Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I'm in the zone

No, not the comfort or creative zone, rather the zone centred on Guam, the major forward base for the US in the north-west Pacific. But Guam lacks the landmass for combined air, sea & land training, so the zone's been increased southward somewhat, & now takes in the area around Rockhampton, especially Shoalwater Bay, less than a hundred kilometres north from where I'm writing this.

Shoalwater Bay is not only breathtakingly beautiful, but also of vital importance to many endangered species & critical habitats. It's part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park & sits adjacent to a significant Ramsar wetland area & the Byfield National Park. But Shoalwater Bay is now one of the Pentagon’s largest & most important training areas & bombing ranges in the Asia-Pacific region.

In 2005, the Australian government entered into an agreement that provided the US long-term access to, & joint use of, the Shoalwater Bay Training Area. This agreement ties Australia to the rapid military build-up taking place in the north-west Pacific, particularly in Guam. The Talisman Sabre exercise is a result of this agreement.

There has been no disclosure of the terms of these agreements or what weaponry will be used in military exercises. The exercises will include live firing & bombing, underwater detonations, the latest laser guided missiles & “smart” bombs, ship to shore bombing runs, bombing from US bases in Guam, land-based artillery firings, nuclear powered submarines using high-level sonar frequency & nuclear weapons capable vessels & planes. There are no contingency plans for nuclear accidents, but they've announced that if whales or dolphins are sighted, then all underwater sonar activity will cease.

Recently the Australian Government changed the way it administers Environmental Protection Legislation, removing the usual need for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for all Australian Defence Force & foreign military training & infrastructure development if the ADF deem it unnecessary. The EIS is replaced by a Public Environmental Reports (PER), commissioned by the ADF, paid for by the military, reviewed & released by the military. The public input & consultation process is controlled by military & has been privately described by ADF personal as embarrassing & a disgrace.

Beginning Monday — & the buildup's already well underway, tanks & other heavy ordinance being ferried up the highway & through the town on trailers, ships up & down the coast; a tent city is springing up across from the airport; soon the Hercules will start rumbling into the airport — is Talisman Sabre — actually, I'd better start writing that as Saber — the name for this round of the biennial joint war games.

Talisman Saber is the largest joint US exercise conducted in Australia & involves more than 20,000 US & 12,000 Australian personnel. These war games are considered vital to the US dominance of the region through the Pacific Command in Hawaii & are linked to other military bases in Guam & Alaska. They're also considered vital to the economy of Rockhampton, since this, what is now euphemistically called, "military tourism" injects millions of dollars into local businesses. The neighbouring shire of Livingstone hates them since Shoalwater Bay is within their boundaries & all those tanks & troop carriers play havoc with the roads &, since the Government doesn't pay land taxes, the shire has to foot the bill for repairs.

& me, I sit here listening to a helicopter drone overhead & wonder what benefits holding military games in this sort of physical environment will accrue to the US. It's nothing like Iraq or Afghanistan — or Iran or Cuba or North Korea for that matter. Possibly it might provide acclimatisation for an invasion of New Zealand or Indonesia, even Australia (though why bother since the US has already prevailed here).

Or maybe it has nothing to do with climate. Maybe this is the only time the US actually gets to win a war. Carpe diem.

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