Why we need an independent, peaceful foreign policy

April 30, 2023
An anti-AUKUS protest in Sydney, 2022. Photo: Peter Boyle

The following is a slightly abridged presentation Shirley Winton delivered to a Socialist Alliance-Green Left forum in Naarm/Melbourne on April 18.]

• • •

I’ll start with a brief background, placing the recent United States military escalations in the Asia Pacific, AUKUS, nuclear submarines and Australia’s role, in the historical context of the 2011 US “pivot” into the Asia Pacific.

Since World War II, the US has been the dominant economic, military and political power in Asia Pacific.

Australia has been increasingly characterised as the US deputy sheriff, upholding US economic and military hegemony in the region. In addition, Australian big business is active in the region, but mainly dependent on US capital.

As a sub-imperialist country, Australia is subservient to US economic and military dominance in the region. Successive governments, from both major parties, uphold and actively promote the so-called “US global rules-based order”.  

As far back as 2009–10, US foreign policy think tanks and the US military started calling for US foreign and military policies to expand their focus on Asia-Pacific and China. 

Former US President Barack Obama came to Australia in November 2011 to announce the shift — the US Pivot into Asia-Pacific.

The first, and highly publicised, announcement of the US militarily pivoting to Asia-Pacific was not made in the US, but in the Australian parliament, flanked by the fawning then Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Then Greens Senator Bob Brown was the only MP to speak out publicly in Obama’s presence, opposing the pivot and criticising the two servile parliamentary parties.

Obama said in November 2011 in Canberra: “After a decade in which we fought two wars that cost us dearly, in blood and treasure [Afghanistan and Iraq], the United States is turning our attention to the vast potential of the Asia Pacific region.”

He continued: “The United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future, by upholding core principles and in close partnership with our allies and friends.”

Following closely behind Obama’s visit, Hillary Clinton, then US Secretary of State, came in late 2011. “One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will be to lock in a substantially increased investment — diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise — in the Asia-Pacific region … by forging a broad-based military presence,” she declared.

She then announced US plans to develop Australia into its major military base.

Earlier, in 1999, US economist Thomas L Friedman had succinctly summed up US economic and foreign policies like this:  “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”

The pivot’s target was China’s expanding economic growth and investments in the Asia-Pacific — a challenge to US regional hegemony.

US military expansion

As part of the US pivot to the Asia Pacific, the US announced 60% of its armed forces stationed overseas would be relocated to the Asia-Pacific: Guam, Japan, Philippines, South Korea and Australia were the first countries earmarked for this military expansion.

The pivot opened the way for 2500 US marines to be permanently rotating through Darwin and an upgrade and expansion of Australia’s naval and air force facilities and bases.

In addition, it involved: upgrading and expanding Pine Gap; re-opening the North West Cape intelligence base; upgrading and expanding Australia’s air force, land and naval facilities to accommodate US military; more deeply integrating Australia’s defence infrastructure and industries into global US military interoperability; and turning Australia into a regional launching pad, a major base for a US-led war.

Australian foreign policy was now more than ever enmeshed, and indistinguishable from, US policy and wars of aggression.

Force Posture Agreement

The Coalition government signed the US-Australia Force Posture Agreement (FPA) in 2014. It provides for the greatly expanded US militarisation of Northern Australia, as a spring board for US-led war in Asia-Pacific.

The FPA gives the US exclusive use and control of its existing and new military facilities in Australia. This includes the storage of weapons and war materials, including the potential for storing nuclear weapons.

Under the FPA, the US is not required to provide Australia with information and access to US military installations and storage facilities based in Australia. 

Will this include the B52 Bombers based in Australia and, possibly, equipped to carry nuclear weapons. Foreign Minister Penny Wong has loudly declared she respects the US policy of “neither confirm nor deny” whether US war ships and bombers based, or visiting, Australia carry nuclear weapons.

The FPA is replica of the Philippines Force Posture Agreement with the US.

AUKUS and nuclear submarines

AUKUS and the QUAD are the twin version of NATO in the Asia-Pacific: they are designed to play the same military (and economic) role as NATO in Europe, led by the US.

AUKUS is aimed to consolidate and enhance US power in the region. It is a dangerous development for the people of Australia and the Asia Pacific.

It is a war alliance — military, economic and cyber space — to prepare for war with China. It deepens Australia’s integration and subordination to the US military, intensifying and provoking tensions in the region between the US and China. It will potentially lead to another disastrous US-led war, this time a nuclear war, in our region.  

AUKUS, nuclear submarines, the FPA allow extensive US militarisation of Australia and Asia-Pacific.

China’s economic rise as a capitalist superpower is challenging US global economic and political hegemony.

AUKUS enmeshes Australia in the US imperialist war machine. Australia’s military and defence capabilities are almost completely interoperable and interchangeable with the US, and coming even more under control of the US Pacific Command.

The nuclear powered submarines are a major risk to people and the environment in ports. The storage of nuclear waste is a major environmental problem, especially for First Nations people on whose land/country nuclear waste will be stored.

The $400 billion cost of AUKUS and nuclear submarines is taking place at a time of rising costs of living, inflation, unaffordable housing, sky-rocketing rents and 20–25% increase in the prices of power. It is also a time when public health and education is critically underfunded and under resourced, aged care is in crisis, as is the NDIS [National Disability Insurance Scheme] and, of course, the climate crisis.

The winner is the military industrial complex: Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, BAE, Boeing, Exxon Mobil and Chevron are raking in trillions in profits, and all based on the suffering of people and the destruction of the environment. Soldiers, workers and our environment are the collateral damage and carry the heavy cost of big powers’ imperialist wars. 

Spending the $400 billion on public health, education, aged care, early childhood, public and social housing, mitigating climate crisis, developing clean alternative sources of energy, building local, publicly-owned environmentally sustainable value-added, manufacturing and self-defence industries would solve many economic, environmental and social problems and create hundreds of thousands of long term, secure and proper jobs for working people.

The major parties use propaganda and fear of China to try and convince us to accept that the huge military spend on AUKUS is necessary for our “security and prosperity”.

But it is not our safety, livelihoods or the environment they have in mind. It’s all about ensuring multinational corporations’ can continue to make profits and protect the US global economic and political “rules-based order”.

Mass movement needed

That is why we must build a long-term, sustainable people’s mass movement for peace, justice and a safe environment. We must build and broaden our demand for an independent and peaceful foreign policy that does not serve US imperialism or any other hegemon.

That means demanding AUKUS is disbanded and cancelling the nuclear submarines and the US-Australia FPA. These would be steps towards a just, independent and peaceful foreign policy.

We need to build a broad and united grassroots movement for peace and which calls for an end to Australian involvement in US-led wars.

An independent foreign policy needs to build friendships and solidarity with the peoples of the region and it needs to respect other countries’ sovereignty.

The Independent and Peaceful Australia Network's longer-term objective is to help build a mass movement that can end the US-Australia military alliance and to develop a genuinely independent Australia.

[Shirley Winton is a member of the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network.]

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