Driven by competition with China, US escalates military presence in Australia

by Alison Thorne

U.S. President Obama and Australian Prime Minister Gillard shake hands and cement an alliance to boost the U.S. military presence in Asia. Plans include a new military base in Darwin, and joint military exercises in Australian waters. Photo: HWT Image Library

Last November, U.S. President Barack Obama visited Australia to promote U.S. plans for a heightened presence in the region. In the northern city of Darwin, he teamed up with Prime Minister Julia Gillard to unveil details of the deal. Starting this year, the U.S. will station troops in northern Australia with numbers rising to 2,500 by 2016. More U.S. military ships and submarines will visit Australian ports, and more U.S.-Australian joint military exercises will take place off its shores. This is a major escalation of the 60-year-old ANZUS treaty — the military alliance between Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. It will transform Darwin into a major staging base for U.S intervention in Asia and the Pacific.

Obama made clear that undercutting China’s growing influence is of vital importance to the U.S. While the U.S. economy sputters, China’s economy booms, growing 10 percent a year. In her recent essay, “America’s Pacific Century,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asserts that the future of politics will be decided in Asia, and that the U.S. “will be right at the centre of the action.” And she tells her critics, who want U.S. troops brought home, that the U.S. “cannot afford to do so.”

Controlling the seas. A key U.S. strategic goal is to dominate the critical sea-lanes between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, through which a large portion of world trade passes. This includes the majority of China’s exports and imports, and the Middle Eastern oil supplies that are so essential to the functioning of its economy.

Currently, China spends more on domestic security to suppress dissent than on defence. It is now shifting resources from its army to create a naval presence. But the U.S., relative to the size of its economy, still spends twice as much as China on weapons and troops.

Even with China responding to U.S. manoeuvres, the U.S. far outpaces China in military might. It has 737 military bases with a presence on every continent. China has no foreign bases. The U.S. has 11 nuclear-armed aircraft carriers, carrying 85 aircraft each. The Chinese are still planning the launch of their first aircraft carrier.

Hypocrisy all around. While the U.S. shifts its military might to dominate China and the Pacific region, it is also lecturing China about what the U.S. expects. Ideological sabre rattling was a prominent feature of Obama’s visit to Australia, including criticism of China’s disregard for human rights. But while China’s record is lousy, Obama’s posturing rings hollow given his country’s own reputation. Mass incarceration, use of the death penalty, and images of cops beating Occupiers and dismantling their encampments are a few examples of how the U.S. needs to clean up its own act.

Before flying to northern Australia, Obama addressed the Federal Parliament in Canberra. The last visit by a U.S. President in 2003 resulted in Greens politicians being removed for interjecting anti-war sentiments while George Bush spoke. In contrast, Obama received rapturous responses from all sides. His accolades were thoroughly undeserved because the purpose of both speeches was identical: to tell the Australian parliament that the U.S. ruling class expects its deputy sheriff in the Pacific to provide uncritical support for shifting U.S. military priorities, from the Middle East to Asia.

Capitalism divided. Most mainstream analysts emphasise the Australian government’s unconditional support for the U.S. alliance, which they see as a means for advancing Australian corporate and strategic interests.

However, the situation is more complex. Since Britain’s decline as an imperial power at the end of World War II, Australia has allied with the U.S. But Australia has developed its own distinct imperialist interests in the Pacific too.

The interests of the varied branches of capital are not monolithic. Some sectors of the Australian economy rely heavily on the sales of goods and services to China. These include mining, agriculture, education and tourism. China buys 70 percent of Australia’s wool. Australian bosses also rely heavily on China to fill skill gaps through migration.

Australia is now in a predicament where China is its major trading partner, and the U.S. is its major strategic military ally. This is creating a tension, where the economic and strategic interests of Australian capitalism are pulling in different directions.

There’s an uneasy concern among some layers of the ruling class that profits may be at risk if friction between the U.S. and China heats up.

Revitalize the anti-war movement! While the capitalists’ loyalties are divided, the common interests of the working class are not. War moves and imperial rivalry in the Pacific is real bad news. Working and poor people foot the bill for spiralling military expenditures through higher taxes and cuts to essential services. Australian public service jobs are being slashed under the so-called “efficiency dividend,” while $62 million gets spent every single day on the military.

Turning Australia’s north into a giant military base will also be a disaster for the people who live there. Almost one-third of the population is Indigenous. The threat posed to the health of Aboriginal communities — with their deep connection to the land — by the use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium, is stark.

Militarisation of this territory also threatens to lead to increased violence against women. The U.S. military has an appalling record on this score. In Japan, feminists have identified more than 50,000 crimes against women on Okinawa, the site of a large U.S. military base.

To nip this impending disaster in the bud, Australia needs a re-energised anti-war movement that will challenge interventions at the behest of the U.S. and those initiated by Australian capital.

What should such a movement be raising at this time? For starters:

• No new bases and close existing U.S. military bases! No Darwin troop deployment.

• End joint military exercises with U.S. forces. End the military alliance with the U.S.

• Withdraw all Australian troops from Afghanistan, East Timor, Solomon Islands and other imperialist deployments!

Melbourne FSP: Solidarity Salon, 580 Sydney Rd., Brunswick, VIC 3056. Tel 03-9388-0062. Email

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2 thoughts on “Driven by competition with China, US escalates military presence in Australia

  1. shane Backhouse says:

    As soon as it was announced that us troops would do training in the -NT- i knew it was going to be the start of a pernment base here .mainly for the -chinese -movement throught the asia pacific. I HAVE GIVEN UP WORRYING ABOUT THIS .AS KNOW SOONER OR LATER -THE -FOUR- MAIN STABILASIATION POWERS- IN THIS WORLD –CHINA- IRAN- PAKASTAN – NORTH KOREA- WILL EVENTUALLY BE READY ENOUGH TO START THE LAST WORLD WAR . So i will just wait till the time comes and most likely will be within the next -7- years . ( by-2019) any takers .

  2. Shane you say China Iran etc will start the ‘last world war.’
    Isn’t it a bit back to front. The US, NATO and Israel have been the most aggressive military powers in the last twenty years. They are the nations whose governments are posturing for war. Sadly we are being dragged into it as we always are. To see it otherwise is founded in ‘orientalism’ or the promotion the false belief of the superiority of European humanity. This should have been dispelled with the horrific destruction and associated human suffering of World War 2 but it still goes on

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