Pine Gap - Undermining Australia's Survival > by Alan Griffiths

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Pine Gap, USA


While Australia negotiated the much-publicised Australia / US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA), there was little warning of a more ominous development - the implementation of secret military negotiations in parallel to the AUSFTA talks.

In November 2002, Jane Drake-Brockman, multilateral trade negotiator for Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, warned about Australia's reasons for pursuing the AUSFTA with America. Brockman stated that Australia's motivations were based on foreign interests and defence and not on economic considerations. (1) She was convinced that Australia's negotiating position was formulated within an economic based vacuum and cited `that no economic justification has been identified, not least in the consultancy reports prepared for the Government on this issue' . (2)

Brockman foretold that the impending bilateral trade arrangement would inflict serious damage to Australia's `strategic and defence relationship' with the US and that if `defence bases and butter access are both in effect in the same negotiating arena, … Butter will always lose, as at the end of the day defence will come first.'

While America was refusing the inclusion of our sugar into the trade agreement, few Australians were aware how much the US was gaining in the military negotiations, or how far Howard was willing to commit Australia to the US military prerogative. This article outlines the background to these military negotiations, how we are committing ourselves, and their possible implications to Australia's environmental, social and strategic interests.


Two days before 9/11, John Howard was in Washington to celebrate the fiftieth Anniversary of the ANZUS treaty, which had formalised Australia and America's military relationship. Howard used this occasion to offer America the renewal of the Pine Gap lease agreement in exchange for a bilateral free trade agreement. (3)

The next day Howard and Bush signed a joint statement acknowledging the strength of the bilateral strategic partnership between the two countries. (4) It was not long after 9/11 however, that this strategic partnership was to significantly alter. Backed with Australian approval, the Pentagon's military planners began to map out a much larger military stratagem.

To illustrate Australia's willingness to gain a FTA with America, Howard invoked the ANZUS Treaty, for the first time in its history, for Australian involvement in the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan in 2001. (5) Against this military backdrop, the touted AUSFTA was already raising questions about its political context.

A couple of years later as Howard visited Bush in Texas, the Australian government issued a statement describing the ANZUS treaty as `a key part of Australia's national security and defence strategy' . (6)

In the same month the Australia Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) pointed out `that both the US and Australia have linked the AUSFTA with the post-September 11 security alliance. The Australian government's recent White Paper on Trade and Foreign Affairs said it would “put our economic relationship on a parallel footing with our political relationship”.' (7)

Finally, as the AUSFTA negotiations were underway, US and Australian military officials met in Canberra in December 2003, to negotiate `a memorandum of understanding' on Australia's participation in the US missile defence program. (8) The ABC however, described this memorandum as a `formal agreement'. (9)

The agreement centrepiece is the Pentagon's plans to modify the role of Pine Gap. The US is integrating a new missile defence system known as the “Son of Star Wars”, or the National Missile Defence (NMD), into its land, air, sea, and soon to be established space territories, including remote robot fighting capabilities. This is proposed to protect America from intercontinental ballistic missile attack, (10) while excluding US allies involved in this defence program. Australia instead will get a similar version known as the Theater Missile Defense (TMD). (11)

After Australia's Defence Minister Robert Hill announced that Australia would sign up to the US's Son of Star Wars program, it was later confirmed that Pine Gap would act as the nerve centre, feeding information back to the US as part of the NMD program.

Australia has always been the junior partner in running Pine Gap. The Agreement covering the role of Pine Gap within an international spy network, known as the UKUSA, signed between the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, has always been dominated by America.

Pine Gap itself is a US military base consisting of 900 staff. (12) It is integral to the US's military intelligence and weapons delivery systems within the Asia, Pacific and Middle East regions.

Under the auspice of the NMD program, Pine Gap is now central to US's defence from nuclear attack by acting as the hub for the operability of Son of Star Wars. The new buzz word describing this high tech wizardry Australia is investing in, - is `interoperability'.

INTEROPERABILITY --- what is it?

Interoperability is the capacity to seamlessly integrate all, or any section of military capability the US deems appropriate at the time. Through US technology currently under development, Pine Gap will be able to coordinate space, air, navy, army, robot, cyber and submarine forces, all in real-time, with complete fluidity.

For our involvement Australia had to agree to the requirement of recalibrating our military capabilities to integrate with American standards. These requirements include the purchase of and access to US military hardware, regardless if whether the hardware is unsuitable for Australian conditions (see below), joint training and Australian participation in the development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and other military hardware.

