US imperialism’s plans to incorporate Pacific Islanders in the ADF
A report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has revealed some important changes are being considered by US imperialism in using Australia as a southern hub for the military training of Pacific Islanders.
The ASPI is an influential advisory body within the corridors of power in Canberra and it is important to note the planning will draw Australia even closer into US-led operations and the new Cold War.
Three important considerations, therefore, arise, each with far-reaching implications for Australia, as it will:
• centralise Australia's position within US-led diplomacy and military training throughout the region, in conjunction with Japan;
• involve Pacific Islanders for deployment elsewhere with US-led military planning;
• create a tier of compliant Pacific Island military personnel to serve 'US interests', which may not be automatically compatible with the interests of their countries of origin.
The recent ASPI report about extending the Australian role for military training of Pacific islanders for US-led regional operations has provided further evidence of a stepping-up of US diplomacy and military planning for the Asia-Pacific region. (1) The idea of using Australian military facilities for training Pacific Islanders was quietly floated and then shelved a couple of years ago; it was noted at the time, for example, that 'defence force personnel from Pacific countries should have stints with the Australian Defence Force to boost their skills'. (2)
While no apparent reason has been given for why the original plan was shelved, it was likely to be that the Australian role with the Pacific Islands has changed over recent decades; the ruling elites of the islands which guided their countries to independence, have now gone. In their place are political leaders which have tended to be more assertive of the rights and singular interests of their countries. Part of their political education was also witnessing the implementation of Australian-led aid programs which did little for the mass of the population who continue to live in dire poverty, with few meaningful life-chances and opportunities. The aid programs, however, did open the economies of Pacific Islands to wholesale exploitation of natural resources and minerals with 'capital-flight' lining the pockets of share-holders who lived elsewhere.
The issue of widespread environmental damage caused by mining techniques has also been regarded as serious by tens of thousands of villagers in Papua New Guinea, for example, those who lost their livelihoods with the development of the OK Tedi mine. (3) A similar pattern of complete disregard for local people and their rights by Australian-based mining companies was commonplace across the wider region.
The political education of the new rising elite has, therefore, been marked by an increasingly strained relationship with Canberra, which is regarded as doing little for most Pacific Islanders.
Studies conducted by PNG academic Patrick Kaiku have, for example, already drawn attention to the problem that 'Australia conveys a patronising image of the Pacific when citing the China threat. Labelling the islands as 'our patch' or 'sphere of influence' is an unproductive message'. (4)
US-led foreign policy toward the Pacific has also had to contend with an increased regional organisation of localised issues: bodies including the Pacific Islands Forum and Melanesia Spearhead Group, have been able to co-ordinate militant opposition to French colonialism in New Caledonia together with pro-independence sentiments in West Papua and Bougainville. (5) Traditional neo-colonial ties between the Pacific Islands and metropolitan capitals can no longer be taken for granted; a growing opposition has become clearly visible.
The problem has also been exacerbated in recent times, by diplomacy conducted by China toward with many of the islands, which has given rise to an aggressive US-led diplomacy and military planning to 'push back' what are regarded as threats to traditional US hegemonic positions.
The recent ASPI report can, therefore, best be reviewed in the light of recent developments and a serious attempt by the US to use Australia as a regional hub for training provision to strengthen its strained relationship with the Pacific.
US-led regional diplomacy has, in recent years, made use of Australia and Japan as two regional hubs for 'US interests'. The so-called Trilateral Strategic Dialogue (TSD) has closely linked the three countries for military operations; the US provide the military planning, which is then channelled through the two hubs. Recent studies have concluded that 'Australian and Japanese militaries work together and almost as closely as they do with the US', and, 'both Canberra and Tokyo have an interest in expanding their maritime co-operation', together with references to, 'Tokyo's regional outreach partnering with Australia'. (5)
Other recent studies, likewise, have established increased US reliance upon Australia; the same arc and radius which links US intelligence facilities based on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean with Pine Gap also swings through Guam, another strategically-placed US military facility in Micronesia. Both facilities have also been upgraded by the US in recent times as hubs for military operations. (6) It is also significant to note a similar arc also swings through Singapore, which has hosted facilities for the expanded JORN radar system which is being updated at the present time. (7) The arc would appear to have provided US-led military planners with a demarcation line for Australian responsibility toward the region, including a large section of the Pacific.
The ASPI report can, therefore, be seen as an important contribution toward US-led diplomatic and military initiatives toward the wider region and the implementation of the new Cold War.
