The recent publication of the US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) economic projections received very little media coverage in Australia. The 42 column centimetres of coverage was given low priority. A few days later, however, a massive near full-page spread with 125 column centimetres together with a large photograph of President Trump addressing a Keep America Great rally in New Jersey was given high priority. Diplomatic silence would appear to have been imposed from a high-level, to prevent what was regarded as unnecessary publicity about a crisis looming for traditional US hegemonic positions in the Asia-Pacific region and the position of Australia. (1)
It was noted in the CBO publication that following round after round of tax cuts together with increased federal spending, the US is now confronted with serious budgetary problems.
The US now has a projected economic growth rate in decline from the present 2.2 per cent this year to 1.7 per cent after 2021. This development, following the pomp and ceremony of President Trump's 2016 election campaign where he alleged he could pay off federal debt inside eight years, now carries a very hollow ring. In fact, it was noted by John Yarmouth, chair of the House Budget Committee that, 'President Trump's economic policies did not create a sustained boost for the economy like he has claimed'. (2)
The year after taking office the Trump administration enacted a further round of tax cuts. The move was aimed at strengthening the far-right power-base supporting the president. Despite administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, stating the cuts would stimulate economic growth and therefore would pay for themselves, the moves subsequently have been projected by the CBO to increase budget deficits by a further $1 trillion over the next decade onto an already escalating debt which has increased to $23 trillion. (3)
It was noted, furthermore, that the policies pursued by the Trump administration 'have moved in the opposite direction'. (4) The US also resides in a global economy which has been noted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in their January update to have already slowed into a 'danger zone', where GDP growth is only 2.9 per cent. (5)
A closer study of the nature of the debt has revealed:
* Debt held by the public has been projected to rise from 81 per cent of GDP this year, to 98 per cent by 2030;
* Washington will be spending at least $1 trillion more than it collects in revenue this year;
* The estimated deficit, as a share of GDP, will increase by 4.3 per cent every year until 2030.
Longer term economic projections by the CBO estimate the federal debt will increase to a record 174 per cent of GDP by 2049, thirty points higher than the CBO projection made in 2019.
The US would, therefore, appear to be facing a serious financial crisis in future times.
A major part of US government spending is linked directly and indirectly with national security and the military. The Trump administration, for example, announced last year they were increasing the budget for national security to $750 billion for 2020, including $718.3 billion for defence.
The military spending, however, is not sustainable. It also rests upon a foreign policy which is overbearing and cumbersome and increasingly implemented in a haphazard manner without proper assessments of the balance of forces and likely outcomes. There are numerous examples: Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, immediately spring to mind.
A great deal of the defence budget is allocated toward foreign policy for areas of the world where 'US interests' are regarded as important. For the past two decades the US has therefore been preoccupied with the Asia-Pacific region; the most dynamic sector of the global economy. Due to financial constraints, however, US imperialism has already been increasingly dependent upon allies for support.
It is not particularly difficult to establish a trend already well under-way in the Asia-Pacific region: the US use of regional allies has had far-reaching implications for Australia and Japan as two hubs for US-led foreign policy. Both allies are closely linked into three-way diplomatic relations with their military and security systems linked to the Pentagon. It is no surprise therefore to find a recent statement from Washington which referred to 'Japan and Australia … as key allies'. (6) Japan has, in effect, lost its pacifist constitution and has already embarked on overseas military operations; Australia has been thrust into a leadership position with a regional Cold War and operations even further afield.
Australia has hosted US intelligence facilities at Pine Gap, Central Australia, for decades. The facilities, linked to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, remain central for US-led global defence and security considerations. In recent times their use has been extended still further; Australia, correspondingly, has been drawn closer into the US sphere of influence with an almost endless stream of military exercises and involvement in both the Middle East and Afghanistan, both outside of Australia's usual areas of involvement.
Australia's main area of interest for foreign policy has historically tended to concentrate upon the South Pacific and then wider Asia-Pacific areas. In recent times, however, the US has identified China's involvement in the region as a threat to their traditional hegemonic positions. China has emerged as a major competitor, and the US, therefore, has developed foreign policy aimed at containing and encircling the influence of Beijing's diplomacy.
