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On the dangers of selling 'defence assets'

By Babette Francis - posted Wednesday, 28 March 2018


I admit I am a bit of a pacifist.  I grew up in India idealizing the tenets of Mahatma Gandhi, the latter-day apostle of non-violence and of non-violent means to end British colonial rule in India.  However, besides being a pacifist I am also a realist and I realise that Australia needs a strong defence establishment and defence material to protect us from international predators who will remain nameless at this stage. Nonetheless, readers can probably identify at least one which by its assertive, if not aggressive behaviour, seeks to dominate the world economy and shipping  lanes to our north. 

So we need the production of defence materials.  The problem is that Australia is a small country in population terms, and producing our own defence materials is enormously expensive for the quantities required.   Our governments have sought to solve this dilemma by producing more than is needed for domestic requirements and “trading” or selling the surplus to other countries.  

The problem is that once we sell to foreign governments, we have no control over where the armaments end up.  Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has stated his ambition of Australia  becoming one of the world’s ten top weapons exporters within the next decade.  Is this really a laudable ambition? And it seems a strange ambition for Mr. Turnbull who, if anything, is not at all aggressive in political debate, and has shown no affinity with the Shooters and Fishers political party.     

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Can’t we please stick to exporting vegemite, wool and yes – coal?   Weapons we export can be used for laudable defence purposes by small countries, but they are far more likely to be used for aggressive purposes by large and militant countries or by rogue entities such as ISIS.  

Mr. Turnbull assures us that procedures will be in place to ensure that our exported weapons don’t fall into the wrong hands.  But how will he ensure this?  Two countries come immediately to mind:  Turkey and Pakistan are theoretically our allies, but both are becoming more radically Islamic by the day and may well use our exported weapons to threaten our other allies, in this case, Greece and India respectively.  

In the January/February 2018 issue of Annals Australia , William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Initiative of the New America Foundation is quoted as saying:

It is likely that a large proportion of the hundreds of thousands of small arms and light weapons that have ‘gone missing’ in Iraq are either in the hands of anti-US insurgents or in other countries, fuelling conflicts there.  In order to prevent similar security risks in the future, the corporate and government officials responsible for putting US troops at risk by failing to maintain control of these weapons must be held accountable.

 Mr. Turnbull  has been quoted as saying that exporting weapons is all about Australian jobs – but it is not all about Australian jobs. The weapons we trade today may easily fall into the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan and be used to kill Australian troops.  

 Australia’s citizen David Hicks, whose life story has been marred by controversy, was once pictured holding a rifle or a gun of some kind - I am no expert on small arms! - and pointing it at something or the other while he was apparently in the Pakistan-controlled area of Kashmir.  Where did he get the gun and at what was he pointing it? Was he standing on the “Line of Control”  (LOC) that  demarcates the Pakistan controlled territory of Kashmir from the Indian controlled territory of Kashmir and was he pointing his gun at the Indian side of the LOC?

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Friendly countries, to which we trade weapons today, may easily become political opponents in the not-too-distant future.  Annals Australia reports that in 1979 the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) provided arms to Afghan Islamists to use against the pro-Russian government in Kabul.  Well that government fell, the Russians were driven out of Afghanistan and those arms the US provided to the Afghani Islamists are now being used by the Taliban against troops from Western countries who are trying to defend the Afghan government

I for one think there would be some advantages in a Russian return to that benighted country.  Then at least females would have some minimum rights instead of – to report just one horror story –  a girl being married at age 8 only to die of a haemorrhage the morning after her wedding night. 

Malcolm  Turnbull has stated that a Defence Export Facility will be set up to assist companies that are to manufacture weapons, euphemistically termed “Defence Assets”, to find overseas markets. But it is not “Defence” to export lethal weapons to other countries.  We cannot control into whose hands  these “Assets” will eventually fall.  The Taliban do not need to buy weapons from Australia – they are awash in  captured  US weapons and military vehicles.  

The weapons we sell to friendly regimes today may be lost tomorrow in a conflict that same regime has with an opposing regime or even in an internal conflict, and thus end up under the control of an entity that does not have friendly feelings towards Australia.

Let’s stick to  promoting peace as a slogan and exporting vegemite – it is vegetarian and Mahatma Gandhi would thoroughly approve.   Indians did achieve independence without going to war with Britain, and both countries remain friends to  this day.  

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About the Author

Babette Francis, (BSc.Hons), mother of eight, is the National & Overseas Co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc. an NGO with special consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the UN. Mrs. Francis is the Australian representative of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer - www.abortionbreastcancer.com. She lived in India during the Partition of the sub-continent into India and Pakistan, a historical event that she believes was caused by the unwillingness of the Muslim leaders of that era to live in a secular democracy.

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