The invisible empire : Why the United States is not seen as a “foreign” threat?

The mainstream press in Australia is replete with dramatic headlines warning of “foreign interference” in our political system and “foreign” powers in our region. These reports almost invariably refer to China. However, in Orwellian fashion the United States, the reckless military power destabilizing the Asia Pacific and constantly interfering in Australian Federal politics is rendered invisible. This is because the Australian ruling class is fully lined up behind the United States imperialist plans for war.

In April Fairfax press quoted anonymous security sources to whip up fears that China was planning to build a military base on the South Pacific Island of Vanuatu. This led Australian Prime Minister to declare “We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific Island countries and neighbours of ours”.

Global Map of U.S. military bases (Source: Base Nation)

This is a statement of extraordinary duplicity. The Asia Pacific is currently virtually over run with “foreign bases” belonging to dominate imperialist power, the United States. As John Pilger has stated “China is surrounded by 400 US military bases in what one strategist describes as a ‘noose’. Many of these bases are on China’s doorstep, armed with missiles, naval battle groups, nuclear bombers, drones. US naval warships patrol just outside Chinese waters.” The U.S. has over 800 to 1000 foreign  military bases globally.

In addition the United States is rapidly building up its security alliances with countries surrounding China, most notably Australia, India and Japan. It is also increasing basing arrangements with Singapore, Thailand,  Vietnam and the Philippines. This all flows from the “Pivot to Asia” announced by Obama in 2011 which involves moving sixty percent of American naval and air power to the region by 2020.

Obama and Gillard addressing troops in Darwin 2011

The United States has developed the Air Sea Battle Plan to defeat China in a war which would involve a massive military assault on mainland China followed by a blockade to cut imports to China by sea. The United States has also been threatening to launch “fire and fury” on the border with China in North Korea for months. In January in its 2018 National Defence Strategy, the U.S. labelled China a “strategic competitor” and that America had to “prioritize preparedness for war.”

Map of U.S. bases in Australia {Source: R Tanter and J Waddingham)

Australia is intimately bound up in the war plans of this “foreign power”. Thousands of marines now rotate through Darwin. Crucial communications bases are located at the North West Cape in W.A. and the Pine Gap base near Alice Springs. PIne Gap is fully integrated into the U.S. drone, missile and nuclear war machine.

In comparison , how does the threat from the “foreign power” of China measure up. It is true that largely in response to the U.S. “pivot”, China has also built up its military presence in the South China Sea. However China currently has one, that’s right, one foreign military base in the world, located in Djibouti, in Africa.

Global military spending 2016

How does Chinese military spending compare to the U.S.? Again whilst Chinese military spending has increased in recent years, it is still approximately only a third of the $700 billion U.S. military budget for 2018.  The graph to the left based on 2016 figures gives an indication of how massive the U.S. budget is compared to rest of the world.

So why is Turnbull and the Australian media so unconcerned about all of this “foreign” American military activity in our region. Ever since World War 2, the Australian ruling class has looked to its security alliance with the United States to advance its own regional imperialist agenda. Whilst the Pacific has been seen as an “American Lake”, John Howard referred to the South Pacific as “our patch”. Australian corporations have profited from exploiting the resources of the seas and states to our North. We have sent troops and police to East Timor, the Solomon Islands and PNG in recent years to ensure this continues. Australian defence spending is already the 13th highest in the world and scheduled to rise dramatically. The rise of China economically has threatened not just the domination of the United States but also Australia’s domination of its “patch” too.

Whilst the Australian economy depends on exports to China, the United States is still the largest source of foreign investment in Australia. In 2016 U.S. foreign investment was ten times larger than Chinese investment, making up 27% of the total. Likewise in 2016 the United States was by far the largest destination for Australian foreign investment, making up 28% of the total.

Therefore the Australian ruling class, despite its economic dependence on China, is still very much committed to the Imperialist project of the United States. The interests of the Australian ruling class still ultimately rely on the domination of Wall St over the planet. This is the ultimate reason why U.S. bases are not designated as “foreign” threats whilst Chinese bases are a threat to Australia’s “national interests” and a “rule based order”. This is the reason that the Australian ruling class is lining up behind the drive to war against China by the United States.

There is a similar ongoing hysteria in the Australian press and Parliament about “foreign interference” into our political system. Once again “foreign” is simply code for alleged Chinese interference.  The Australian Parliament is currently preparing to pass two new draconian “foreign interference” bills.

As the WSWS recently stated: “Unprecedented new “foreign interference” offences will be created, for example, with prison terms of up to 20 years for working with a foreign or international organisation to “influence a political or governmental process. The bills also impose far-reaching surveillance over political groups, via intrusive registration regimes, and contain a range of new or expanded offences, such as “treachery,” involving up to life imprisonment, for activity regarded as a threat to any Australian war-related activities.”

The level of hypocrisy used by Australian politicians when discussing this issue is extreme. For example ABC radio recently interviewed Federal ALP politician, Penny Wong, in Washington. She stated “ I’m here as a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security and also will be doing a number of side meetings as Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. A key focus of the visit is foreign influence, and obviously we have legislation that is being considered by the committee in Australia.” The ABC reported that Penny Wong was “in the United States meeting members of Congress as well as officials from the FBI and CIA.”.

So just to clarify, Penny Wong was in a foreign country meeting foreign politicians and foreign spies and police, to learn about stopping foreign interference in Australian politics!

U.S. interference in Australian politics is hardly a new thing either with the U.S.state playing a role in the overthrow of both the Whitlam and Rudd Governments.

It is important to state that I am not advocating a more “independent” Australian foreign policy under a capitalist government. A breaking with the U.S. alliance under a capitalist framework would only lead to a massive increase in Australia’s already bloated defence spending. This would be required to defend the interests of Australian corporations in the region without assistance from the U.S.

Rather, I endorse the following perspective  as adopted at the recent Socialist Equality Party 2018 conference

“The SEP’s perspective, as part of the fight for world socialism, is to bring to power a workers’ government that will implement far-reaching socialist measures. A workers’ government will repudiate the US alliance, along with all basing and access agreements; repeal all anti-democratic laws, including the anti-terror and “foreign interference” legislation; and dismantle the entire military-police-intelligence apparatus. It will end the oppression of the peoples of Papua New Guinea, East Timor and the South Pacific island states by Australian imperialism and actively assist the working class in Asia and the world to put an end to the profit system.”

Davey Heller

Davey Heller is a Trotskyist from Melbourne and long-time campaigner for Left-wing causes including anti-war, refugee rights, environmental protests and workers' struggles. He is a former secondary teacher who studied history at Monash University and currently works in the environmental field. You can follow him on Twitter at @socialist_davey

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