The report begins with the claim the ADF requires more personnel in line with a government defence budget of $200 billion for equipment programs for new systems. There is little ambiguity, however, with the wording and role of Australia for regional operations. While paying attention to 'our Pacific step-up', without open reference to the US-led initiative, it stated, 'we need to attract foreign nationals here whose skill is a willingness to serve in the ADF. We should consider recruiting Pacific Islanders for our military'. (8)
Further into the report is a proposal that 'we should consider inviting Pacific Islanders into our military for a three to four year period'. (9) The time-span concerned being similar to a basic term of duty or training within a military academy, with reference to 'skills transfer' and 'our Defence Force conducts world-class training and skills in everything from medicine to engineering to all trades, leadership and management'. (10) It recommended down-playing the notion of 'guest-workers', although it was acknowledged that 'remittances back to home countries would be hugely beneficial to the islands'. (11)
The contentious issue of citizenship is then dealt with toward the end of the report; Pacific Islanders have, historically, been regarded as rather different to the white, Anglo-based middle classes which have tended to dominate ADF considerations and military careers. The report did, nevertheless, acknowledge 'citizenship might even be offered on completion of service', but that 'some, not all, would stay in Australia'. (12) It did not elaborate on the reasons for the problem of 'the very low number of Pacific people in our country', although anyone with a sensible approach to the matter would acknowledge racism and discrimination toward black people remains a prevalent problem in contemporary Australia. (13)
But every cloud for the ASPI, including those problems which they refrain from openly acknowledging, has a silver-lining: on completion of their military service with the ADF, Pacific Islanders would return to their countries of origin. They would be, in the terminology of the report, 'returning veterans', responsible for bringing 'these skills and attitudes back to their homes. Many would join home security services, government business or politics, further strengthening institutional links between Australia and the Pacific'. (14)
No reference was given, however, to the notion of 'ground-human', a US military term used for a localised agent of influence who had specialist knowledge of an area. Continual updating of surveillance technology has provided those within the higher echelons of class and state power with hugely powerful facilities for monitoring developments; a satellite image of a building, however, requires accurate identification for any meaningful assessment of an area to be made. Intelligence operations require a human on the ground.
The reference to returning veterans can, perhaps, also be regarded as a sinister twist to the whole endeavour outlined by the ASPI: amid the flowery language of 'Pacific cousins', reference was also given to their possible, and under present-day circumstances, highly likely, 'deployment throughout the Indo-Pacific or in the islands themselves'. (15) Having been trained in Australia, Pacific Island military personnel were likely to be pushed into the forefront of Pentagon-planned real war scenarios.
And in conclusion, the ASPI report leave their punch-line about the nature of Canberra-based aid programs until the final paragraph, where it is stated that 'having Pacific Islanders being part of the delivery of Australian programs to the Pacific states' would be more appropriate and 'will make that engagement much more effective'. (16) Reference, however, was not given to Pacific Islanders being used for out-sourcing US-led regional policies, channelled through Australia in what would appear predominantly military-style repressive techniques.
Two final matters have to be considered as highly relevant:
• the ASPI report can best be regarded as a rather patronising approach to the re-establishment of more effective neo-colonial relations between US-led regional initiatives and Australia with the Pacific Islands;
• older military training manuals from the previous Cold War would appear to continue to provide the blue-print for current ASPI position. One, covering basic military provision for Organisation and Tactics, carefully laid down the role of the military in the sphere of civil affairs. It acknowledged the military were incapable of undertaking longer-term government functions, although it should retain the role of 'exercising general supervision' over civil affairs in line with a systematic strengthening of the State. The thinking would appear to underlie much of the ASPI report:
We need an independent foreign policy!
1. Pacific Islander Boots Would Help Defence Step Up, Australian, 3 September 2019.
2. Don't take Pacific role for granted, says Labor, Australian, 21 April 2017.
3. Wikipedia: OK Tedi Mine, which has provided basic information about background to problems arising with the former BHP-owned mine which was responsible for environmental discharges downstream which affected 50,000 people living in a 120 small villages, dependent upon clean water-supplies for their vegetable gardens and traditional agrarian life-styles. The mine destroyed whole areas of the Western Province of PNG.
4. China casts a spell on PNG, Australian, 20 September 2018.
5. See: Regional Implications, pp. 17-18,
Neighbouring Melanesian Fragilities, pp. 18-19,
Broader shifts in the Pacific, pp. 19-20,
New Caledonia's independence referendum: Local and regional implications, The Lowy Institute, May 2019.
6. Japan's Security Identity in the Indo-Pacific, Implementing the Indo-Pacific: Japan's region building initiatives, Perth-US Asia Centre, August 2019, Chapter 6, pp. 86-98.
7. US intensifies military presence in the Indo-Pacific, Global Times, 24 July 2018.
8. Radar Surveillance, World Today, ABC News, 16 December 2019.
9. Australian, op.cit., 3 September 2019.