The US-Australia Force Posture Agreement needs to be scrapped

January 17, 2023
The US-Australia Force Posture Agreement is the legal basis for the US militarisation of Australia. Photo: US Marine Corps

When it comes to military agreements between Australia and the United States, the ANZUS Treaty provides a “motherhood” justification and the more recent AUKUS security pact is being used to justify nuclear-powered submarines.

Neither of these treaties mention, justify or authorise the US military build-up in the Northern Territory and elsewhere in Australia.

The US-Australia Force Posture Agreement (FPA), signed in 2014 by then ministers Julie Bishop and David Johnston and John F Kerry and Chuck Hagel for the Barack Obama administration, is the legal basis for the US militarisation of Australia, especially the NT.

Thus, Australia has been set up as a US forward base from which to launch the next war.

It is surprising that the media or defence academics and strategists give little attention to the FPA. Even the peace movement does not give it the attention it deserves.

US President Obama told the Australian parliament about his Pivot to Asia military strategy in 2011, which included the deployment of up to 2500 marines for six months each year to the NT to practice for war with the ADF.

Obama’s announcement was greeted with a standing ovation by a joint sitting of federal MPs, and Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard effusively praised Obama for his “generosity”.

Representatives of the Australian and US governments then sat down and produced the FPA.

Meanwhile, the deployment of US marines to Darwin began initially with 1200 personnel and increased each year to the present 2500.

Following last year’s Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations conference between defence and foreign affairs ministers, that figure is expected to be raised.

But the FPA’s support for the US military does not end with US marines stationed in Darwin, as article IV in the FPA makes clear.

“With full respect for Australian sovereignty and the laws of Australia, United States Forces and United States Contractors shall have unimpeded access to and use of Agreed Facilities and Areas for activities undertaken in connection with this Agreement.”

It notes that “such activities may include: training, transit, support, and related activities; refuelling of aircraft; bunkering of vessels; temporary maintenance of vehicles, vessels, and aircraft; temporary accommodation of personnel; communications; prepositioning of equipment, supplies, and materiel; deploying forces and material; and such other activities as the Parties may agree”.

It also states that “Australia hereby grants to the United States operational control of Agreed Facilities and Areas, or portions thereof designated pursuant to Article 20(3) of the SOFA, for construction activities and authority to undertake such construction activities on, and make alterations and improvements to, such Agreed Facilities and Areas”.

In article VII, which covers prepositioning of defence equipment, supplies and materiel, it states the US forces “may preposition and store defence equipment, supplies, and materiel … at Agreed Facilities and Areas”.

It also states that the prepositioned materiel of the US “shall be for the exclusive use of United States Forces” and that US forces  “shall have exclusive control over the access to, use of, and disposition of such prepositioned materiel and shall have the unencumbered right to remove such prepositioned materiel at any time from the territory of Australia”.

Bipartisan support for the FPA means that successive Australian governments have severely compromised our sovereignty.

The terms of the FPA allow massive fuel, munitions and spare parts storage facilities, as well as maintenance facilities, to be built in the NT, exclusively for US military use. The construction has already begun.

Under the FPA, the RAAF Tindal base near Katherine in the NT is being upgraded at taxpayers’ expense to accommodate and support US military aircraft. This includes up to six B52 nuclear-capable long-range bombers, each able to reach China without refuelling.

While the war preparation training is being done in conjunction with the ADF, the US’ military forces and its military facilities in Australia are not under the Australian government’s control.

To better direct their marines, air-force and navy, the US has established a regional command centre in Darwin. The US Indo-Pacific Command includes Australia, New Zealand, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and China, all the Pacific Nations and other countries in South-East Asia.

The FPA enables the US military to set Australia up as one of its launching and supporting bases for a war directed at China, which the US sees as a threat to its economic dominance.

The presence of US military facilities and troops in Australia could well bring long-range missile retaliation from China if there was a war. The targets would include Pine Gap, the Harold E Holt Submarine Communications facility at North-West Cape in Western Australia and other strategic US military facilities.

Australian involvement with the US in a war against China would be a disaster.

Taiwan’s relationship with Beijing is an internal matter for China to sort out, without foreign interference.

The Australian government should invoke Article XXI, clause 3 of the FPA, which enables the agreement to be terminated by either party after giving one year’s notice. This would be in the best interests of Australia.

The Independent and Peaceful Australia Network wants the FPA to be terminated. But it will take thousands of such calls to educate the public on the FPA to generate the public pressure needed to make this happen.

[Bevan Ramsden is a member of the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network.]

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