In this same period Hill announced the launch of the Defence Capability Plan 2004-2014 , (14) which details how the Australian Defence Force will evolve to suit `our increasingly complex security situation'.

This document outlines 64 projects with 116 phases currently valued at about $50 billion. Under this initiative Australia and US Navies signed an agreement on Surface Warfare. Announcing the plethora of initiatives, Hill declared that the:

“Major projects include the acquisition of three state-of-the-art Air Warfare Destroyers…”, and US missile systems including the Standard Missile-2 and enhanced Harpoon Block II, both of which are part of the Star Wars program.

Hill had previously stated that Australia planned to buy air warfare destroyers for the navy, which could be fitted with the SM3 missiles capable of shooting down long-range ballistic missiles. (15) "It's got the capability to basically meet and intercept missiles outside of the atmosphere," Hill told ABC radio. (16)

Because of their very manoeuvrability this can be seen as a threat, rather than a purely defensive measure. Indeed, after Howard announced the Australia-US missile defence deal, Indonesia described it as an “offensive” move. (17)

As trade negotiations continued, the Pentagon's highest-ranking military officer, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard Myers, paid a three day visit to Australia to help solidify a closer working relationship between the Australian and US military.

One of the main initiatives Myers announced was the proposed establishment of a US training and logistics `staging post' based in Darwin. Myers stressed for the need for the Australian military to keep its `interoperability' with US forces. (18)

This base will house up to 5,000 personnel on a rotational basis, equipment including tanks, aircraft, fuel and ammunition to equip for a rapid deployment of US troops into theatres of war within this region.

The offer of this base was linked to America applying pressure on Australia to purchase 100 second hand M-1 Abrams tanks from Iraq for half price, (19) even though Australia was keen to replace its old German Leopard 1 tanks with the lightweight Leopard 2. (20)


In America, the US Department of Defense lobbied to exempt themselves from their federal environmental Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, contained in the National Defense Authorisation Act for 2003; (21) and from sections of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Clean Air Act, and some hazardous-waste laws.

As the cleaning up of pollution left behind by the closure of US bases in the Philippines and Germany indicates, the US military is already considered to be one of the world's worst polluters. One study into contamination of toxic waste on American military bases found 14,401 "Toxic hot spots" in 1,579 military bases. (22)

The cleaning up operations of the vacated US Clark and Subic bases in the Philippines in 1992 found wells poisoned by insecticides, industrial waste and toxic metals buried in unmarked landfills, and petroleum which had leached from underground tanks contaminating ground water and nearby agricultural lands. This contributed to the disproportionately high rates of illnesses reported amongst Filipinos living at or near the bases.

The total bill estimated in decontaminating Clark and Subic came to $1 billion, which the US tried to claim exemption from liability. The US also refused to provide technical assistance and pertinent documentation.

Depleted uranium is another fallout from our military relationship. Given US use of depleted uranium tipped armaments in both Iraq and Afghanistan and US denial over its toxicity, (23) it is unlikely Australia will press for an ironclad guarantee that no depleted uranium armaments will be tested on Australian soil.


Given that back in August 30, 2002, Australia planned to exempt America from the International Criminal Court (ICC), (24) this could exacerbate our inability in influencing better practices amongst American personnel stationed on Australian soil.

Although much has been said about US mistreatment of prisoners, including torture, rape and murder, little information has come to light about US human rights abuses perpetrated by US personnel stationed in our region. The paragraphs below illustrate just how difficult it may be to curtail further abuses.

The People's Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance Foundation (PREDA), nominated twice for the Nobel Prize, was founded in 1974 in Olongapo City, Philippines, to protect `sexually exploited and abused' Filipino women and children. (25)

PREDA assisted Filipino-American children left behind by US personnel with therapy and counselling, and believes that thousands of Filipino-American children were rejected by their US fathers. Many of these children wound up on the street begging, or in child prostitution.

PREDA reported ongoing cases of Filipino-American children sold as prostitutes to paedophiles serving within the US Seventh Fleet, (26) even after the US Naval Investigative Service found that child prostitution rings were flourishing. (27)

The US Navy is the only navy in the world to have negotiated with the Filipino government to grant immunity from prosecution for its US Servicemen calling in any of its 22 Philippine ports. (28)

Filipino NGO's think that it is `presumed that the seeking of immunity is to forestall the expected run of crimes that they will commit against the strict child protection laws and the severe anti-rape laws… Navy officials have informed us that the negotiations for access and immunity are political in nature and that the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Command is acting on behalf of the President of the United States.' (29)


When US Defence Secretary William Cohen first floated the idea of using Pine Gap for the proposed US missile defence shield, former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser said that this would make Australia a target. (30)

Fraser later wrote to The Australian stating that Canberra should ''refuse absolutely'' to allow Pine Gap to be used for missile defense, as it ''would be a prime target for attack.” (31) Fraser went on to say that the long-standing alliance Australia shares with the United States would ''become an impediment to our security, rather than a safeguard for that security.''