Part of the US-led foreign policy has included the elevation of South Pacific affairs from a relatively minor area of interest to now having a full-time staff member of the National Security Council in Washington, headed by President Trump, to oversee the area close to Australia's northern shores. (7) It is no longer regarded as a backwater and PNG, for example, will soon host US-led military facilities at the Lombrum base on Manus Island. The strategically-placed facilities will increase the need for US-led surveillance of PNG to prevent problems arising with government officials not supporting the initiatives. The moves have been accompanied by another part of the US-led foreign policy that has not been as well publicised, which has included US troop rotations through northern Australia and facilities for rapid deployment into the near region. Military exercises take place on the regular basis.
Australia, as a result, has placed itself in a dangerous position in our traditional area of influence; the Pentagon will quite clearly expect greater involvement from Canberra in the future. It is not difficult to find seemingly small, localised issues, which could easily escalate into major diplomatic and military confrontations: in Papua New Guinea the recent controversy about Oil Search's natural $20 billion gas plan and a statement from the Marape government in Port Moresby that 'the gas belongs to PNG's people', has already created serious tensions with Exxon Mobil, part of the US corporate sector, which leads the joint venture. (8) The PNG government subsequently issued an official media release and in diplomatic language stated 'we are willing to allow international oil companies to develop the field and achieve decent returns by exporting most of the gas, but PNG must also benefit. It is hugely disappointing that our negotiation partners will not agree to such terms'. (9)
A terse statement issued on behalf of the Exxon Mobil company from Canberra, concluded 'Exxon is unlikely to show much flexibility in meeting the needs of the PNG government', following their declaration that the position of the PNG government 'would not have given it an adequate return on investment'. (10)
For those in the corporate sector who fling finance capital to the four corners of the globe, the struggle is relentless.
The previous Sandline crisis in PNG in the late 1990s, where international mercenaries were used in an attempt to re-open the Bougainville mine is yet another example. It is interesting to note that during the crisis Australian maritime facilities were used for logistics and transportation purposes to the South Pacific. Which corporate organisations actually footed the bill for the Sandline fiasco, and who co-ordinated the para-military activity in Canberra, has never really been satisfactorily explained. The continued silence surrounding the whole affair, symptomatic of high-level military and intelligence involvement, has remained deafening to the present day.
The pattern of behaviour is the outcome of a US foreign policy, drawn up to focus solely upon 'US interests' and the corporate sector, which is, however, reliant on compliant Australian personnel in the corridors of power in Canberra. They are known to have close working relations with their US counterparts, they are not difficult to identify; many are the products of an elite private education and 'scholarships' to US institutions to further their ability to be assets of Washington and the Pentagon through a whole range of related activities in Australia.
The outcome of US foreign policy, therefore, has far-reaching implications for Australia, particularly in the future where economic factors will increasingly inhibit their ability to operate across the globe in an individual capacity.
As the stakes rise for natural resources and the corporate sector seek to maximise returns on their finance capital, the possibility of Australia being drawn into US-led real-war scenarios with competitors in theatres of war for 'US interests' in the South Pacific and South China Seas is very real indeed:
We need an independent foreign policy!
1. Budget office confirms US kicking debt can down the road amid low rates, Australian, 30 January 2020.
3. Ibid.; and, Emboldened Trump is still unworthy of office, Australian, 4 February 2020.
4. Ibid., Australian, 30 January 2020.
5. Wall Street wakes up to the problems in China, Australian, 4 February 2020.
6. UK's Huawei move 'damaging', Australian, 3 February 2020.
8. See: PNG willing to walk away from Oil Search deal, Australian, 29 January 2020; and, PNG PM hits Oil Search's ambition, Australian, 3 February 2020, which provide details of a looming diplomatic stand-off between PNG, intent on defending its natural resources, and the corporate sector which has little respect for the sovereignty of small, developing countries.
10. Oil Search blasts PNG for foiling LNG plan, Australian, 4 February 2020.