This article was published in New Matilda on 10 October 2013.
The Australian Navy centenary celebrations held over the weekend have been hailed as a great success. With a $40 million budget and Sydney Harbour on a sunny day as a backdrop, that shouldn't have been hard to pull off.
Is this display of naval strength as benign as the shower of fireworks and endless media coverage of smiling sailors suggest? Should there have been an outcry? Some of the sideshows to the naval displays highlight that there is every reason to be concerned and critical.
The little publicised three day Pacific2013 International Maritime Exposition held at Sydney’s Darling Harbour is the ugly side of Sydney's naval shindig. Underwritten by the Federal and NSW governments, exhibitors at this arms bazaar included some of the world’s largest weapons dealers including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Serco and Thales.
The unsavoury aspects of this trade extend far beyond dealing in death and destruction. Recent studies show that the arms trade contributes about 40 per cent of all corruption in global transactions.
The fleet review and its sideshows are a critical component of the US’s increasingly belligerent foreign policy. Strengthening western-aligned Asia Pacific nations is part of the White House "pivot" aimed at restricting Chinese naval actions and managing regional resource development and trade.
Fred Downey, vice president for national security at the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group that represents US arms makers, has conveniently explained that the US pivot policy "will result in growing opportunities for our industry to help equip our friends".
This is why major arms manufacturers turned up in Sydney this week. The Pacific International Maritime Exposition, held to coincide with visits by regional government and naval representatives, is an ideal profit booster for such companies.
These profits rely on a growth in trade of weapons and technologies that deliver death, destruction, suffering and torture.
The crowds thronging Darling Harbour, where this exposition was held, would have been hard-pressed to find out the nature of Pacific2013; the organisers buried any mention of the arms trade fair. Under a long list of what is showcased at the Expo there is a single mention of “weapons systems and platforms”.
The Sydney Stop the War Coalition brought some balance to this troubling but well-disguised event with a protest outside the Expo. They are opposed to regional military build-up, instead calling for trust and understanding to be promoted between the people of Australia and the Asia Pacific region.
Successive Australian governments, both Labor and Coalition, however, while talking about regional cooperation are acting as the US deputy sheriff. Australia is now centre stage in an alarming level of military build-up in this region.
The former Gillard government, with the support of the then opposition, signed off on stationing 2500 US marines in Darwin with naval backup so they can be quickly deployed around the region. The US Air Force will also be based in northern Australia and there will be an expansion of activities at US bases like Pine Gap and more US-Australian joint military exercises. Perth is set to become a major US home port to a whole US carrier group made up of a nuclear powered carrier, aircraft squadrons, guided missile cruisers, destroyers, nuclear-powered attack submarines, and supply ships.
This US military build-up in Australia is occurring alongside an 85 per cent Australian Defence Forces upgrade, which will cover an unprecedented increase in naval power. For all the sparring between Labor and the Coalition they have both backed purchases of 12 submarines at a cost of $25 billion, four air-warfare destroyers for $6 billion; and 24 helicopters at $3 billion.
With Australia’s daily military spending at $68 million and with so many regional powers in town for the naval celebrations, armaments companies would have welcomed the opportunities the Pacific2013 Expo opened up for them.
So while the sun shone on what many viewed as a great day for the navy and Australia, it is worth remembering that it was a great day for Pacific2013, and for the barely regulated international arms trade.
This is an industry that even before a bomb explodes or a weapon is fired is already undermining legitimate governments and the promotion of peace and security that serves people, not corporate interests.