The Australian Anti-Bases Campaign
By Hannah Middleton
April 17, 2009
We would like to start this report on the struggle in Australia against US bases and missile defence by describing the context of our struggle.
We come to Seoul just a few weeks after a significant upgrade of the Korean-Australian military relationship. On March 5 the two countries signed a “Joint Statement on Enhanced Global and Security Cooperation”.
President Lee Myung-bak and Prime Minister Rudd said that their countries “share key security interests in Northeast Asia, the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.” They said early resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue is critical to the prosperity and security of both countries and confirmed “the strategic importance of their respective alliance partnerships with the United States” in this context.
Australia and Japan are active participants in the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) launched in 2003 to stop the trafficking of WMDs, their delivery systems, and related materials.
The recent agreement raises the possibility that Seoul may take a greater role in the PSI which calls on its more than 90 member states to illegally board and search ships at sea—what used to be called piracy -- and largely targets the DPRK (North Korea).
The agreement also heralds closer security links among the three key U.S. allies in the region -- Seoul, Canberra and Tokyo -- which China and the DPRK regard as aimed against them. Australia has already been an enthusiastic member of the Tripartite Agreement with the US and Japan.
Australia has a new government led by Kevin Rudd which swept to power on the back of mass discontent with the industrial policies of the previous conservative regime.
Despite a few positive signs – such as the Canberra Commission for the elimination of nuclear weapons – it is clear that the Rudd Labor Government has not changed the basic foreign and defence policies of the previous right-wing Howard Government.
Australia remains allied to the United States and acts as its agent in this region. Regular military exercises are held to ensure interoperability. Despite the world economic crisis, Australian military spending remains high (over Aus$60 million every day) and is guaranteed to rise by at least 3 per cent every year to 2018-19. $15 billion more spending is expected when the new Defence White Paper is released mid-year, announcing a surge in Australian naval power with a new fleet of submarines.
In another move the government has passed legislation that re-zones the Pine Gap military facility as a protected area necessary for Australia's defence. Protesters will now face lengthy jail terms if they breach the base's security.
Pine Gap is the biggest and most important of the more than 40 US military facilities on Australian soil. It controls strategically important satellites that cover the Middle East oil fields across central Asia to China. They are looking down on us here and now!
The 40 US bases do not house foreign troops but are surveillance (spy), targeting, communications and electronic war fighting facilities. They are usually termed 4CI (command, control, communications, computer and intelligence) bases. This also includes all Australian military facilities which the US, via treaties, is able to use for training or emergencies.
A new United State base has been established in Western Australia at Geraldton. This facility facilitates battlefield communications, including sophisticated terrain and weather data supplied to handheld computer equipment in the field in areas such as Afghanistan.
More recently new training bases have been established and the US is using these to regularly send thousands of its troops to Australia.
The US bases in Australia are important for war fighting in space. For example, Pine Gap is the ground station for satellites which control the unmanned drones, including the Global Hawk, which have been used to assassinate a suspected militant in Yemen and more recently to bomb sites in Pakistan.
Pine Gap has been used for the US missile defence project for several decades. Australian radar systems, especially the Jindalee Over the Horizon Radar (JORN) have been tested for use in the system. Three enormously expensive air warfare destroyers, fitted with the Aegius anti-missile system, are being built and will be stationed off the coast of Western Australia, contributing to US efforts to encircle China.
Since 1987 our Coalition has tried to organise a protest at a US base once every two years. These are major and difficult undertakings. At Nurrungar in South Australia, for example, we had to truck in all the water we needed. There was no electricity and we had to dig latrines. Pine Gap is 43 hours by bus from Sydney.
Distance, isolation and secrecy are government weapons that we battle constantly. Media silence, except when major protests are staged, is another difficulty.
In recent years we have changed our focus to try to win more publicity and to win more hearts and minds. In addition to our usual lobbying, media and education work, we have focussed on the new training bases and on the Pacific.
We have supported activists who trespass at Pine Gap, supplying maps and other information, publicity, media work and other backup.
We have begun a program of solidarity with anti-bases activists across the Pacific. We have invited to Australia indigenous Hawai’ians in 2005, Chamoru representatives from Guam in 2007 and the organising co-ordinator of United for Peace and Justice who is a native American woman later this year.
We have also focussed on the new training bases and the war games held at them, with special attention to the link between military spending and the US alliance, the implications of interoperability, and environmental issues.
We have built peace convergences at the time of military exercises with increasing success. In 1997 we had about 50 people (the proximity of a cyclone did not help!). At the next war games in 2005 this rose to about 500. In 2007 over 1,000 people were involved in the peace convergence to stop the Talisman Saber war games. In July this year we hope for even greater numbers.
The Australian military say that “Exercise Talisman Saber 2009 (TS09) is a joint Australian and United States military exercise, focusing on operational and tactical interoperability through a high end, medium intensity scenario involving live, virtual and constructive forces.”
