Friday, January 6, 2023

Australian Defence “obsessed with buying US equipment” - critics


(Above: Test firing a HIMARS missile     Photo from Creative Commons Flickr)

Written by: Nick G. on 6 January 2023

On January 5, 2023 Defence Minister Richard Marles and Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy made a joint announcement about an Australian purchase of US-made long-range missiles and Norwegian-made naval strike missiles.

The announcement has left some associated with the defence forces angry at the secrecy associated with the purchases, and with the Defence Department’s obsession with purchasing US equipment.

The announcement came with glowing reports of the efficiency of the US High Mobility Artillery Rocket (HIMARS) system which the Ukrainians have happily tested on the hapless Russian invasion forces.

Writing in the online Asia Pacific Defence Reporter on January 6, editor Kym Bergmann described as Theatre of the Absurd a Defence Department claim that it could not reveal the precise cost of the systems for reasons of “national security”. He referred to the “obsessive and pointless secrecy that has become the hallmark of how the Defence Department deals with everything”. Using readily available information, he then calculated the costs, saying “security analysts in Beijing, Moscow and Pyongyang are more than capable of figuring out the cost of things for themselves”.

Bergmann’s concern with the lack of transparency matches Australia’s dramatic drop in the annual Transparency International’s corruption index. Overall, Australia had dropped 12 points by 2021 (the year for which latest figures are available) on the index since 2012, more than any OECD country apart from Hungary, which also fell 12 points.

Australia was ranked seventh in the world in 2012, level with Norway. By 2021, Australia had fallen to 18th out of 180 countries. In contrast, Norway’s global standing had improved, climbing from seventh to fourth on the index.

Australian ruling circles are getting such a reputation overseas for lack of transparency that the New York Times, on June 5, 2019 ran an article with the heading, “Australia May Well Be The World’s Most Secretive Democracy”.

A lack of transparency is often the first indication that corrupt practices may be occurring.

The greater corruption in this case is the Defence Department’s slavish purchase of US equipment when alternatives are available that are both cheaper and can be more quickly delivered. South Korea has technology that would have enabled Australia’s defence forces to break out of reliance on US supply chains by building its own missiles.

In response to comments by readers on his article, Bergmann wrote, “As I have written previously, (South Korea’s) Hanwha has offered to transfer all of the technology – including the guided rockets – meaning that Australia could be producing endless quantities of weapons rather than relying on overseas supply chains”.

Another reader responds: “Exactly my point. It is amazing that so many opportunities go begging because of the slavish obsession to buy US equipment to the detriment of our strategic needs all because of politics.”

These are not the views of anti-imperialists. They come from a community that readily accepts the so-called “US-Australia Alliance” (really Australian subordination to US imperialism). But even within that community are people who are reserved in their support for the “Alliance”, people who have concerns about Australian independence and sovereignty. 

Careful mass work should aim at winning some from this group of reserved supporters of the “alliance” to the category of sceptics, of people who are not convinced that the “Alliance”, in its current form, is necessarily benefiting Australia’s security and would like to see significant change; whilst we must strengthen our voice as outright opponents of the “Alliance” who aim for genuine anti-imperialist independence and socialism.

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