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US war games test Aus-China relations



The annual deployment of United States Marines to Darwin reached a peak this year of 2500. This deployment is underwritten by the Force Posture Agreement (FPA) between the US and Australian governments, which was signed in 2014 and was an outcome of President Obama's 'Pivot to Asia' strategy for the US military. It meant relocating US military forces from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific to confront and contain China.

US Marines take up defensive positions after completing a beach landing on 22 July 2019 in Bowen, Australia. Exercise Talisman Sabre 2019 is the largest exercise that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) conducts with all four services of the United States armed forces. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)The FPA contains the following open-door policies to the US: It gives the US Air Force unimpeded access to Australia's airfields and facilities for their fighters and bombers as well as seaports for their naval ships; and it gives the US military and its contractors access to and use of 'agreed facilities' for refuelling of aircraft, bunkering of vessels, temporary maintenance of vehicles, vessels and aircraft. In addition, it allows for 'temporary accommodation of personnel, pre-positioning of communications equipment, supplies, fuel and ordinance and materials and deploying forces and materials as the parties may agree'.

One could infer that, in reality, this FPA is enabling the US to set up Australia as its southern base for combat operations in the Asia-Pacific area. One could also be excused for thinking that Australia must be in a state of war, not peace. Yet the last Defence White Paper made the point no less than three times that no military threat to Australia could be identified in the foreseeable future.

Defence Connect, a publication focused on military issues for Australia, stated recently: 'As China has expanded its ballistic missile and long-range strike capabilities, America's traditional "Fortress of the Pacific" — Guam — is now exposed, paving the way for Darwin to emerge as a second US "Fortress of the Pacific".'

A reasonable question would be: For what purpose is this US military build-up in the NT, and is this in the best interests of the Australian people? The recent Talisman Sabre war rehearsal carried out on and off the Queensland coast in the Great Barrier Reef and Stranage Bay provides some answers to this question.

A massive military force of 34,000 troops, 200 planes and 60 naval vessels comprised of US, Australian, Japanese, UK and Canadian forces practised the new US war strategy of Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO). This is a tactic involving amphibious landing of troops on islands for seizure and capture as part of a forward projection of sea and airpower aimed at a mainland. US Marines practised this scenario earier this year when they captured Le Shima, an island off the coast of Okinawa.

Alex Lockie of the Business Insider (29 January 2019) said of this activity: 'The US Marine Corp is developing a new concept of naval warfare to take South China Sea Islands from Beijing in the context of a massive missile fight on the Pacific.' Global Research on 22 January 2019, referring to the same US Marine operation, said that EABO 'will allow Marines to seize, establish and operate multiple small bases across the Pacific Ocean, a tactic that will be beneficial in a high end fight with China'.


"Are our best interests so aligned with the US that we would risk such a war and make an enemy of China?"


The HMAS Adelaide and HMAS Canberra have been modified to support amphibious troop landings and US Marines have been imbedded on these naval ships in recent war rehearsals. The Australian Defence Department, in its environmental report on Talisman Sabre 2019 (TS19) confirms the intent of this war rehearsal saying: 'With an increased focus on amphibious capability, many of the activities comprising this exercise are comparable to those which would support ... EABO ... '

The Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN), in a recent Media Release (14 July 2019) argued that the integration with US forces in Talisman Sabre 'inevitably draws Australia into future US "war coalitions" as occurred with the disastrous wars waged against Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Above all, TS19 must be seen within the context of the determination of the USA to remain the dominant military power in the region. Coupled with the USA's enthusiasm for the development of "Fortress Darwin" as a major US base in the region, the TS19 war exercises resemble a rehearsal for war with China.'

IPAN has also argued that TS19 'affirms the intent of the United States to prepare for war with China', and 'also reinforces the IPAN campaign to end the stationing of US Marines in Darwin'.

IPAN believes that every effort should be made to keep Australia out of yet another US war overseas and especially against China, our major trading partner. If such a war resulted, the US Marines in Darwin would draw fire, perhaps missiles, on the Northern Territory. For Australia's peace and security, we need to see an end to the stationing of US marines in Darwin and an end to war rehearsals with the United States.

China does not threaten Australia. Loss of trade with China resulting from a US war against China supported by Australia would be a disaster for our economy and for jobs. The US may have a problem with China but does it necessarily follow that Australia does as well? Are our best interests so aligned with the US that we would risk such a war and make an enemy of China? Darwin has suffered in the past from an enemy; do the people of Darwin want to experience that again?