TS09 will be conducted in Australia from 6-26 July 2009. It is the latest in the series of biennial war games, and will bring thousands of Australian and United States land, sea and air forces to some of the most environmentally precious locations in Australia, including Shoalwater Bay on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef (central Queensland).
(You can find more details at www.peaceconvergence.com)
We have held leaflet distributions, street marches and public meetings in the towns around the military training area. We have spoken on local radio stations, talked with local papers, and tried to get nation-wide publicity as well. We have blockaded roads and gates, holding up tank columns for hours. Protesters have locked on to military vehicles; some have played with frisbees on runways, others have hidden in the live bombing areas for days to hold up the games.
This year, in addition to our usual education, media and organising tasks, we are teaching a training course at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Sydney University. This combines theory classes on peace activism, training in non-violence and then a 24-hour bus trip to join the Peace Convergence.
At their meeting in early March President Lee and Prime Minister Rudd decided that 2011 will be the Year of Korea-Australia Friendship. We propose that we might start planning some joint activities at that time intended to show the people of our two countries the true meaning of peace, justice and friendship.
History of the Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition
From the 1960s onwards a strong anti-bases movement developed in Australia. Peace organisations, unions, political parties, church organisations, solidarity groups and indigenous movements contributed to a growing awareness of the many US bases and associated intelligence facilities in Australia and the region.
In the 1970s attention was focused on the North West Cape, a naval communications base (now mothballed ). A weeks long bus convoy across the continent to the US base in the north of Western Australia brought the issue to public attention.
In 1981 a National Peace Seminar attracted over 100 participants and placed the bases issue firmly on the agenda of the peace movement.
The women's movement also played an important role. Inspired by the Greenham Common Camp, the Women For Survival Peace Camp at Pine Gap in 1983 attracted over 700 women, and was the first action at the base to result in mass arrests and to capture national attention.
The trial of Christopher Boyce
in 1977, public disclosures by senior ex-CIA employees, and tireless research by
anti-bases activists provided indisputable evidence of the role of organizations
such as the CIA and the NSA in the functioning of the US bases.
The Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition (AABCC) was formally launched in December 1986 at a national conference attended by over 250 activists. It has attracted over 100 affiliated organizations. The 1986 conference passed a motion to set up the Coalition, agreed to the statement of unity and accepted that the first big action of the coalition was to be 1987 demonstration outside the gates of Pine Gap. A secretariat was to be set up in Melbourne which operated till the anti-bases demonstration at the gates of Pine Gap in 1987. It then moved to Sydney and has remained there ever since.
The AABCC recognises that the starting point of our struggle is the recognition of the sovereignty of the original inhabitants of this land -- the Aboriginal people -- and supports their fight for lend rights, compensation and self-determination.
Pine Gap has been a major focus of the Coalition because of its major strategic importance to the US.
However, the AABCC has also campaigned against other US bases and related facilities in Australia. The list of bases included: North-West Cape (the lease of which expired in June 1988); Nurrungar (now also closed); Smithfield; the Watsonia spy network which includes facilities at Cabarlah, Shoal Bay, Pearce, Harman and Victoria Barracks, the Omega Station in Victoria, seismic monitoring stations, portable geodetic posts, and NASA tracking stations, and more recently the training bases.
The AABCC, in recognition of the wider regional struggle for independence and self-determination, has developed links with organisations in the Philippines, South Korea, Belau, Timor, West Papua, Kanaky and throughout the Asia-Pacific region. More recently links have been developed with Hawaii and Guam in the western Pacific.
The AABCC has been in the forefront of education and protests against the increasing involvement of Australia in the US missile defence project through the use of bases, radar facilities and air warfare warships.
In November 1991 the AABCC was a major player in the demonstrations against Aidex -- a giant arms bazaar held in Canberra. No further arms bazaars like this were held in Australia for another 17 years.
In 2008 the AABCC participated in plans for protests to stop APDSE, an arms fair to be held in Adelaide. The event was cancelled.
Recognising that the role the US base at Pine Gap played in the attacks on Iraq was far more significant that the small number of Australian land and sea forces deployed, the AABCC was the Australian co-ordinating body for the actions across Australia against the first Gulf War, and then a major contributor to the coalition built to oppose the second attack on and invasion of Iraq..
In 2000 the AABCC set up the Blue Paper Project. This was a response to the Australian Government's 'community consultation' on the level of military spending in Australia.
In 2008 the AABCC was responsible for organising many submissions from organisations and individuals around Australia to the next Defence White Paper consultation process.
In 2007 the AABCC was an active participant in the process leading to the Quito (Ecuador) Conference, attended by over 400 delegates, which established the International Network Against Foreign Military Bases.
This is an overview of the main activities undertaken by the AABCC since its formation in 1986. No disrespect is meant to the many activists who have been involved in the very many other smaller AABCC actions from letter and article writing, giving talks, lobbying, street theatre, marches and so much more.
For more information, go to the campaigns page at www.anti-bases.com