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Lucrative openings for Australians in weapons exports

By Sue Wareham - posted Friday, 19 November 2010

Things have been a bit dodgy in my neighbourhood lately. Some strange characters are hanging around, and more than the usual smattering of domestic arguments are disturbing the peace. Were it not for our gun ownership laws, it would be a golden opportunity. Set up a local arms and graft fair, similar to those wonderful weekend art and craft fairs, make a neat profit and help the nation's economy, all at once.

The international scene is not constrained by such laws however, and there's a killing to be made in, well, killing, aka "defence and security". Ask Austrade. The government organisation that promotes Australian exports is conducted a seminar yesterday in Canberra to tell people how to sell their weapons and related wares to our neighbours. "Defence and Security Opportunities in India and South East Asia" it's called, with the sub-heading "Trade. Invest. Prosper". Austrade entices participants to "tap into two of the world's fastest growing defence and security markets".

I'm feeling more secure already. After all, how can we in Australia keep on increasing our own military budget from the current $73 million we spend every day if there are no enemies out there, arming themselves to the teeth? Letting weapons and military budgets slip would open a whole Pandora's Box of problems, especially in the world's trouble spots such as South Asia.


Take India, for example. In 2009, India spent around $US 36.6 billion on its military. Imagine if some of that was redirected into health or education budgets. More Indians might then expect a decent standard of living, and then where would we be? And how would Pakistan react? The whole thing could snowball, with South Asia becoming less heavily militarised. Or imagine if some of the global $1.46 trillion spent annually on military budgets was focussed instead on the introduction of renewable energies. We'd have a plague of unemployed fossil fuel executives.

Austrade has an eye for opportunity though. Their website states that since September 11, 2001, "defence is again a big issue and ….it is playing a wider role in the commercial world as well." Thank goodness some good can come from that most terrible of events. The organisation has particularly promoted our weapons sales to the United States, South-East Asia and the Middle East (there's one region where they won't be wasted).

It's not only Austrade that's doing its bit. In 2008 the Asia-Pacific Defence and Security Exhibition (APDSE) was planned for Adelaide, to allow weapons manufacturers from around the world to promote their products. It was due to open on Remembrance Day, November 11, the day that commemorates the end of "the war to end all wars". Lest we forget the brave souls who made a mint from the weapons sales. In the end, the South Australian government cancelled the APDSE arms fair, saying it was concerned that violent protestors might disrupt the event. (Who do these protestors think they are, bringing violence to a weapons exhibition?)

APDSE's promoters assured us of their capacity to exploit regional tensions. They claimed that the Asia-Pacific was "the significant growth market" for arms sales, and referred to disputed territories in the region, possible military clashes involving China or North Korea, conflicts over energy supplies, and the security implications of climate change.

In spite of these promotional events, the weapons trade is not a free or all. Export applications require approval by the Defence Export Control Office within our Department of Defence. However someone with wise forethought ensured that all applications and transactions are deemed "commercial-in-confidence". Statistical information on exports is not a matter of public record, and there is no regular reporting on the matter to parliament. When Greens Senator Ludlam asked Defence Minister Faulkner in February 2010 for a listing of our top 200 defence exports, the list provided by the Minister gave a two- or three-word description for each item, such as ‘military vehicle', the destination and the monetary value. The names of the companies involved were not released. Secret men's business should remain secret men's business.

There are some important questions. Australia is supporting efforts to negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty - an international agreement to reduce the trade in small arms. So why are we trying to boost the trade at the same time? How is it that increasing the number of weapons in our region makes us more secure? I certainly don't feel safer if the bloke living next door to me has a rifle. Perhaps it doesn't make us more secure, but it just makes a profit, and that trumps all. Trade in war, invest in war, and may the war profiteers prosper.

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About the Author

Dr Sue Wareham is a Canberra GP who joined the Medical Association for Prevention of War out of a "horror at the destructive capacity of a single nuclear weapon". She has many interests and fields of expertise, including the contribution of peace to global sustainability. Sue believes that her work with MAPW is fundamental to her commitment to the protection of human life and the improvement of human well-being. She is Vice-President of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia); and on the Australian Management Committee of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

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