Bevan RamsdenBevan Ramsden is a member of the coordinating committee of IPAN (Independent and Peaceful Australia Network).

IPAN has organised a national public conference in Darwin, 2-4 August, 2019 with a focus on the US Marines in Darwin and under the conference banner of 'Australia at the crossroads: Time for an independent foreign policy'. Bookings here 

Main image: US Marines take up defensive positions after completing a beach landing on 22 July 2019 in Bowen, Australia. Exercise Talisman Sabre 2019 is the largest exercise that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) conducts with all four services of the United States armed forces. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Bevan Ramsden, US military, Talisman Saber, Northern Territory, China



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Existing comments

Bevan I live in Darwin and I hear your concerns, but you needn't worry about us. A show of strength by Australia and her allies is more than necessary given that China is clearly behaving as the new global bully in our region. The balance of power is being determined by everything left of war, soft power and stretegic positioning of assetts - which does not mean war is inevitable or even possible. Fear of war and fear of antagonising a trading partner are simplistic assessments of current geopolitical developments. The region needs a strong US presence.

Matthew Davis | 30 July 2019  

As a conscript, sent to the disastrous war in Vietnam where I witnessed the terrible impacts on the ordinary Vietnamese by the overwhelming power of the U.S War machine, I have to wonder just how many more disastrous wars we have to be involved in with the U.S. before we realise the futility of this so called Alliance. As Bevan has written, we face no threat in the foreseeable future. A war with China would be a calamity both for the Chinese people who would be 'collateral damage' and for our own country economically. While the expansion of China into the South China Sea is a huge cause for concern to Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, its impact on the U.S. and ourselves would be minor, provided we continue to have free access for our shipping . China would be unlikely to threaten its trade routes by restricting access to this important artery to their continued prosperity.

Gavin A. O'Brien | 30 July 2019  

Chamberlainesque naivety! China's current clandestine economic and cultural invasion of this country is a much greater threat to our children and grandchildren than a military alliance with the US or indeed than the widely feared climate change!

john frawley | 30 July 2019  

This is an extremely important article that thinking Australians should take seriously. For decades our political leaders have automatically gone along with the plans of the US war machine. The concerns of Bevan Ramsden and Gavin O'Brien should be a wake-up call for us all. If we think that the presence of US marines in Darwin and the involvement in US war games are a problem, we should be even more concerned about the US Pine Gap facility. According to Professor Richard Tanter (Nautilus Institute) Pine Gap is perhaps the most important US intelligence facility outside the country. It plays a vital role in the collection of signals intelligence including early warning ballistic missile launches, targetting of nuclear weapons and drones (including those for assassination operations) and providing battlefield intelligence data for US military global operations. In an international crisis where war could, US bases could well make Australia a nuclear target. With the changing balance of military capabilities in the world, it would be far more sensible for Australia - as a medium power - to be an independent and non-aligned nation that tries to keep friendly ties with other nations - especially China our major trading partner. Our leaders could also play a positive role by working for peace, justice, human rights and effective care for the environment.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 30 July 2019  

Thanks Gavin and Andy for your strong support of Bevan’s excellent case that Australia must disconnect itself from all present and planned US wars. It is as if US ‘leadership’ has lost touch with reality and knows nothing of the catastrophic outcomes of past Imperial wars like WW1 and WW2 (Churchill’s “unnecessary war). China’s concern to guarantee available sea lanes for its trade is just as reasonable, just as understandable as the US’s for its overseas trade. Australia must wake up to its extreme peril should it get tangled in any US plan to block China’s justified right to identical trade protection.

Ian Buckley | 30 July 2019  

Any study of China's claims and actions in the South China sea and interference with the traditional fishing rights of the neighboring nations will demonstrate the growth of tension, a tension not caused by middle power Australia. Tension exists. There needs to be a nuanced balanced multifaceted approach in our international relations with both China and the USA. The exercises , Talisman Sabre are a regular scheduled exercise, no different than exercises organised by many nations. They do not target anyone but rather facilitate cooperation between like minded countries. It is a normal and essential aspect of defense preparedness. The above article seems to based on promoting suspicion. Rather we should be ensuring the efficiency of our defence force and promoting dialogue between the old and emerging super-powers.

