The Australian Space Agency and the balance of forces in our region
Recent moves to use Australian-based facilities for space research have shown the strategic diplomatic significance of the country for United States military planning in the Asia-Pacific region.
Problems, however, have arisen.
The US diplomatic position in the region is increasingly unpopular; the level of unpopularity has been easy to identify in recent months, with implications for Australia.
In mid-2018, with a minimum of publicity, the Australian government established the Australian Space Agency (ASA. (1) Far from being a plan to film romantic images of people on the moon, the ASA forms a strategic part of US regional military planning; Australian 'defence and intelligence agencies' have the designated role to 'help America defend its dominance in space'. (2)
There remains little ambiguity with an official media release including that Australia had an important 'geographical location to help the US detect enemies in space'. (3)
Australia has been the most important US ally for decades, following the opening of their intelligence facilities based on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and South African-based Silvermine in 1973. (4) The intelligence facilities drew upon extensive use of Pine Gap in Central Australia. The intelligence provision has been increased in years. Australian-based military facilities have now been linked to counterparts in Japan to provide the Pentagon with triangular real-time planning provision following the Global Transformation of Defence and Security (GTDS) over the past decade.
The ASA and militarisation of Space
It is not difficult to establish the timing of the recent military planning. The rise of China together with the Russian Federation have been regarded as a major hegemonic challenge to traditional US regional positions. The development has been accompanied by a continual stream of Defence Department media releases filtered into Australian mainstream media to portray the country as being under siege from foreign subversion. The professional judgement of editorial boards remains truly awe-inspiring: even the language and terminology used by journalists appears reminiscent of jargon from the previous Cold War when it was directed primarily at the former Soviet Union. (5)
A study of official ASA websites, however, reveal the present Turnbull coalition government in Canberra has adopted a rather delusional position toward the whole matter, trying hard to avoid unnecessary publicity. The underlying quest, however, remains technological mastery over adversaries. One explanation for the position adopted by the present Australian government, therefore, is the very real possibility of influence being brought to bear from within the US military-industrial complex upon compliant heads resident in Canberra.
The establishment of the ASA, nevertheless, formed part of the 2018/19 budget, with an allocation of $26 million over the coming four years together with further support of $15 million in the 2019/20 budget. No reference was given to any form of defence capability in official media releases. Corporate publications, likewise, specify the ASA had already established $300 million in private investment with an office in the Department of Industry in Canberra. (6)
Mainstream business media, likewise, include references to Australia being a 'space hub driven by entrepreneurs and investors', and being 'commercially focussed'. (7) Part of the commitment of being a space hub, however, has also included reference to one company 'busy working on its mission to connect the world's 75 billion devices' revealing access by the corporate sector to highly sophisticated signals communications. (8) There remains little ambiguity about which organisation has been responsible for allowing the necessary access. One reference included a statement about 'Pentagon interest in commercial technology', and satellite systems 'to serve both commercial and national security markets'. (9)
A reference, therefore, to 'space-based communications', which, 'link army, navy and air force assets to enable them to conduct joint operations, while also enabling the collection and distribution of intelligence including signals intelligence and satellite imagery' also reveal a great deal about the militarisation of the corporate sector. (10) There is also another factor to consider. It is highly likely the US seeks greater support from the corporate sector which is regarded as more secure than government departments. US-based intelligence agencies have long spied on Australian Labor and trade-union organisations which they regard as fronts for possible subversion, despite members and supporters having high-level decision-making positions in Canberra.
The recent quest by US officials to seek assurances from the ALP about proposed foreign interference legislation is, however, but one example of the problem. The development actually included 'US officials quizzing Labor MPs on whether they fundamentally supported the bills' which the US are desperate to pass through the Australian legislature. (11)
The present Australian government budget allocation for the ASA is also only about a tenth of that forwarded by the corporate sector, limiting access to information about research and development by future ALP governments. It has not been difficult to find evidence to support such a view: despite the paltry offering provided by the Turnbull coalition government for the ASA project, an official media release stated, 'the growing importance of space to Australia's national security can also be evidenced by the amount of government investment'. (12)
“Cooperative engagement” in serving US imperialism
Another published reference to the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) which provides the US and Australia with military facilities which 'link our ships, aircraft and land-based assets to create an increasingly sophisticated air defence network that can see over the horizon', show the strategic and diplomatic significance of Australia to the Pentagon. (13) The CEC, however, has certain strings attached.
Despite the technological achievements a problem has arisen for the US, which has far-reaching implications for allies such as Australia.
US imperialism is increasingly unpopular in the Asia-Pacific region; its heightened, aggressive diplomatic position toward China has become counter-productive. Informed sources have noted the issue of the so-called Quadrilateral Security Grouping which has added India to the existing US, Australia, Japan triangular military plan and GTDS provision, was not even an agenda item at the recent Shangri-La Summit. For such an important US-led diplomatic initiative the omission was conspicuous. A sardonic diplomatic reference, however, that 'such oversight is perhaps deserved, since the quad has done very little since it was reconstituted last November', has revealed problems coordinating suitable military planning between those involved. (14)
The same diplomatic statement also provided a far more likely explanation about the so-called 'oversight'. It was noted 'South-east Asian nations are wary of appearing to be anti-China by being associated with the grouping'. (15) Australia, therefore, stands the very real possibility of being given the cold shoulder by other countries across the Asia-Pacific region for slavishly following US-led military directives.
Diplomatic positions of many countries at the forthcoming APEC Summit in Papua New Guinea in November are unlikely to be straightforward under the circumstances. Behind the communal Papua New Guinean dancing of various wontok groupings, with men wearing tribal war-paint and bare-chested women in grass-skirts, will lie a matter, as yet, never resolved for many of those attending. It began with independence and the establishment of neo-colonial elites to serve the interests of imperialist political and corporate sectors. Following decades of pillaging and plundering of subject economies by western interests, the national question has now arisen in many countries across the Asia-Pacific region.
It will be played out in coming decades, alongside and closely linked to the rising influences of China, eventually drawing to a conclusion that must favour genuine anti-imperialist independence for all nations in the region.
(NB - One day after this article was posted, Trump announced the creation of a Space Force as the 6th branch of the US imperialist armed forces. Read the Washington Post announcement here )
1. US looks to allies for space partners, Australian, 7 June 2018.
4. Maritime Operational and Communications HQ, The Star, International Airmail Weekly, Johannesburg, 10 March 1973; and, Security in the mountain, The Star, International Airmail Weekly, Johannesburg; 17 March 1973, and, United States Defence Department websites: Diego Garcia, and, Actual Size World Maps of Region which allow an arc from Diego Garcia to swing directly down on Silvermine to the left and Pine Gap to the right of the circumference.
5. See: Australian, 15 June 2018, page 4; and, The Assault on the West, Ian Grieg, (London, 1968), Chapter 8, Not just one method, Recruitment of non-communists and types of information sought, pp. 95-121.
6. Australian Space Agency, Manufacturers Monthly, 12 June 2018.
7. Joining the space race late gives us an edge, Australian, 13 June 2018.
9. Airbus, tech pair fire up satellite plan, Australian, 20 April 2018.
10. Australian, op.cit., 7 June 2018.
11. US calls Labor MPs on foreign meddling, Australian, 4 June 2018.
12. Australian, op.cit., 7 June 2018.
13. Missile defence hits the mark far out of sight, Advertiser (Adelaide), 18 April 2018.
14. Security partners limit commitment to quad, Australian, 8 June 2018.