Two thoughtful pieces on the military-industrial tentacles that stretch through Australian life

The Afghanistan debacle and the AUKUS surprise should remind us of the extent to which our society and economy – and even psyche perhaps – is built around the idea that weapons and technology able to be used lethally against other human beings are necessary to ‘keep Australians safe’. To the extent that we subscribe to that idea, we leave the way open for companies and individuals to accumulate shitloads of money from making and peddling that death-dealing kit.

A recent Honest History post pointed out that, regardless of who ‘won’ in Afghanistan, international arms companies did very well out of it. More recently, we noted that Boeing Australia, chaired by former War Memorial Director, Brendan Nelson, has sold the RAAF (and the Queensland government) on the idea of building a new super-duper drone to be called ‘Loyal Wingman’. The name is apparently a reference to this pilotless machine being obedient to the commands from a piloted plane. Rudely, we had assumed the name was something to do with the relationship between Australia and the United States.

Analyst of the Australian arms trade, Michelle Fahy (search for her work on the Honest History site, using our search engine), has just published in Arena Quarterly and on Substack a scathing analysis (‘The bloody trade’) of how Australia has been knee deep in the supply of arms to protagonists in the tragic war in Yemen. There’s lots in the article, too, about the ‘revolving door’ between senior Australian government and Australian Defence Force personnel – and ministers like Christopher Pyne – and lucrative positions in the arms trade or lobbying for it.

Fahy asks:

[W]hat does this murky trade with repressive regimes have to do with the defence of Australia? Why is Australia willing to be associated with the deaths of tens of thousands—maybe hundreds of thousands—of children, and to stain its international reputation just to provide a comparatively small number of Australians with jobs of questionable morality?

Then there is Binoy Kampmark on Eureka Street, writing about the AUKUS deal. Kampmark goes into the troubled history of the submarine contract with France before commenting on the new deal with the US and the UK.

One marriage may have been dissolved, but underlying problems remain with the new relationship. For one, no contract of supply has actually been drawn up. The horizon as to when these submarines will become operational is even farther than that of the Attack class, with assessments putting the year at 2040.

But are the submarines really the point?

The conclusion to reach here [Kampmark goes on] was that sharing some prized technology was a small price to pay for a further roping in of Australian real estate with a commitment to any conflict waged by the US in the Indo-Pacific.

The Great White Fleet at Sydney, 20 August 1908 (Australian Stamp Covers)

We can look forward to US aircraft, more US Marines, US attack vessels parked on our soil. The Great White Fleet meets the Battle of Brisbane? Will there be a particular US commander with whom the Australian prime minister becomes great pals, like Macarthur and Curtin in World War II?

As the dust settles [Kampmark concludes], AUKUS and the nuclear submarine deal, reached without parliamentary or public scrutiny, provides succour for the hawks as Australia becomes increasingly militarised.

And, as Australia buys new military kit from our ‘allies’, there will be plenty of room in the new, bigger Australian War Memorial for the old stuff. The arms companies might even divert some small change to the Memorial as donations, as they have done in the past. This is the military-industrial-commemorative complex.

David Stephens

23 September 2021

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