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Australia's arms boost is morally indefensible

  • 13 February 2018


Brazen in their desire to become one of the world's top ten arms exporters, the government has once again pledged billions to grow an industry tainted by the spectre of needless death.

Some are quick to condemn the recently announced $3.8b fund to boost the foreign sale of arms as the act of 'warlords', but the arguments against both the proliferation and distribution of arms and defence technology are more nuanced. The issue at hand beckons closer questioning, such as what arms do we export; to whom do we export arms, and why?

Australia is still a very small fish in the world of global arms — ranked 20th in terms of arms exports, with a 0.3 per cent share of the global market. We are not the creators of large weapons of mass destruction, like missiles and bombs. Our manufacturing largely produces equipment and infrastructure ancillary to conflicts — armoured vehicles, parts of aircrafts, ship-fixing technology and high-tech defence systems.

People find it hard to envisage the devastating and warmongering effects of such exports, but a shadow is cast on all of this industrial output when we consider to whom Australia exports its arms.

Australia proudly displays its defence export agreements with democracies like the US, India, the UK and New Zealand. Yet the wars fought by these countries in recent times, like the almost half-decade conflict in Syria, have seen an unbelievable number of civilian casualties. The Syrian Network for Human Rights found that in early 2017, more civilian deaths had been caused at the hands of the US-led coalition than either the Islamic State or Russian forces.

Further, an SMH report last year detailed some of Australia's murky arms dealings with Saudi Arabia — despite the consistent public condemnation of Saudi's actions in bombing the north of Yemen.

Politicians like Christopher Pyne state that Australia has processes in place to make sure we sell arms to the right countries and people, but this process is largely obfuscated. When asked for more information surrounding our exports to Saudi Arabia, former Greens Senator Scott Ludlam was met with the government's familiar sting of 'commercial confidentiality' and 'public interest immunity'. This is echoed by the Department of Defence's line: 'Defence does not release the details of export approvals due to commercial-in-confidence restrictions.'


"The world no longer lives in a Cold War environment, yet our government is still devoid of a conscience regarding the morality of arms proliferation."


The Australian public is faced with wall after