Kevin | 30 July 2019  

May I say that in general term this is typical of the left wing anti-Western slant of Eureka Street commentary. Why not broaden your outlook? The exercise in question is part o the broad western alliance' which has contributed to Australia's security. So do you want to trust China instead? I suggest you consult the Tibetans, Uighurs and Taiwan....

andrew hamilton (not SJ) | 30 July 2019  

Thanks Ian for your kind remarks about the comments that Gavin and I made. Another thing that I intended to say is that we must strongly oppose Hugh White's proposal that as the tensions in our region of the world, Australia needs to accumulate more military hardware including nuclear weapons. I am afraid that this will contribute to the nuclear arms race and make the probability of a nuclear war even more a possibility. This would be a total disaster both for all humankind and our environment.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 30 July 2019  

There is a bully in every school yard and its good that bIG Brother USA has turned up in our back yard to curb any thoughts the Chinese may have of militarising and claiming international waters in the Coral Sea and Pacific Ocean as theirs too. Passive fence sitting results in conquest as per WW2 and Hitler.

Vince Van Durkeim | 30 July 2019  

This article is reckless at best and poisonous at worst. Australia is incapable of defending itself against a Chinese military action and therefore Australia needs alliances. Should we argue neutrality against the neighbor that jails citizens for subversive thinking ? Or harvests the organs of religious followers ? The warning signs are already there. China is today bullying neighbors and asserting navigation rights that the international community condemns. China has built military bases on disputed islands, again condemned by the international community. Bevan would have us sit by and not prepare for a potential conflict. The UK and Canada have also been involved as they are also allies. Good enough for our military personnel bu not good enough for Bevan. Terribly dangerous naivety. I pray your view may never prevail in our good country. As for the argument on jobs and economy, China is buying our natural resources. China can not accommodate their Iron Ore needs elsewhere and our coal is the highest quality and most easily accessible. Ie They need it and it’s in their economic interest.

Patrick | 30 July 2019  

As advertised here, IPAN is running a national 3 day conference starting tomorrow with the theme that it is time for Australia to adopt an "independent foreign policy". Surely that must imply that Australia abandons all foreign alliances, arms to defend itself which in this day and age is monolithically expensive, adopts a nuclear deterrent program, supports greatly increased armed services which would require a compulsory national service for all to maintain manpower and adopt a selective international trade policy. The Mad Hatter' s tea party, once nothing more than a fanciful fairy tale, has become a reality. Where do we get the stuff this mob is on?

john frawley | 01 August 2019  

I find this article naïve and simplistic. Its presentation of normal military exercises is sensationalistic and deceptive, as Kevin points out. I wonder if IPAN is similar to the 'common cause' peace networks of yore in this country? To be an effective neutral nation, like Sweden or Switzerland, capable of defending yourself, requires massive investment. The Swedes are currently terrified of Putin's Russia, an ally of China. This is not a safe world and any sort of isolation and downplay of our defence is downright daft. I do not think there is an 'American war machine' of the sort some posters imagine exists. No one is planning a pre-emptive strike against China, or even North Korea, the latter run by a real nutcase. The war games may well be an attempt to prepare for a scenario which is not unfeasible: another Pearl Harbour. Don't forget that this country was really threatened by Japan in WW2. Forgotten the Kokoda Trail; the Sandakan Death March and the bombing of Darwin? I think we, as a nation, need to exercise great caution in our dealings with China. There are events going on there that worry me. We need to encourage both China and America to talk. Defence preparation is the essential protective backstop to diplomacy.

Edward Fido | 02 August 2019  

Bevan I disagree that China does not implicitly threaten Australia. China has leased the ports of Darwin, Newcastle, Adelaide, Karratha, Melbourne for example. As lessees they can deny the docking and bunkering rights of other military powers. They have, in the past 15 months, become the biggest foreign power land owner in Australia. They have spent 40.4 billion on mines, real estate and infrastructure and vie to control our water supply and our grid. Though a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty, China (who acceded to the treaty in 1985) have built 6 military style bases in Australia's territory with military capability runways. They have also built such a runway at Karratha. They have bored portals into the Antarctic mountains. Snow no longer exists around their bases there (see Google earth images). Any activity on the Antarctic mainland is required to have Australia's environmental approval. This has been ignored. As for the South China Sea, they trample on other nations rights to freedom of access and crossing. They threaten to shoot down commercial airliners flying over the SCS. After years of shrill declarations that they would never militarize the reefs and attolls? The noose tightens around Australia's neck. Please remember Tibet.

Francis Armstrong | 03 August 2019  

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