Scott Morrison’s most recent statements regarding defence and security are chilling reminders that a war with China is no longer merely a possibility, but that real plans are being made in real time.
His speech at the military academy where he stated that Australia must ‘prepare for a post-COVID world that is poorer, more dangerous and more disorderly’ followed his earlier proclamation that Australia would increase military spending in the next decade by $270 billion making the total figure $575 billion. That in itself will make the region more dangerous. It will certainly make us all poorer and the action promotes and provokes responses which might well make the region a less ‘orderly’ place.
These are huge figures and seem to make a nonsense of Josh Frydenberg’s ‘there is no money tree’ excuse for threatening to cut the COVID 19 package to the unemployed, but then there is always plenty of cash when the drums of war begin to beat.
Morrison did make an honest assessment of the situation when he told his audience at the academy that ‘relations between China and the United States are fractious as they compete for political, economic and technological supremacy.’ Significantly the PM did not add ‘military’ supremacy to his list. This is a surprising omission, or perhaps he felt a deeper compulsion to at least tell part of the truth. Yes, China is arming itself and impressively but at a fraction of the budgetary outlays of the USA, but then the Chinese do not have such a blood-stained history as that of their economic rival.
Military spending can say a lot about the beliefs and motivations of states. Since 1975 the USA has spent, on average, between 15-30 per cent of its total budget on the military and in 2015, the year before Trump came to power, allocated 54 per cent for the military. Education and health, by comparison each received 6 per cent! China’s spending is nowhere near this, but then it is not engaged in endless war, as is the USA.
This brings us to the United States’ most loyal ally; Australia. In making his announcement of such a massive military build-up, Morrison, speaking to the media, reaffirmed that Australia was ready to join future US-led coalitions but that the primary focus would now be on ‘our’ region.
He tried, briefly, to couch his language in defensive terms. We would be keeping adversaries at bay, but the spending spree about to be undertaken is of an essentially offensive nature and the US weapons Australia will be buying are specifically designed to help cut Chinese access to shipping lanes and to block Chinese attempts to strike back if attacked by the USA.
The billions of dollars that are to be expended focus rather much on long-range missiles and delivery systems for these missiles. None of these weapons can be regarded as ‘defensive’ but the language of militarists is a peculiar one. What is interesting in all of this is the importance being placed on ‘cyber-security’ and that $15 billion is to be spent on ‘cyber and information warfare weaponry. Things cyber have shaped the thinking of our security and military chief in recent times and yes, the Chinese would be more than capable of engaging in such tactics. It might be well to remember that in 2013 Washington announced that it was setting up significant numbers of military units whose aim was to wage offensive cyber war. The tango is after all a dance for two.
There is a sense, almost of inevitability in this madness. Hardly a day passes without our government, media, and far too many analysts competing with one another to produce the most blood-curdling anti-China commentary. Scott Morrison’s statement pushes all others into the background. Our now stated enemy is China. There is no equivocation here. He pressed the point by saying that ‘the big competition between China and the United States means tensions are much higher… I mean, we haven’t seen a time of instability coming out of COVID-19 like this since the 1930s and early 1940s… And all of our defence force and defence strategy is built on the alliance, also as a foundation, with the United States.’ Such is his call to arms. It is a sinister call and made just a little more so when the ‘alternative’ PM, Anthony Albanese, gives him the ALP’s full support.
China is a threat, but only to US economic power and domination. While all sorts of ‘reasons’ to fear and mistrust China are confected, the fact remains that it is not difference that pushes the two major powers towards confrontation. It is not a question of ideology, or geography, or demography or culture, that divides the two powers. It is what they share, what they have in common and that is a shared desire for economic supremacy as they vie with one another to be the supreme capitalist economy.
Along the way, nations like Australia, caught up in a fool’s errand of blind support for one capitalist regime ahead of another, are ready to hurl us all into an abyss. The post-COVID era will be, as Morrison states, poorer. It can hardly be otherwise as the global economy lies in tatters. What he fails to mention is that it will be poorer still if the world is laid waste by a US-inspired war for economic survival.
William Briggs is a political economist. His special areas of interest lie in political theory and international political economy. He has been, variously, a teacher, journalist and political activist.