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Issue #1936      12th October, 2020

REPORT: Politics in the Pub

Military spending in Australia

With Australia continuing to be in the grip of an economic recession brought on in large part by a public health epidemic, our government’s fiscal situation continues to worsen – it has started winding back JobSeeker and making cuts to higher education and renewable energy – yet in the midst of the pandemic, it made an announcement of a $270 billion funding boost for the military.

The concept of security involves more than just being prepared for military attacks. Security involves more tangible and existential threats such as climate change, and being out of work or lack of adequate housing. Opening up discussion on these issues Politics in the Pub on 24th September 2020, chose to explore the topic of Military Spending in Australia. The first of three speakers was university student and left-wing political activist Seamus Carey. Carey reminded the audience that while not all of the $270 billion spending package was new money, it also underrepresented the true extent of Australian military spending. He added that money that could be better spent elsewhere satisfying real and pressing human needs.

However, there were powerful and well-monied interests who had the ear of government and exerted influence on government policy and spending priorities. The right-wing Australian Strategic Policy Institute was one such powerful lobby group created by former conservative Prime Minister John Howard in 2001. It draws its funding from defence industry contractors such as Raytheon Technologies, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. The Australian Strategic Policy institute (ASPI) is regularly in the media, commenting on the threat of foreign interference in Australia posed by China. ASPI is also funded by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Thales Corporation, Microsoft and Austal Shipping – the latter an Australian shipbuilding company which bids for military contracts. Carey also noted that the French company Naval Group has also become a sponsor of ASPI, and then went on to win the contract to build ten submarines for the Australian navy – though that deal has since become mired in controversy over whether it was money well spent. Carey said that when money was spent on defence, then health care, education, housing and public infrastructure missed out.

To decrease the pull of military spending, governments should instead win people over to the cause of peace – as, at present, governments think the only way to secure peace is through war or talking about war and creating enemies and threats. Peace today should be seen as a matter of survival – not only of humanity but all life forms upon which humanity depends. It was poignant to note the environmental movement is another movement interested in human survival – dealing with a threat which is posing challenges through rising temperatures, increased storms, often drier climates interfering with the growing of crops and caring for livestock. War, noted Carey, is the most damaging cause of environmental degradation.

The second speaker was Chad Satterlee, a political economist, who observed that defence budgets rarely face calls for belt-tightening. He quoted the former Prime Minister Paul Keating who recently attacked the disproportionate influence which security agencies have over our current foreign policy direction. Part of the power which these security agencies wield is the specialist knowledge of the equipment and programs for which they are requesting funding. This makes it difficult to achieve accountability, and has led to cost overruns and boondoggle projects. For arms manufacturers, military expenditure is very profitable precisely because there is so little questioning of actual costs. Governments see little need for much scrutiny, as they want to appear strong on national security and defence.

Satterlee argued that “centrist” calls for spending to be directed away from defence towards other social programs such as free childcare, more hospitals, JobKeeper, education and research, and public housing ignores the class interests which would be structurally undermined through such a massive redirection. This is a key part of the reason why such a redirection does not occur. As well as leaving ruling class interests undisturbed, there is also evidence that, for rich countries like Australia, defence spending is beneficial for a certain sort of economic growth – not to be confused with human welfare. The solution is to overcome the property relations which reproduce these class interests. This would make it easier for defence spending to be redirected, since the entire population would have an equal say over spending priorities.

Satterlee concluded by suggesting that the common claim that a reduction in defence spending would end the US-Australia alliance wrongly imagines that, with an independent foreign policy in place, Australia faces geopolitical threats beyond basic border control, which could be funded with fewer resources than our current US-led approach.

The next two speakers are a couple, Adrian Glamorgan and Elizabeth PO’, who have a peace and anti-nuclear radio program on RTR Community Radio, “Understory.” They began with a dialogue which highlighted how peace could so easily slip from our grasp. Their dialogue was peppered with the slogans used by governments and capital, which try to buy our acceptance of the need for war, large military budgets, nuclear deterrence and nuclear energy.

“If the job is to win wars, then we will win with peace.”

“World War I was the war to end all wars.” Though peace only lasted twenty years.

“After World War II we made the United Nations so we wouldn’t have more wars […] and then we had the Korean War, war in Malaysia, Vietnam War, war in Afghanistan and the war which nobody wanted – the war in Iraq.” No one won any of these wars, and these wars created lots of refugees.

Peace works better as it gives us safety, security, learning and national parks. To achieve these noble and uplifting goals said Glamorgan, we need to redefine security and therefore to get away from the “drug” of military spending. A lot of money is still spent in the US on maintaining the weaponry associated with the nuclear arsenal – between 2010 and 2018 it was calculated to be $179 billion.

Many people that were previously hawks on military expenditure, including the “nuclear deterrent,” have now turned away and support more peaceful options, including Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn – the first two being former US Secretaries of State, the third being a former Defence Secretary and the last a former hawkish US senator of note. They can also see no rational argument for a nuclear weapons program and are advocates for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty of which today, we are only six countries away from ratification.

We needed to widen the definition of security to ensure there be less insecurity, instability and inequality in the world, so that it would include a good public health system, a good public education system, a healthy environment and ecosystems, sustainable agriculture, food security and job security for all.

The Communist Party of Australia supports the call for less spending on the military and more spending on those projects which will genuinely increase our security – including public health, public education, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, public and community housing and the arts.

Next article – THIS WEEK …

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