Friday, February 26, 2016

Australia beefs up its military

Australia has been called America's "deputy sheriff" in the South Pacific. The Australian government announced an increase in military spending, including the biggest expansion to its navy since World War II with 12 new submarines, 12 combat patrol vessels and nine antisubmarine frigates would be added to the current fleet. Australia’s annual defence spending will increase by $26bn over the next decade. Also seven additional P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft, 72 F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, and 12 E/A-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft. Overall, 5,000 more personnel would be recruited for the Australian military and military spending would be increased to 2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product by 2021, in keeping with a pledge that Australia made to the United States as part of its commitment to share defense responsibilities in the Asia-Pacific region. It had promised the Obama administration that it will invest in a stronger military. The Obama administration is likely to be pleased that Turnbull, who recently replaced a more conservative prime minister, Tony Abbott, retained the strong defense posture planned by Abbott, said Michael J. Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington. “Australia’s decision to go for the fifth-generation F-35 fighters and the submarines suggests the government wants a capability to go against the most capable adversary in the region, China,” Mr. Green said, I think Beijing will read between the lines and won’t be happy,” he added. 

Japanese politicians now openly talk about growing defence ties with Australia as a "quasi-alliance". This could see Japan win the bid for Australia's new fleet of 12 submarines, which the white paper said would cost $150 billion to build and maintain over the next 30 years – three times the estimates.

Of course, the Australian government portrays itself as a force for good in the region, but history says otherwise. In the past, Australia was complicit in what John Pilger describes as “Suharto's genocidal conquest” which allowed Australia, the Suharto dictatorship and the international oil companies to divide the spoils of East Timor's oil and gas resources. Researcher Sarah Niner, disclosed "vivid evidence of the lack of empathy and concern for human rights abuses in East Timor" in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs. "The archives reveal that this culture of cover-up is closely tied to the DFA's need to recognise Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor so as to commence negotiations over the petroleum in the East Timor Sea."

Once East Timor won its independence in 1999 with the blood and courage of its ordinary people. The tiny, fragile democracy was immediately subjected to a relentless campaign of bullying by the Australian government which sought to manoeuvre it out of its legal ownership of the sea bed's oil and gas revenue. To get its way, Australia refused to recognise the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the Law of the Sea and unilaterally changed the maritime boundary in its own favour. In 2006, a deal was finally signed, Mafia-style, largely on Australia's terms. Soon afterwards, Prime Minister Mari Alkitiri, a nationalist who had stood up to Canberra, was effectively deposed in what he called an "attempted coup" by "outsiders". The Australian military, which had "peace-keeping" troops in East Timor, had trained his opponents. In the 17 years since East Timor won its independence, the Australian government has taken nearly $5 billion in oil and gas revenue - money that belongs to its impoverished neighbour. 

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