A Labor government would look to grow USA military presence in Australia

US FORCES would get the nod from a future federal Labor Government to expand its military footprint in Australia in an apparent reversal of party policy that had seen a cooling in language on the alliance in favour of a greater focus on China.

Two years ago the party’s platform draft at its national conference watered down its foreign policy view of the ANZUS Treaty, significantly dropping references to it being the “bedrock” of regional stability and a national “asset” in favour of strengthening recognition to China’s growth.

Late last year former Labor leader Paul Keating called for Australia to “cut the tag” with the US and focus more on Asia while foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said Donald Trump marked a “change point” that needed to be assessed.

But Labor’s Defence spokesman Richard Marles said yesterday there was room to work with both with America as Australia’s “most important bilateral relationship” and China whose right to rise as a power should be recognised.

The US already has a strong presence in Australia with its annual rotation of 1250 US Marines and a dozen combat aircraft through Darwin in the Northern Territory, joint intelligence facilities in Western Australia and Pine Gap near Alice Springs and regular joint training exercises.

But Mr Marles said there was scope for more and he was not buying in to some defence analysts predicting a US foreign policy “retreat” in the region by the Trump administration although said such deep national alliance debate including Trump’s policy by Tweet was a positive.

“I think the greater American commitment to East Asia, the better,” he said. “I’m absolutely up for a discussion on growing the US relationship in terms of however, whatever, it wants to involve itself with here." #FFS

With Donald Trump in power, Australia urgently needs to re-evaluate its US bases

Recent changes to the US National Security Council should be ringing loud alarm bells in Canberra.

By demoting the highest-ranking military officer and the highest-ranking intelligence officer, and appointing political adviser Stephen Bannon as a permanent member of the NSC, Donald Trump has seriously escalated the risk of the US launching into ill-advised conflicts. Bannon comes from a role as chairman of the racist, Islamophobic website Breitbart.com, and is reported as having been in charge of writing the recent executive order that has banned US entry for refugees and citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations.

It is no secret that Australian foreign policy and defence forces are closely enmeshed with the US. Since Trump has taken office he has loudly proclaimed an "America first" foreign policy, and his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, talks of denying China access to artificial islands in the South China Sea. Any such blockade is likely to be seen by the Chinese as an act of war.

Malcolm Turnbull's meek response to the immigration executive order does not inspire confidence that he will stand up to the US.

Historically Australia's foreign policy has also leaned towards "America first", with little differentiation between our ally's interests and our own. In rushing to join the coalition going into Iraq, the thought that Australia may be better off not invading another country on the basis of dubious intelligence was overlooked. Indeed, in the Vietnam War, the CIA knew the war was unwinnable, even before Australia sent troops. Malcolm Fraser, defence minister at the time, was livid when he discovered this many years later. A total of 521 Australian troops died in Vietnam and about 3000 were wounded.

Since World War II, Australia has joined in more US wars than any other ally. With Canberra's current "business as usual" agenda, Australia is at high-risk of joining future US wars that will likely create further humanitarian disasters and undermine our security.

Simultaneously there is talk of expanding US bases in the region. What is Australia going to say when the US asks to increase its bases on our soil? Are we willing to make Australia a target? CIA documents from the 1980s released this month revealed authorities expected the Pine Gap spy base near Alice Springs to be attacked in the event of a US-Soviet nuclear fight.

Australia has US marines based in Darwin, multiple surveillance bases and about 40 senior Australian Army officers working in US Pacific Command. This includes an Australian Army Major-General serving as the deputy commanding general – operations, US Army Pacific. This intense enmeshment reinforces Australia's past behaviour; when the US goes to war, we have little option but to follow. With the US building up its military bases around China, American threats of blockades in the South China Sea are reckless and provocative. A war between China and the US is not in Australia's interests or anyone's interests.

Another example of US influence has been Australia's behaviour at recent UN talks regarding the nuclear weapons ban treaty. Australia has acted as US proxy in trying to thwart these negotiations. So much so that the Australian delegation was dubbed the chief of the "weasel states". Despite Australia's efforts, negotiations for a treaty will go ahead this year. Australia has not committed to participating, which calls into question our government's commitment to the UN.

Australia urgently needs to re-evaluate its American bases and promote steps that defuse rather than intensify regional tensions. Having senior Australian defence personnel integrated into the US defence force hinders Australia acting independently. Do we want Australia to be capable of making strategic decisions in the national interest? New Zealand clearly acts in its own interest and remains an ally.

