Merchants of Death – meet Australia

by Julie Macken

It is hard to know why the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and the Defence Minister, Peter Dutton, are talking up the idea of war with China. For a start, it’s not a war Australia would win, nor is it a war the US or any other allies would necessarily join us in. It may be just that the polls aren’t looking great and they need a bread and circus to divert attention from their failure to protect the nation from ongoing Covid outbreaks – though it’s a fairly deadly circus.

Or it could be that, like Prime Minister Turnbull before him, Scott Morrison wants to make a great deal of money out of selling armaments to the highest bidder. As Turnbull said at the time: “This strategy is about job creation. It will give Australian defence companies the support they need to grow, invest and deliver defence capability. It will make Australian defence exports among the best in the world.”

Marketing weapons for profit and for assisting flagging industries is morally wrong.

Whatever the reason the following figures are as shocking as they are immoral. Australia spent $US24.3 billion in 2016 on defence, which is 2% of its GDP. Australia plans to increase this level of spending in a bid to become a major weapons exporter. At the same time Australian overseas aid has declined in recent years. It is now 0.23% of GDP. Australia has thus relinquished levels of international influence which contribute to peacebuilding.

The government says it will ensure that Australia’s international obligations including around arms controls are “upheld”. No detail is given as to how such an impossible aim would be achieved. It’s worth remembering this was the same claim they made in relation to Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor over 24 years and they were singularly unable to do so then. Just a few months ago the Morrison government announced it was selling armaments to that human rights champion, Saudi Arabia and UAE. Despite Saudi Arabia’s obscene abuses in Yemen. Again there was no detail on how the Morrison government would prevent the on-going slaughter of Yemeni children using Australian made weapons.

This immoral decision to make profit out of killing is a new development for Australia. Even for those that accept the need for war, defending the nation is an entirely different ethical consideration from making weapons to profit from the killing of others. It also underscores the nature of modern warfare where civilian fatalities now account for 90% of war deaths.

Becoming part of this death machine industry means Australian jobs would be tied to overseas instability and wars. The maintenance of this industry would depend on ensuring the continuation of wars. And of course, a burgeoning arms industry will pressure the Australian governments to stay silent on human rights abuses carried out by potential customer governments.

As the Josephite Justice Network has argued, instead of investing in death-dealing weapons, Australia could invest in climate and water security, support the renewables industry and create new high-tech industries as sources of economic growth. 

It doesn’t take much intelligence or thought to create a war, but peace-making is serious nation-building work. Education, addressing past wrongs, diplomacy, fair trade, working with others on common problems such as disease and climate change reduce the triggers of conflict and build peace.

History teaches us time and again, violence produces violence. Australia use to be a nation known for our capacity to build bridges, to build the international infrastructure that created the UN treaty system. We used to be a nation others looked to for smart, compassionate and wise council. This armaments industry just reduces our nation to the status of shill selling weapons of death to the highest bidder. We are better than this.