AUSMIN and Australia’s further militarisation within the US imperium

Dec 9, 2022
Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin participate in a news conference following the 32nd annual Australia - US Ministerial (AUSMIN) consultations, at the Department of State in Washington, DC, USA, 06 December 2022. Image: AAP/ EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

The Ausmin joint statement does little to dissuade the idea that Australia is moving, inexorably, towards a satellite, garrison state to be disposed of and used by the US imperium.

It matters not a jot: Coalition conservative or centre-left Labor, the Australian government is seemingly on autopilot, at least when it comes to its alliance with the United States. Steered by Washington’s interests, the endless babble about Chinese aspirations has softened minds and delighted militarists.

The Australia-US Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) is one forum where this is most evident. Australian Ministers for Defence and Foreign Affairs chew the fat along with the US Secretaries of State and Defence, accompanied by officials of touted seniority. While it is advertised as a consultative occasion between the states “to discuss and share perspectives and approaches on major global and regional political issues, and to deepen bilateral foreign security and defence cooperation,” the locus of actual power is never disputed.

On December 6, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin hosted Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles. (Marles has an odd fetish for the Deputy PM tag.) It was the 32nd occasion the countries had met in this setting.

The joint statement released was filled with the usual, inane puffery: rules-based order, as determined by the parties themselves, of course; the importance of the relationship to “regional peace and prosperity”, despite signs it is becoming increasingly prejudicial to that cause; and utterances about human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Those with a red tipped pen would have underlined the following: “The principals also decided to evolve their defence and security cooperation to ensure they are equipped to deter aggression, counter coercion, and make space for sovereign decision making.”

This could hardly be a reference to Australian sovereignty, given its whittling down over the years to the decisions of an increasingly more engaged US in the Indo-Pacific region. While Canberra decries any moves by Pacific Island neighbours to exercise their own rights of sovereignty to seal security arrangements with Beijing, it ignores its own subordinate, increasingly garrisoned role in the US imperium.

China comes in for repeated reproach, given its “excessive maritime claims that are inconsistent with international law.” Wishing to poke the beast further, the parties also reiterate “Taiwan’s role as a leading democracy in the Indo-Pacific region, an important regional economy, and a key contributor to critical supply chains.”

Strategic competition, as a concept, was fine in principle, but to be pursued “responsibly”. The parties agreed to “work together to ensure competition does not escalate into conflict” and looked to the PRC “to do the same and to engage Beijing on risk reduction and transparency measures.” More could be done on the issue of transparency and China’s nuclear arsenal, for instance.

The statement then goes on to raise the importance of cooperation with Beijing in some areas of mutual concern, only to spatter it with streaks of reservation. Cooperation with China on “issues of shared interest, including climate change, pandemic threats, non-proliferation, countering illicit and illegal narcotics, the global food crisis, and macroeconomic issues” was important, but so was “enhancing deterrence and resilience through coordinated efforts to offer Indo-Pacific nations support to resist subversion and coercion of any kind.”

There is also more poking with the expression of “serious concerns about severe human rights violations in Xinjiang, the human rights situation in Tibet, and the systematic erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy, democratic institutions, and processes undermining commitments made by the PRC before the handover.”

Australia’s promised submarines under the AUKUS security pact, almost as credible as the Loch Ness monster, receives an airing. Giving nothing away, the statement “commended the significant progress AUKUS partners have made on developing the optimal pathway for Australia to acquire a conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarine capability at the earliest possible date.” No date is provided, but a year on when that optimal pathway will be miraculously revealed is 2023. Best not wait up.

The joint statement does little to dissuade the idea that Australia is moving, inexorably, towards a satellite, garrison state to be disposed of and used by the US imperium. Under the “Force Posture Initiatives” – the wording is telling – the US will further integrate Australia into its military operations.

The US armed forces would continue its “rotational presence” in Australia across air, land and sea including “US Bomber Task Force rotations, fighters, and future rotations of US Navy and US Army capabilities.” The emphasis, in other words, is entirely US-centric, with Australia’s posture being rather supine, even as it aids “US force posture with associated infrastructure, including runway improvements, parking aprons, fuel infrastructure, explosive storage infrastructure, and facilities to support the workforce.” What a wonderful list of targets for any future foe.

While they rarely make appearances on uncritical mainstream news outlets, such is the impoverished state of public debate on the issue, Australian civil society members are not exactly bubbling with delight at the spectre of such militarisation. The 280 submissions to the Independent and Peaceful Australian Network (IPAN) addressing the high cost of Australia’s relationship with the United States attest to a very different narrative.

IPAN’s report drawn from its People’s Inquiry into “Exploring the Case for an Independent and Peaceful Australia,” informed by those submissions and released last month, should be mandatory reading for the wonks and hacks in Canberra. In his contribution to the report covering the defence and military aspects of the alliance, Vince Scappatura took note of the most pressing concern among the submissions: “that the alliance makes Australia an unnecessary target of America’s foes.”

The alliance has also seen Australia committed to “several needless and costly wars and is likely to do so again in the future, with especially grave consequences in the context of the great power rivalry between the US and China.” Unfortunately for the industrious Scappatura and those honourable souls so keen to see a revision of the relationship, the sleepwalkers are in charge, marching towards the precipice.

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