Military agreement turns Australia into launchpad for future U.S. war against China
U.S. Marines stand in formation aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard amphibious assault ship off the coast from Sydney, June 29, 2017 during a ceremony marking the start of Talisman Saber 2017, a biennial joint military exercise between the United States and Australia. | Jason Reed / AP

SYDNEY—When it comes to military activities or agreements between Australia and the United States, the ANZUS Treaty is waved around to provide “motherhood” authorization or justification for such activities.

More recently, the AUKUS security pact between Australia, the U.K, and the U.S. has been used to authorize and justify certain military acquisitions, nuclear-powered submarines in particular. However, neither of these treaties mention, justify, or authorize a U.S. military build-up in the Northern Territory and elsewhere in Australia.

It is the U.S.-Australia Force Posture Agreement (FPA), signed in 2014 by Julie Bishop and David Johnston, respectively then-foreign minister and defense minister, for the Australian government and by John F. Kerry and Chuck Hagel for the U.S., which provides the legal basis for the comprehensive U.S. militarization of Australia, especially the Northern Territory, thus setting up Australia as a U.S. forward base from which to launch its next war.

It is somewhat surprising that the FPA, which surrenders Australian sovereignty to a foreign military power, is given little attention by the media or defense academics and strategists. Even the peace movement in Australia presently doesn’t give the FPA the attention it deserves. Nothing in the ANZUS Treaty or the AUKUS Pact has opened the gate for a foreign military build-up on Australian territory with integration of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in its war preparations. Only the FPA does that.

It started in 2011, when President Barack Obama announced to the Australian Federal Parliament his “Pivot to Asia” military strategy and his deployment of up to 2,500 U.S. Marines for six months each year to the Northern Territory to practice for war with the ADF.

His announcement was greeted with a standing ovation by a joint sitting of parliament, with the then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard sycophantically praising Obama and effusively thanking him for his supposed generosity. Representatives of the Australian and U.S. governments then sat down and produced the FPA, which was signed in 2014.

Meantime, the deployment of U.S. Marines to the city of Darwin commenced, initially with 1,200 personnel and increasing each year to the present 2,500. Following the 2022 AUSMIN conference between U.S. and Australian defense and foreign affairs ministers, that figure is expected to increase even further.

But the gate opened by the FPA to the U.S. military doesn’t end with U.S. Marines stationed in Darwin, as a review of the FPA clauses makes clear.

Article IV

“Agreed facilities and areas

“1. With full respect for Australian sovereignty and the laws of Australia, United States Forces and United States Contractors shall have unimpeded access to and use of Agreed Facilities and Areas for activities undertaken in connection with this Agreement.

“2. Such activities may include: training, transit, support, and related activities; refuelling of aircraft; bunkering of vessels; temporary maintenance of vehicles, vessels, and aircraft; temporary accommodation of personnel; communications; prepositioning of equipment, supplies, and materiel; deploying forces and material; and such other activities as the Parties may agree.

3. Australia hereby grants to the United States operational control of Agreed Facilities and Areas, or portions thereof designated pursuant to Article 20(3) of the SOFA, for construction activities and authority to undertake such construction activities on, and make alterations and improvements to, such Agreed Facilities and Areas.”

Article VII

“Prepositioning of defence equipment, supplies and materiel

“1. In accordance with the consultation mechanisms in Article III of this Agreement, United States Forces may preposition and store defence equipment, supplies, and materiel (“prepositioned materiel”) at Agreed Facilities and Areas. United States Forces shall notify, appropriately in advance, the ADOD [Australian Department of Defence] regarding the types, quantities, and delivery schedules of defence equipment, supplies, and materiel that United States Forces intend to preposition in the territory of Australia, as well as regarding the United States Contractors who will make such deliveries.

“3. The prepositioned materiel of United States Forces, and Agreed Facilities and Areas designated for storage of such prepositioned materiel shall be for the exclusive use of United States Forces, and full title to all such equipment, supplies, and materiel remains with the United States. United States Forces shall have exclusive control over the access to, use of, and disposition of such prepositioned materiel and shall have the unencumbered right to remove such prepositioned materiel at any time from the territory of Australia.

“4. United States Forces and United States Contractors shall have unimpeded access to Agreed Facilities and Areas for all matters related to the prepositioning and storage of defence equipment, supplies, and materiel, including delivery, management, inspection, use, maintenance, and removal of such prepositioned materiel. As mutually determined by the Parties, aircraft, vehicles, and vessels operated by or for United States Forces shall have access to aerial ports and seaports of Australia and other locations, for the delivery to, storage and maintenance in, and removal from the territory of Australia of United States Forces’ prepositioned materiel.” (Emphasis added)

The gateway authority provided to the U.S. military by the FPA might have the agreement of successive Australian governments, both Coalition and Labor, but that does not alter the fact that the country’s sovereignty has been sold out. On the contrary, it simply means that successive Australian governments have severely compromised that sovereignty and should be treated as collaborators with a foreign government to the detriment of the Australian people’s best interests.

The terms of the FPA allow massive fuel, munitions, and spare parts storage facilities, as well as maintenance facilities, to be built in the Northern Territory exclusively for U.S. military use. This construction has already commenced.

Because of the FPA, the Australian airbase at Tindal, near Katherine in the Northern Territory, is being massively upgraded at Australian taxpayers’ expense to accommodate and support U.S. military aircraft, including up to six U.S. B-52 nuclear-capable long-range bombers, each able to reach China without refueling.

Of course, the FPA facilitates the stationing of U.S. Marines in Darwin each year and the war preparation training they undertake in conjunction with the ADF. To better direct and control their military forces, the U.S. has established a regional command center in Darwin.

The U.S. Marines, Air Force, and Navy operating within and from Australia are all under the command of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, whose region of responsibility includes Australia, New Zealand, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, China, all the Pacific Nations, and the other countries in Southeast Asia.

The U.S. military forces and military facilities in Australia are not under the control of the Australian government.

Effectively, the FPA enables the U.S. military to set up Australia as one of its launching and supporting bases for a war. No second guesses are needed.

That war, those hostilities, would undoubtedly be directed at China, which the U.S. sees as a threat to its regional dominance. The presence of these launch-pad U.S. military facilities and troops on Australian soil could well bring retaliation in such a war from China, whose long-range missiles can reach all parts of Australia.

Targets would include Pine Gap, the Harold E. Holt Submarine Communications facility at North-West Cape in Western Australia, and other strategic U.S. facilities in Australia providing critical support for such a war.

Involvement with the U.S. in a war against China would be a disaster for Australia, the region, and the world.

The interests of the Australian people, their peace and security, would be best served by the Australian government invoking Article XXI, clause 3 of the FPA which enables the agreement to be terminated by either party giving one year’s notice.

The Independent and Peaceful Australia Network, in a recent media release, called for termination of the FPA. It will take thousands of such calls to educate and awaken the public to the implications of the FPA and to generate the public anger and pressure which will give an Australian government the electoral threat and backbone to take the necessary termination action.

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Bevan Ramsden
Bevan Ramsden

Australian Bevan Ramsden is a long-time peace activist going back to the Vietnam Moratorium Campaign and campaign against conscription in the 1970s. He advocates for Australia’s independence and freedom from the U.S. military alliance and ending U.S. military bases in Australia.