US troops must leave Australia, says peace network

A US commander addressing US Marines in Darwin in 2016.

A 2014 military agreement means Australia is host to the United States military, from where it can launch hostilities against our neighbours in the Indo-Pacific-South East Asia region.

The Force Posture Agreement allows up to 2500 US Marines to be stationed in Darwin for six months each year. They are equipped for immediate deployment and train for war in exercises with the Australian Defence Force.

The agreement allows US fighter planes and bombers access to Australia’s airfields and airport facilities, and US naval vessels access to Australia’s seaports.

The agreement affirms (in Article VII) that the United States forces and their contractors “shall have unimpeded access to Agreed Facilities and Areas for all matters relating to the pre-positioning and storage of defence equipment and supplies including delivery, management, inspection, use, maintenance and removal of such pre-positioned material”.

This means that Australia has become a base of operations for the US military, which currently has its sights set on the islands claimed by China in the South China Sea. Some commentators believe the US aims to put pressure on China by blocking the straits of Malacca, China's major shipping route.

The US strategy could be summed up as a policy designed to contain China to maintain US hegemony in the Indo-Pacific-South East Asia area.

Force Posture

The Force Posture Agreement lasts for 25 years, with a possibility of it being extended. It may be terminated by either party giving one year’s notice. It is the most recent addition to US military bases in Australia.

While this agreement constitutes the most comprehensive US military utilisation of Australian soil, the process started in the 1960s with the US establishing the North West Cape submarine communications base in Western Australia, which ended in 1999.

That was followed by Pine Gap in the Northern Territory, established in 1988, which utilises spy satellites to provide intelligence to US war operations, as well as information for its drone assassination program.

Former defence minister Marise Payne said the initial cost of the Force Posture Agreement is $2-3 billion, shared between the US and Australia.

The proportion borne by the Australian taxpayer has been kept secret for “national security reasons”, Payne told the Marrickville Peace Group and federal MP for Newcastle Sharon Claydon, representing the Hunter Peace Group. Additional annual costs to maintain the agreement are also kept secret for the same vague “national security” reasons.

The Force Posture Agreement was signed in Sydney on August 12, 2014, by then-ministers for foreign affairs and defence, Julie Bishop and David Johnston, with then-US secretary of state and US secretary of defence, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel.

However, the concept was put to a joint sitting of the Australian parliament by former President Barack Obama on November 16, 2011, as part of the US military’s “Pivot to Asia”, a strategy designed to “contain” China and maintain US hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region. Obama’s concept was given enthusiastic bipartisan support.

Community responses

In early 2012, eight Australian organisations established a national network to build a mass campaign for an independent foreign policy, and to oppose US marines and bases in Australia.  The network’s name and objectives were finalised in mid-2012 and the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) was launched nationally on the International Day for Peace in September 2012.

A public forum in Melbourne in July 2012 announced the formation of IPAN, and a succession of public and union meetings followed to raise community awareness of the Force Posture Agreement and its implications.

A conference in Canberra in April 2014, attended by peace, faith, trade union and anti-war organisations from around Australia, stated that IPAN would “advocate for an independent and peaceful Australia, free of foreign military bases, and free of interventions by other foreign governments, corporations, or vested interests, that at present seek to exert undue influence, in shaping Australia’s foreign and defence policies, in a manner that diminishes Australia’s sovereignty”. This mission statement makes clear IPAN’s opposition to interference by any foreign government, including Russia and China.

In March and April, 1587 US Marines arrived in Darwin, together with eight MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and an artillery battery of six M777 howitzers.

At the July Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations, the defence ministers said the number of US troops in Darwin would be raised to 2500.

US Marines are now imbedded on the HMAS Adelaide, which has been fitted out with amphibious landing gear so that the Marines can land on shore to capture and secure. War exercises planned for this year include the HMAS Adelaide with US Marines.

Questions we need answered are who controls and directs the US Marines on board Australian naval ships, and who directs the Australian ships with the US marines on board? A further question would be, which territories are the US Marines practising to invade, capture and secure?

Finally, we should be asking if it is to our benefit or detriment to be associated with, and indeed integrated into, such potential US war scenarios.

IPAN is campaigning to urge the Australian government to terminate the Force Posture Agreement and send the US Marines home.

[Bevan Ramsden is a NSW representative on the IPAN National Coordinating Committee. For more information visit IPAN.]