Australia's warmongers must come clean on weapons exports

Australia's warmongers must come clean on weapons exports
6 min read
02 Feb, 2018
Comment: The Australian government is exporting death and doom to the Middle East while keeping its citizens in the dark about the nature of its dirty business, writes CJ Werleman.
Australia's government refuses to release details of the weaponry it exports to Saudi Arabia [Getty]
Australia, a land located tens of thousands of miles from the Middle East, played a significant role in helping destabilise the region when it provided political and military support to the US' illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Now, it is seeking to capitalise on that chaos and conflict it helped sow.

Last week, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unveiled plans to become one of the world's top 10 arms exporters, identifying the Middle East as one of its primary target markets.

Australia is currently the world's 20th biggest war lord, with exports totalling US$350 million in the 2009 to 2013 period, compared with the US$39 billion and US$24 billion moved by the United States and Russia, respectively.

To break into the top 10 of the world's biggest exporters of bloodshed and human suffering, Australia will need to increase its shipment of killing machines and platforms to more than US$2.4 billion every four years, a level that would see it replace fellow white settler colonial state, Israel, in 10th place.

Australia - a land rich in natural resources, and blessed with a highly skilled and vibrant workforce; a country acclaimed for its political and economic stability - has chosen to lead its peers in the business of industrial-scale human slaughter.

Last year, two of the world's leading human rights organisations - Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International - called on Australia to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch asserted that Australian sold arms were furthering the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and Amnesty stated that,

"Australia must cease the authorisation of any future arms transfers while there remains a substantial risk these arms will be used to fuel human rights abuses. Australia must not be complicit in enabling the abuse and the deliberate targeting of civilians."

Australia is choosing to invest in the global arms trade rather than renewable energies and peaceful technologies

In the past year, Australia's military approved four military exports to the kingdom, a country mostly responsible for the violent deaths of more than 10,000 Yemeni civilians, with the Australian government urging the defence sector to export more.

Even more troubling is the fact the Australian government refuses to release details of the weaponry it exports to Saudi Arabia, claiming such disclosure would undermine "commercial-in-confidence rules".

"Australia should come clean about the equipment that is being supplied to the Saudi Arabia government, and how it will be used," says Elaine Pearson, Australian Director for Human Rights Watch.

It's unconscionable the Australian government is exporting death and doom to the Middle East while keeping its citizens in the dark about the nature of its dirty business.

Read more: The UK is prioritising trade over human rights in UAE

"Most western nations send annual reports of their Defence spending to SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute - the resource of global security. Australia stopped giving out that information in 2005," observes  Ingeborg Van Teeseling.

"Knowledge is a great thing. Once you know something, you can make up your mind about its value or otherwise. If you don't, you can't. Informing your citizens on what you are up to is at the core of a democracy. So what does that tell us about Australia?"

Australia is making a choice about where it sees itself in the future global economy, a choice that leads only to the export of death and carnage underwritten by the Australian taxpayer.

"When the Australian government looks for a new manufacturing and export opportunity, the best they can do is weapons?" asks  Tim Costello, the chief advocate for World Vision Australia. "Millions of people across the world are running from violence and our answer to that is to produce more weapons. Whatever money we make from this dirty business will be blood money."

Former US Vice President Joe Biden is credited with the axiom, "Don't tell me your values. Show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value." Well, Australia is choosing to invest in the global arms trade rather than renewable energies and peaceful technologies, for instance.

"If we had commercialised over the years the breakthroughs that have been made in Australia in solar, in wind, in wave technology, then we would be a lot better off today in terms of jobs and export potential," contends Anthony Albanese, the shadow minister for infrastructure.

But exporting arms is not about making Australia a better place, and it's most certainly not about making the world a better place. It is about capitalising on the chaos and instability in the Middle East, Central Asia, Asia Pacific, and elsewhere the bullets and blood fire and flow.

Australian defence policy in recent decades has pivoted on a notion entitled the "Arc of Instability," which refers to an imaginary geographic line stretching eastwards from Indonesia to Papua New Guinea, and southeast to the Solomon Islands; and narrates what Australian defense policy makers view as potential regional geostrategic threats.

Exporting arms is about capitalising on the chaos and instability in the Middle East

Certainly, however, Australia has its eye on the Middle East, where it played a significant role in sowing the chaos and conflict that afflicts the region today. Australia provided military support for the Bush administration's illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq, and until last month flew 2,700 air combat missions over Iraq and Syria in the war against Islamic State (IS).

So, to emphasise the last point: Australia directly contributed to the start of today's violence and conflict in the Middle East, and now it seeks to not only profit from what it helped ignite, but also add to it by helping flood the region with even more weapons.

Oxfam Australia slammed Australia's ambitions, arguing, "Australia is known as a stable, peaceful, democracy. We should be exporting those values to build a more peaceful world, rather than potentially fuelling insecurity and instability."

Even Germany - one of the world's leading arms exporters - is set to limit the number of weapons it ships to the Middle East, announcing it will suspend sales to countries involved in the conflict in Yemen.

Moreover, Australia's warmongering business deals come at a time when its international reputation for observing human rights and international law is sinking. Its heinous treatment of refugees, rising hate crimes, racially biased counterterrorism laws, violence against children in youth detention, and persistent injustices carried out against indigenous communities all speak for themselves. 

A report prepared for the United Nations said that while Australia had made progress in some areas, it had "clearly gone backwards" in others.

To add insult to the self-inflicted injury thrust upon its international reputation, Australia also finds itself as one of the two largest cutters of foreign humanitarian aid. In the years 2012 to 2016, its foreign aid as a share of national income fell sharply from 0.36 percent to 0.23 percent.

A foreign policy that depends upon more guns and fewer servings of butter is no foreign policy at all. It's merely crass opportunism and short-term profiteering masquerading as geostrategic foresight.

CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.