Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1559      8 August 2012

Plans in US for takeover of WA naval base

Last week it was revealed that the US government is considering moving a huge naval strike force to the HMAS Stirling naval base in Western Australia. The move would involve establishing new port facilities for a nuclear aircraft carrier, two nuclear submarines, two guided missile cruisers, and a supply ship carrying oil, ammunition and supplies.

It would also involve stationing 52 fighter aircraft, six electronic attack planes, six early warning aircraft, two fleet logistics planes, and 13 anti-submarine and maritime strike helicopters.

The proposal also involves constructing airport facilities for “bombers and other aircraft”, and increasing the number of US troops stationed in the Northern Territory from 2,500 to a full marine air-to-ground task force of several thousand, bolstered with helicopters and fighter aircraft.

This horrifyingly dangerous proposal is blatantly directed against China. The Wikileaks cables have already revealed that Kim Beazley, Australia’s ambassador to the US, and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, have both had discussions with the White House about the possibility of a war with China, and Australia’s role in that conflict.

The Stirling proposal is contained in a report written by the US Centre for Strategic and International Studies for the US Defence Department, and entitled US Force Posture Strategy in the Asia-Pacific Region.

The report declares enthusiastically: “Australia’s geography, political stability, and existing defence capabilities and infrastructure offer strategic depth and other significant military advantages to the United States in light of the growing range of Chinese weapons systems, US efforts to achieve a more distributed force posture and the increasing strategic importance of South-East Asia and the Indian Ocean.”

If implemented it would escalate military tensions in the region and add fuel to the current arms build-up.

It would also endanger neighbouring areas from accidents aboard the nuclear ships and submarines. It would turn Perth, Darwin and possibly other Australian cities into military targets during armed conflict between one or more of those countries and the US. The rich agricultural areas in southern West Australia and the Northern Territory, now proclaimed as Australia’s new food bowl, would be endangered by nuclear fallout and military pollution.

Implementation would have major implications for other countries in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asian regions whose activities were considered unfriendly or hostile by the US.

The proposal contemplates Australian participation in armed conflict between nations armed with the world’s most highly-developed weapons systems, which would inevitably result in the death of hundreds of thousands of people, and possibly in the use of nuclear weapons and millions of casualties and environmental damage.

Foreign military takeover

The Stirling proposal is the most expensive and ambitious of four “options” outlined in the report which concern the Indian Ocean and South East Asia region.

The second option involves increasing the number of US forces and planes stationed in Australia, but without the massive upgrading of military infrastructure involved in the Stirling proposal. It poses almost the same threat to peace in the region.

The report also considers simply maintaining the current level and location of US military forces in Australia. The US is unlikely to adopt this approach, given the challenge posed to its economic interests and aim of global domination by the growth of India and China.

The report’s final option involves reducing US military involvement in the region. That is the most rational course of action for regional security (and the US’s $15 trillion or so public debt) but is unthinkable, given obsessive US perceptions of its manifest destiny.

The Stirling proposal is amazingly arrogant. Described in the report as an “option”, it presumes that Australia will simply do as it is told. The proposal has never been put to the Australian people for their approval, nor has it been discussed in the Australian parliament.

Australian govt fails to rule it out

After the proposal was revealed, the Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith stated: “The US does not have a base in Australia and that will not change.” The government refers to Australian bases (with a US presence) or facilities, it never calls them what they are: US bases.

The satellite spy station at Pine Gap, one of the largest and most important US war fighting and intelligence bases in the world, is officially referred to as a “Joint Defence Facility”. It was used by the US for aerial attacks in the Middle East. It has no-go areas for Australians.

Moreover, the US is not proposing to build a new base, as Smith implied, but rather to expand an existing Australian base in order to accommodate US vessels, planes and support facilities, which would sit alongside their Australian counterparts.

This is what is occurring in Darwin with the expanded US presence there, including stationing of 2,500 marines.

Stirling would still be technically an Australian base, although the US facilities would dwarf ours and the US area would to all intents and purposes function as an independent military base.

Smith also said that undertaking the Stirling proposal was “not in contemplation”, well not yet. He failed to rule it out and we all know how politicians can change their minds.

Relations with China

Sun Zhe, Director of the Centre for China US Relations at the Tsunghua University in China, commented: “Of course [the Stirling proposal] would damage the relationship. It would be interpreted within China as another move to encircle China.”

Mr Sun expressed the view that the financial costs, estimated between $1 billion and $7 billion, could prevent the Stirling proposal being implemented.

However, costs alone would not necessarily deter the US. Australia would doubtless be expected to shoulder part of the financial burden. The US is restructuring its military spending in line with its shift to the new Asia-Indo-Pacific focus.

In addition, Congress has shown no real willingness to curb military spending, despite the US national debt.

Song Xiaojun, editor of China’s Naval and Merchant Ships magazine commented that China would cut off economic ties with Australia if it participated in any sovereignty dispute, for example, over the disputed islands in the South China Sea which has rich deposits of oil and gas.

That would not have serious economic implications for China in the immediate future as it already has vast stocks of coal and iron ore, much of it imported from Australia. On the other hand, it would have major implications for the Australian economy.

The adoption of the Stirling option cannot be ruled out. The US depends on its overseas bases to exert its imperial power and its war plans. It has worn out its welcome in several countries, not least because of the arrogant and abusive attitude of US military personnel to local residents, particularly women, who are in constant danger of sexual attacks.

The doors are now shutting for the US. In 1975 it lost its bases in Vietnam and later the Clark Airfield in the Philippines. Pressure is mounting on the Japanese government to kick the US out of its massive Okinawa base. The US has already been forced to agree to the removal of 9,000 marines who need new homes. Some will go to Guam and Haiti. And the remainder? Australia?

The Stirling proposal may not only be adopted but could become the thin end of the wedge, with the West Australian coastline eventually becoming a bristling line of US military ports, airfields and encampments.

It is entirely possible that as a first step in this process the US will demand increased access to the Stirling base, and that a Labor or Liberal government will be all too willing to comply. The Australian people must prevent this happening.  

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