I stood the other day in a post office queue. Among a range of souvenirs marking the centenary of the end of WWI, were commemorative snow globes. It suggested all that is perverse in marketing, but then it might be argued that marketing is a perverse science. Australians are increasingly being convinced to ‘buy’ a product that they neither want or need – militarisation and all that goes with it.
The local Murdoch daily in Hobart has posted a series of articles to celebrate a hundred years since the end of the war. There will, by November 11, have been 100 such stories, spread across 100 days. It has been one of those years and it feels that it has been going on and on and on. For months leading up to ANZAC day there were placards and life-sized cut-outs of solemn warrior figures making sure that we would ‘not forget’. We then slid, seamlessly, into the build-up to Remembrance Day.
There has also been the Invictus Games. None dare criticise this event, but one rather telling interview speaks volumes for the way we live now. A representative of the Australian Ukrainian community spoke of the ‘dream’ that wounded Ukrainian fighters might awake, healed, so that they might once more re-join battle. Lockheed, Raytheon and Boeing, as sponsors of the Games, would warmly endorse such a sentiment, while simultaneously counting the profits they make each year from providing the military hardware that guarantees future Invictus athletes.
Governments find it important to remind Australians to ‘remember’ and to remain committed to a growing militarisation of the state and the economy. Our budget is edging closer to the 2 per cent of GDP target for ‘defence’ spending. There has been a consistent political campaign, a sleight of hand, with the aim of persuading us that spending on weaponry and the military is a new industry policy and not a means to preparation for war. Unfortunately, there is a bipartisanship in this. Militarisation, for our politicians, means jobs and not potential destruction. Such is the disturbing thinking of our political masters. Australia is undergoing the greatest increase in spending on military hardware since World War II. The list of new warships, fighters, anti-shipping missiles, or drones, are spoken of in the gentlest of terms. They are not offensive weapons but innocuous requirements for national defence and to keep us ‘safe’. Who we are being kept safe from is another matter. It is just possible that other governments are spending to keep their people ‘safe’ from unnamed threats as well. It might not make sense but then we must simply trust to the good offices of those who know better than us.
In this topsy-turvy world of unreality, we are told that billions of dollars spent on weaponry makes us ‘safe’. That might sound a little Orwellian, but it pales when compared to a headline in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. The magazine has devoted the entire issue to the question of nuclear conflict. The article in question is titled: “If you Want Peace, Prepare for Nuclear War: a strategy for the new great-power rivalry”. It would be nice to think that Elbridge Colby was offering us a warning to pull back from some apocalyptic abyss, but that was not his intent. Colby, incidentally, was one of the principal authors of a paper published by the Pentagon earlier this year that explained that the ‘war on terror’ was effectively over and that the US military was recommitting to the concept of great-power competition and confrontation.
Things can sometimes move quickly in international relations. The US-inspired trade war is pushing the world toward a new cold war. The cold war was, of course, framed by ideology. Any new versions are less ideological and more economic in nature. The stakes remain high and especially so given the fragility of the global economy and America’s place in that global economy. Tensions between the US and both China and Russia are becoming more and more acute. Interestingly, Colby’s article appeared just days before the US announced that it would be withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, that prohibited Washington and Moscow from developing short and medium-range missiles. Increasingly it would appear that the unthinkable is being thought and given consideration.
The new thinking, as articulated by Colby, acknowledges that the “risks of nuclear brinkmanship may be enormous, but so is the payoff from gaining a nuclear advantage over an opponent.” To make sure that nobody was uncertain, he went on to state that any “future confrontation with Russia or China could go nuclear … in a harder-fought, more uncertain struggle, each combatant may be tempted to reach for the nuclear sabre.”
Yes, this is unthinkable, or it ought to be. Nobody with an ounce of sanity or humanity could countenance such a thing and yet position papers, not the ramblings of deranged individuals, but of institutions with responsibility for the future of the planet are daily contemplating such nightmarish scenarios.
This seems a long way from celebrating the centenary of the signing of the Armistice, but it is not really so very far away. The people, in the years leading up to WWI, learned to celebrate their unique nationalism. They learned that threats were real and becoming closer. Enemies were found, and animosities engendered. The wheel, it would seem, has turned. Enemies are being identified, threats are being ‘discovered’ and insecurity is being fostered.
When next you stand in line at your local post office and look at the snow globes, consider that it was probably made in a factory, in a country that is now being considered a threat, by a worker who is rapidly becoming an ‘enemy’. Consider also that we might just possibly be being manipulated.
William Briggs recently completed a PhD at Deakin University. His special interests and expertise lies in area of International Relations, Global Political Economy and Political Theory. He lives and works in Hobart.