We’re being sold a false choice on war

Jan 24, 2024
Chess pieces painted in US, UK, AUS flags

Australia has just taken another step, as part of the AUKUS agreement with the US and the UK, that is leading us towards an event that should be unthinkable – involvement in a major war against China.

On Tuesday 16 January, Acting Defence Minister Pat Conroy announced a $37 million contract with Lockheed Martin Australia to begin the manufacturing in Australia in 2025 of GMLRS (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System) rockets, which have a range of around 70 kilometres. Australia will also purchase the longer range (over 500 kilometres) Precision Strike Missiles (PrSM), and will join the development program to extend their range to around 1000 kilometres in the future. Lockheed Martin Australia’s parent company, Lockheed Martin, is the world’s biggest weapons maker, 90% of its revenue coming from weapons sales. Like other weapons companies, Lockheed Martin relies on wars and threats of wars for its existence. Its stocks rose almost immediately after the October 7 attacks by Hamas on Israeli civilians, its fighter jets being among those that are currently destroying Gaza. The company has profited greatly from the wars in Ukraine and Afghanistan and elsewhere.

While Minister Conroy reassured us that this investment “is contributing to peace and stability inthe Indo-Pacific”, long range weapons for Australia are, on the contrary, likely to have significant negative implications for peace (but very favourable impacts on Lockheed Martin’s bottom line). It should be noted also that while $37 million is small fry in terms of weapons programs, the government plans to spend $4.1 billion across the forward estimates on long range strike and missile manufacturing.

The official narrative with new weapons program announcements has become very familiar – we live in dangerous times, we face aggression from others and we have no choice but to deter attack by being better armed than any adversary, especially China. The narrative comes to a full stop at that point. There is no discussion as to what would happen if and when deterrence fails and war breaks out. There is an unspoken assumption of victory for our side, despite the experiences of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Any discussion of the vast human and other costs is taboo; they are for someone else to worry about, not the military strategists or the Lockheed Martin executives. Many other questions are similarly unanswered..

Most basically, what is the exact purpose of the missiles – to target what, and where? Given Australia’s increasingly close integration in training, hardware and doctrine with the US military, it seems extremely likely that they will be forward deployed in coalition with US forces in a major great-power war with China – a catastrophic situation that would serve no-one’s interests except those of the war profiteers. Importantly also, what are Indonesia and other neighbours to think, and will Indonesia or other regional nations plan to match Australia’s acquisition?

With long range missiles designed for offence rather than defence, Australia will in effect be feeding a regional arms race, with all the risks and costs that that carries. Michael Klare, professor emeritus of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College in the US, states in his own country that the Pentagon’s drive for dominance in military technology “will consume an ever- increasing share of this country’s wealth and scientific talent, while providing negligible improvements in national security”. Australia faces the very same dangers.

Australians are being presented with a false choice. In August last year, ahead of the ALP National Conference, Defence Minister Richard Marles and Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy both sought to boost support for AUKUS, stating that the cost of deterrence was far less than that of going to war, the obvious implication being that AUKUS will prevent war. We can have AUKUS or war – take our pick.

It’s an appealing notion, but simplistic, deeply flawed and contrary to the lessons of history. Frightening arrays of military technology have repeatedly failed to deter armed attacks. Momentum towards war can become virtually unstoppable, as in 1914 when the tensions between powerful opposing militaries descended into four years of industrialised slaughter following a single assassination event.

Alfred W. McCoy, the Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, reminded us just a year ago, in relation to tensions over Taiwan, of “a tried-and-true historical lesson that bears repeating at this dangerous moment in history: when nations prepare for war, they are far more likely to go to war.”

Australia needs to start extricating itself from our deep entanglement with our US ally, who talks peace but is nearly always at war. With the distinct possibility of Donald Trump being the next US president, serious thought should be given to the extent of our “shared values” with that nation. Our overriding goal for the Indo-Pacific region should be the peaceful resolution of any crises and the avoidance of warfare – which are no more than our obligations under the 1951 ANZUS Treaty that unites Australia, New Zealand and the US. There is far more that Australia could be doing, such as committing to defence rather than offence in our military policies, finding an independent voice in foreign affairs matters, initiating arms control talks for the region, and, of course, giving priority attention to our existential threats – nuclear weapons and climate change.

Rather than long-range missiles, we’d be better off with a long-range missive to the US telling them that war against China is not an option for Australia.


First published in the Canberra Times January 20 , 2024

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