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Girt by Militarization: Australia’s Strategic Outlook in the Trump Era

By Denis Bright

In this season of goodwill, it is surely in Australia’s interests to work towards the demilitarization of both the Indian Ocean and those strategically important deep ocean trenches which link the Indonesian Archipelago to the Pacific Ocean.

Peace and disarmament are long-term budget savings measures. Over-commitment to the US Global Alliance will be very costly to future generations. The costs to Australia are already apparent from the league tables of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Australia ties as equal fourth in imports of military equipment with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Pakistan.

Julie Bishop’s rhetoric about the law of the sea conventions (UNCLOS) overlooks our own government’s commitment to the network of US Military Bases which now encircle China from both Central Asia and the Indo- Pacific Ocean Basins.

NATO continues to deepen cooperation with its partner countries in Central Asia -Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It is part of NATO’s policy to reach out to strategically important regions whose security and stability are closely linked to wider Euro-Atlantic security. Each of the five countries has the potential to positively impact the future development of Afghanistan, where the Alliance remains deeply engaged (NATO Online, February 2016).

After a speech by the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to an event hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), even Australia as an associate member of NATO received some favourable mention in an informal media briefing:

Jens Stoltenberg: NATO is a regional alliance. NATO’S responsibilities is to protect and defend all allies, North America and Europe but to do so it is in our interest to have global partnerships and to build global partnerships and we have seen that in many different ways. For instance, in Afghanistan the strength of NATO has been strengthened by global partners from Australia and New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, they have participated either with troops and/or with financial support. So for NATO global partnerships is partly about us helping other countries, working with countries in Central Asia, in Africa but also about many as you alluded to, many countries outside the North-Atlantic area helping us in our missions and our operations so we will continue to be focused on global partnerships (NATO Online, November 2016).

Such expansionism however has raised concerns in the Putin Government which proceeded to offer better economic assistance to Kyrgyzstan.

Significantly, Russian influence resulted in the recent closure of the massive US air base Manas outside the capital Bishkek, marking the end of American military presence in the region.

“In essence, the closing of Manas Central Asia specialist Alexander Cooley, professor of political science at Barnard College at Columbia University.

Manas was built in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks and served as a base for more than 5.3 million Nato troops serving in Afghanistan. It officially closed in July 2014

Both the US and Australia must be reading from similar manuals in commitment to questionable exclusive economic zones and territorial rights over distant islands.

John Howard’s Timor Gap Treaty of 2006 must be one of the most outrageous claims and is being contested by Timor–Leste at the International Court of Justice. Less well noticed is Australia’s involvement in both Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands.

1 Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955 transferred ownership of these remote islands by Britain from Singapore to Australia. Australia paid $4.75 million in compensation to John Clunies-Ross for the loss of the family plantation fiefdom which had once used indentured labour from the Dutch East Indies and British Malaya.

Australian authority over Christmas Island followed in 1958 under a similar constitutional arrangement. Here the British Phosphate Commission had used indentured labour before surrender to the Japanese in 1942.

Now the site of the notorious Island Immigration Reception and Processing Centre, Christmas Island has been excised from the territory of Australia to deny rights to refugees. It is still under WA legal jurisdiction.

Christmas Island is linked to the electorate of Lingiari for voting rights to Australian citizens who are resident on this island outpost.

Australia’s future plans for the more remote Cocos Islands under the Rudd-Gillard Governments were even more outrageous.

Fearing that the Obama Administration might not seek a renewal of its military leases over Diego Garcia, Prime Minister Gillard received bipartisan support for the establishment of US drone base on the Cocos Islands (ABC News Online 28 March 2012).

2 The US Military Bases on Diego Garcia

With the steady deterioration in international relations in both the Middle East and East Asia, the US is firmly now firmly entrenched on Diego Garcia.

Diego Garcia was acquired from Britain in the mid-1960s. Financial compensation was offered to the UK’s Wilson Labour Government through a discount on the on its purchase of submarine launched Polaris missiles from the Lockheed Corporation.

As high security military installations on Diego Garcia were expanded by the Pentagon, the Chagossian people were forcibly moved to settlements in Maurtitius and the Seychelles.

The eBook by David Vine from Princeton University Press makes the following observations about operations at Diego Garcia.

The American military base on the island of Diego Garcia is one of the most strategically important and secretive U.S. military installations outside the United States. Located near the remote center of the Indian Ocean and accessible only by military transport, the little-known base has been instrumental in American military operations from the Cold War to the war on terror and may house a top-secret CIA prison where terror suspects are interrogated and tortured. But Diego Garcia harbors another dirty secret, one that has been kept from most of the world–until now.

Island of Shame is the first major book to reveal the shocking truth of how the United States conspired with Britain to forcibly expel Diego Garcia’s indigenous people–the Chagossians–and deport them to slums in Mauritius and the Seychelles, where most live in dire poverty to this day. Drawing on interviews with Washington insiders, military strategists, and exiled islanders, as well as hundreds of declassified documents, David Vine exposes the secret history of Diego Garcia. He chronicles the Chagossians’ dramatic, unfolding story as they struggle to survive in exile and fight to return to their homeland. Tracing U.S. foreign policy from the Cold War to the war on terror, Vine shows how the United States has forged a new and pervasive kind of empire that is quietly dominating the planet with hundreds of overseas military bases.

Island of Shame is an unforgettable exposé of the human costs of empire and a must-read for anyone concerned about U.S. foreign policy and its consequences. The author will donate all royalties from the sale of this book to the Chagossians (Princeton University Press Online 2016).