With Trump now the new US Commander-in-Chief, is it wise that we allow ourselves to be so automatically tied to American foreign policy? War in our region would be a humanitarian catastrophe for all involved.

Margaret Beavis is a Melbourne GP and president of the Medical Association for Prevention of War.

Australia to become 'aircraft carrier' for deadly US warplanes

During a visit to Sydney on Wednesday, the commander of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, signed a 2017 agreement for Australia to host Raptors, which will "send a strong signal about USA military presence in the region"

Euan Graham, the Lowy Institute's director of international security, described the presence of the F-22s as "pretty high-end coercive signalling to China". While the rotation of marines in Darwin got more attention, the stationing of planes was much more strategically significant, he said.

Chinese bomber planes from South China Sea and future missiles could threaten Australia

Chinese bombers will be able to strike Australia from new artificial islands in the South China Sea as part of a major military modernisation that has also prompted calls for Australia to develop a ballistic missile shield.

Chinese H-6K long-range bombers can more easily target bases in the Northern Territory and even installations such as Pine Gap and Harold E. Holt naval communications station outside Exmouth by flying from 3000-metre runways being built in the Spratly Islands, senior analysts warn.

Fears will be heightened further after Chinese air force chief Ma Xiaotian​ announced on Friday China is developing a long-range bomber that will improve its ability to strike far from home.

Former national security adviser Andrew Shearer said China's rapidly improving ballistic missiles bolstered the case for Australia to "get much more serious" about missile defence, including a land-based shield similar to US Patriot missiles or the high-altitude systems being used by Japan and South Korea.


"The strategic purpose of the ADF for the future will be to protect Australia as a base for long-range allied operations," Dr Fruehling said.

Alan Dupont, chief executive of the security consultancy the Cognoscenti Group, said: "We are a redoubt or a sanctuary if you like for the US. China's strategy, I have no doubt, is to prevent any increased use of Australian facilities by the US."

Dr Davis agreed: "China is not going to permit this without responding."

Former Defence official and now head of Strategy International, Ross Babbage, said the US had limited basing options in Asia. "As a consequence, the Chinese know damned well they can target these facilities and do a lot of damage in the early hours of a clash. That could include, and many people think would include, some places in Australia."

More ships on the way to Darwin as US bolsters Pacific presence

POTENTIALLY thousands of extra American sailors and Marines will flood through the Darwin port in coming years with a US General confirming a greater military presence in the South Pacific.

The head of US Marine Corps Force Command, Lieutenant General John Wissler, said the Pentagon planned to dispatch another three-ship amphibious ready group to the Asia-Pacific region as early as October 2018.

The Marine Corps Times reported that the ships would likely carry an embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

That would see an extra 4000 sailors and Marines in the region.

Lt-Gen Wissler said the goal of the MEU was to augment the number of Marines already coming to the Top End as part of the annual six-month Marine Rotational Force Darwin deployment.

This year, about 1250 Marine are deployed to Darwin, based mostly at Robertson Barracks about 20km from the Darwin CBD.

US and Australian officials hope to boost that number to 2500 by 2020.

“The actual basing (of the extra Marines and sailors) ... and all of those significant details are being worked out,” Lt-Gen Wissler said.

“That’s why it’s a (fiscal) 2019 problem because, as you can imagine, it’s a very complex undertaking.”

The Japan-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit presently conducts two 90-day patrols in the Pacific each year — one in spring and another in autumn — and respond to humanitarian crises in the region throughout the year.

Lt-Gen Wissler said the new arrangement would allow that unit to focus on north eastern Asia while the new ARG/MEU conducted two 90-day patrols in the South Pacific.

He said the Marine Corps has not determined whether the new MEU will come from the continental US, Hawaii or Japan.

Lieutenant Commander Matt Knight from the US Pacific Fleet said it is too soon to say which ships may be assigned to the MEU in fiscal 2019.

Former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jon Greenert said the amphibious assault ship America was a “prime candidate” to visit Australia as part of such a group.

“They will go into Darwin … and conduct on-load and off-load,” he told Navy Times in March 2015.

He said while the Marines trained in the Top End of Australia, the ships in the ARG could operate and hold exercises in South East Asia.