Observers fear that if the US deploys this missile shield that China, India and Pakistan, could respond with a regional nuclear arms race through modernising and enlarging arsenals of nuclear weapons and improving their ballistic missiles. (32) To counter this threat the US has admitted that it has shifted its trajectory of interest into the Asia region, as it perceives China as a growing threat. (33)

What hasn't been widely reported is China's readiness for a confrontation with the US over its perceived threat of “neo-imperialism”. (34)

Damned if we do

Beijing views Canberra's alliance with Washington as a threat and has put Canberra on notice, expecting Australia to remain neutral if conflict should arise between the US and China over Taiwan. (35)

The US, on the other hand, sees China as a long-term strategic threat - especially in light of the impending energy crisis, as the availability of commercially exploitable oil decreases. The US expects Australia to confront China alongside the U.S. if future Sino-American crises over Taiwan and North Korea, and has stated its willingness to invoke the ANZUS treaty to implement this.

The problem with North Korea, however, is its formidable missile technology, which is one of world's most advanced. Relying on our yet to be fully tested missile shield could prove to be a dangerous folly.

Damned if we don't

Even if no conflict were to eventuate other North Korea and Taiwan, there is still the issue of Iran. China's president, Hu Jintao, is no push over. Chinese diplomats in the Middle East have heard harsh criticism from traditionally friendly governments.

They believe that China's stance on Iraq looked like a betrayal of principles that casts doubt on its future reliability as an ally. Hu is reported to support the idea that China's national stature demands it takes firm positions, even if it means angering Washington. (36)

In order to avoid becoming involved, Australia would have to make a clear break from the US, and also shut or temporarily suspend Pine Gap's operations to restrict our involvement in the bombing of Iraq.

So where to from here?

Although it is still considered harmful to neighbouring country relations, if Australia was to just station missiles on land, rather than having them specially fitted onto navy ships, custom-made for NMD, then it may be able to extricate itself from escalating international tensions. Allowing our navy the ability to involve these missile systems in any American lead mobile force, however, could be seen as an offensive posture, rather than defensive.

Unfortunately for Australia, we may be dragged into an even direr scenario. A March 15, 2005 Draft Paper titled "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations", drafted by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, calls for plans to allow regional combatant commanders to request for presidential approval to carry out pre-emptive nuclear strikes against any state planning to attack America or its allies with WMDs. (37)

After the end of the Cold War in 1991, the United States removed its ground-based nuclear weapons from Asia and Europe, including strategic nuclear warheads from warships and submarines. This Draft Paper also states that the US is prepared to revive those sea-based nuclear arms.

This seems to be the ultimate goal of interoperability. If the US is willing to use nuclear weapons in a pre-emptive nature with Pine Gap's involvement, then Australia will ultimately be compromised, as Pine Gap will be at the top of the list to be attacked.

Taking into account what Rumsfeld is reported to have said: “A system of defence need not be perfect”; (38) and that Russia claims to have successfully conducted missile tests for a new delivery mechanism capable of avoiding America's NMD (39) (therefore making the whole Star Wars program obsolete), it would seem that Pine Gap's involvement in any interoperable capacity may end up being very short lived indeed.

Alan Griffiths


1. “A `Free Trade Area' with the United States; Centre for Public Policy Forum Speaking Notes, Jane Drake-Brockman, 10.11.2002
2.Ibid p3
5. Ibid
6. Ibid
8. Ibid
11. Ibid
13. Chine Brief, THE CHINA FACTOR IN AUSTRALIA-U.S. RELATIONS, Mohan Malik, Volume 5 , Issue 8 (April 12, 2005)
18. Ibid
26. PREDA, The Throwaway Children Of The U.S. Seventh Fleet, Father Shay Cullen SSC, Document Ref No: R9203211, 21st March 1992
27. PREDA, Paper to Child Labor Coalition, Washington, Father Shay Cullen SSC, Document Ref No: R9708011, August 1997
28. Ibid
29. Ibid
32. Ibid
35. Ibid
36. Next stop Tehran? The Guardian, Simon Tisdall, Tuesday May 27, 2003