Ronald Reagan — a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with capacity for 5000 troops and 200 fighter jets.
Military officials have been enthusing over how well the war games went, now that they are over. But apart from their secretive nature, there has been little appetite for reporting them. Even the corporate media know how most people feel about the waste of public money for greater military “interoperability”, especially when the Department of Defence admits that Australia faces no direct military threat.
The first Talisman Sabre in 2005 involved 11,000 US and 6000 Australian troops. The latest nearly doubled in size, with more than 30,000 troops from Australia, the US, New Zealand, Canada and Japan. The exercises took place at Shoalwater Bay in Queensland and in the Northern Territory, and focus on crisis-action planning and contingency response, enhancing both nations’ military capabilities to deal with regional contingencies.
According to the conservative Lowy Institute: “Talisman Sabre is the most important bilateral set-piece exercise between the [Australian Defence Force] and US forces. Beyond its training value, the exercise serves a ‘certification’ function for formally validating certain capabilities on both sides of the alliance.
“Successive iterations of Talisman Sabre have contributed to Australia’s coveted status as the most ‘interoperable’ of America’s Pacific-based allies, although in quantitative capacity terms it lags behind Japan and Korea.”
The official aim of Taslisman Sabre is to “ensure that our neighbourhood does not become a source of threat to Australia” and that “no major power with hostile intentions establishes bases in our immediate neighbourhood from which it could project force against us.”
However, as the 2016 Defence White Paper admits: “There is no more than a remote prospect of a military attack by another country on Australian territory in the foreseeable future.”
The more important reason for the Australian government’s enthusiasm is to defend the domination of major corporate interests over most of the world by maintaining the capacity of the US and its imperialist allies to invade and wage war anywhere.
The White Paper states that: “By 2050, almost half the world’s economic output is expected to come from the Indo-Pacific. This presents opportunities to increase Australia’s economy and security as the Indo-Pacific region grows in economic and strategic weight.”
The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics reports that over a 12-month period in 2014–15, maritime imports in the region totalled $424.9 billion.
The merchant ships largely used trade routes that traverse the archipelagic region to Australia’s north or through the South Pacific towards the United States. Therefore, maintaining a defence force capable of keeping these routes open under threat is a key strategic goal of the Australian state.
Defence officials quoted by the ABC said Talisman Sabre 2015 showed up Australia’s weaknesses, but Talisman Sabre 2017 showed the ADF demonstrated “it is now able to conduct major amphibious operations throughout the region, either unilaterally or as part of a coalition with the United States or New Zealand”.
According to the Department of Defence, Australia now has the military capability to back up its stated defence strategy.
Anti-war and anti-nuclear activists have continued to criticise the Australian government allowing US nuclear-powered naval vessels to dock in ports. These war machines are also possibly carrying depleted uranium munitions — putting both civilians and soldiers at risk.
The USS Ronald Reagan is a mobile nuclear-powered military airport. It was commissioned in July 2003 and has been based in Yokosuka, Japan, since late 2015.
The Talisman Sabre military exercises show that Australia’s rulers are particularly interested in maintaining their own sphere of economic and military influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Defence White Paper acknowledges the US will “remain the pre-eminent global military power and will continue to be Australia’s most important strategic partner”. There is bipartisan consensus that Australia must remain a junior partner in this region, to compete for greater economic and political advantage — whether through trade, tied aid or the imprisonment of asylum seekers.