3 Anchors Away to the South China Sea

Given the high profile involvement of the US Global Alliance in the Indo-Pacific Regions and the waterways across the Indonesian Archipelago, Australia’s partisan role in the maritime border disputes of the South China Sea is not particularly helpful.

The map from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies offers some balance in assessing the maze of maritime claims in the Spratly Islands. Even Julie Bishop does not take sides on this issue but simply condemns the Chinese claims.

ABC News Online 18 November 2016

En Ce Moment Online 23 November 2016

Venturing into such troubled waters to court favour with President-elect Donald Trump will definitely be a costly exercise of an Australian Government which is proud of its austerity campaigns in social security, bulk-billing of Medicare claims and commitment to urban infrastructure.

A lot of wasted political energies could be saved if Julie Bishop and Marise Payne could be more honest about the fact that the world’s second economic and military power now operates in our Near North.

In the spirit of Gough Whitlam’s One China Policy, China has reciprocated with good-will towards Australia and the more adjacent ASEAN countries. The arrival of President Trump might make the excesses of the US Global Alliance an issue for public debate in Australia during 2017.

Bill Shorten is of course unlikely to encourage such foreign policy forays.

Memories of Senator Dastyari’s adventures in China are not completely forgotten.

The recent histories of Mark Latham’s appropriate criticisms of President George W. Bush in 2004 and Arthur Calwell’s heroic stand against conscription for the Vietnam War in 1966 do show how adept the federal LNP can be at using its US Global Alliance Card to win seats in Labor‘s heartland electorates.

This messenger understands the dilemmas facing mainstream Centre-Left parties in the Trump Era. Making America Great Again may require much more Australian defence spending and terrible trade-offs against national sovereignty.


Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in promoting discussion about progressive pragmatic public policies compatible with contemporary globalization.


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  1. Aortic

    Just what we need President Gump, a proliferation of nuclear weapons.

  2. paulwalter

    Yes, I can’t comment much either. As we haven’t been bludged off enough already.

  3. Arthur Tarry

    Thank you Denis – a very thoughtful article containing new information, to me, about Diego Garcia.

  4. Jacki

    Our hopes for Christmas this year and into the New Year should be one of Peace where we can all live together in harmony.
    This is not helped by proliferation of the arms race .

  5. Pat

    Very insightful – once again this subject area is not presented or discussed in mainstream media – let’s keep the peace!

  6. Leila Smith

    Great article Denis, again giving great insight into the challenges that face our world in the coming years in relation to positioning ourselves with China & the US.
    I am sure the Labour Party is up to the challenge.

  7. Catholics for Peace

    Catholics for Peace needs to be reformed. It condemned US militarism and had some traction in Sydney during the Vietnam Era.

    Maureen McDonald was one of the co-ordinators of Catholics for Peace in Sydney which had the support of Catholic academics and some of the clergy.

    Ironically, Diego Garcia Base was being built up at the time just in case China and the Soviet Union became more directly involved in the Vietnam War.

    Peace activists claim that nuclear weapons were stored on Diego Garcia just in case they were needed on B-52 bombing raids.

    Pope Paul VI was very active in supporting UN Agencies and in condemning the bombing of Hanoi, Haiphong, Vinh and other strategic centres in North Vietnam.

    With Pope Francis now in charge, Catholics for Peace would have more institutional support as Jesus himself lived in a fascist empire which had no time for political activists. Quisling local kings were highly effective and sought to destroy the Holy Family. just in case it stirred up too much resistance.

    All this has a very Christmas feel! This article gives a progressive dimension to Christmas!

    Mainstream religion can be a progressive force for change in the Trump Ascendency which is heavily backed by US Olde Tyme Religion.

  8. Maria

    Denis, interesting insights on the Australian territories. Not often in the media but play an important role in Australia’a strategic relations. Looking forward to more articles in 2017.

  9. Max Gross

    Gee, how do you think the US would feel if Russia or China had hundreds of overseas military bases? They’d probably start bombing. Again.

  10. Catholics for Peace

    Thanks Max for your comments. The US should be a progressive country as it is the Land of Modernism at least in consumerism and personal lifestyles. This are of course token symbols that give considerable soft power to the US at a populist level. Like Rome of the Ceasars, the US has chosen an imperial path. Australia does not need to follow in this direction. The excesses of Trump might be our way out of the Empire.. The Labor Movement must have the ticker to show us the exit path. Hopefully the Left Unions will flex their influence against these excesses of Empire and take us down the New Zealand path of not allowing foreign bases or visits by vessels carrying nuclear weapons. In retrospect, the demise of Kevin Rudd in 2010 was a coup from within the Labor Movement to a more right-wing and hesitant direction in relation to Australian sovereignty. Julia Gillard made Australia an associate member of NATO and brought the rotation of combat ready US troops through Darwin. Not a nice look for Peace in our Times as the US now backs instability over Taiwan and crude balance of power tactics in the Middle East through Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Israel. Prince Charles has just been east of Suez to open a new military base in Bahrain. Saudi Arabia is bombing to control rebels in the old Aden territories on the old Empire Route to the Far East.and deeply involved in the Syrian crisis.

  11. John Brame

    Incarcerat all war mongers.

  12. Paul

    Thanks for the interesting read Denis.

    Let’s hope 2017 is a year of peace and cool level thinking by the international super powers،.

    A better alternative to militarism is a combined unitied effort to help the environment and stimulate struggling economies. Fingers crossed.

  13. townsvilleblog

    Australia will be dragged into WW3 before Trump’s first year in power, I’d bet my family jewels in they were any good to me.

  14. Hisham

    Interesting article, Denis!
    Let’s hope it’s all peaceful during Trump’s presidency.

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