By Bob Briton
Since coming to power in 1996, the Howard Government has increased spending on the military by 46 per cent in real terms. Spending for the current financial year will reach $19.9 billion. Thanks to Costello's 12th Budget, next year it will be $22 billion or around 2 per cent of gross domestic product. By 2016-17 it is expected to rise to $29.9 billion.
These figures do not include the huge sums handed to the Attorney General's Department to maintain its role in the bogus US-lead "War on Terror" or the "Pacific Solution". They do not include the cost of the military-style presence of members of the Australian Federal Police in the region.
The figures DO include:
* $6.6 billion over 13 years to buy, maintain and arm 24 Super Hornet fighter bombers;
* $1.55 billion on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next three years;
* $228 million to "market and brand" the army, navy and air force as "employers of choice";
* $2.1 billion for improved pay and conditions to help stop 11 per cent of personnel leaving the forces every year;
* $864 million for a new defence home ownership scheme.
The list is long. The cost of items for the military dwarfs other, truly urgent, community needs. For comparison, the truly shameful state of Aboriginal health will have just $120 million spent on it over three years. The conservative Australian Medical Association had recommended that $460 million be spent every year to overcome the crisis but its advice was ignored.
What could possibly justify such enormous expenditures on utterly unproductive infrastructure, equipment and expertise? Is Australia facing a threat that in any way justifies the squandering of so much of society's productive capacity? Defence Minister Brendan Nelson, the person in charge of putting the best spin on the scandalous waste, does his best to heighten people's fears. "We face a future shaped largely not by what we know but that which we don't," he told the media last week.
"The big increase in spending was needed to give Defence the resources to deal with the growth of non-state threats, terrorism inspired by Muslim extremists and widespread proliferation of advanced military hardware", as defence correspondent Brendan Nicholson put it in The Age.
The Australian Defence Forces (ADF) recently weighed into the battle for ideas with a report entitled Joint Operations for the 21st Century. It foreshadows "deepening interdependence with the forces of our allies" (increased subjugation to the military command of the US) and anticipates that Australia's military might be involved in a variety of roles including conventional war fighting. We can expect bigger outlays on "joint" spy facilities and other US bases in Australia and further expensive and environmentally destructive war games with American forces.
But the report's main thrust is that Australia's military should undergo a transition from a force designed to tackle a conventional external threat to a more agile one; able to deal with terrorism and the consequences of "climate change and the impacts of global demography", as Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston explained at the launch of the document.
The military has tapped into the community's justified concerns about climate change and come up with a nightmare scenario involving the collapse of fragile governments in the region, the sinking of Pacific islands, the destruction of productive land, the loss of reliable water supplies and the outbreak of pandemics and civil strife. The clear implication is that it will be all hands on deck to defend Fortress Australia from a wave of environmental refugees.
Furthermore, "The ADF should expect to be involved in a larger number of low-intensity operations, particularly stabilisation operations." This will require the best intelligence and stealth and precision weaponry. Even with this high tech advantage, more personnel will be required and the government has already agreed to boost the number of forces personnel from the current 51,000 to 57,000 by 2016.
Having lost the non-existent Communist threat, having been caught out on equally non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction and having just about exhausted the credibility of the threat of "Islamic Terrorism", the military in imperialist countries is on the hunt for a plausible excuse for the huge amounts paid by working people for their upkeep. The real reasons, like the growth of the prestige and influence of emerging economies like China and the threat that peaceful competition poses to the longstanding economic dominance of the US, would not work.
Workers the world over have the same interest in peaceful relations, fair trade and environmental sustainability.