I’ve just counted up the ships that are coming to Auckland; they total 23, a real war fest. Five frigates, two destroyers, a submarine, a torture ship, two landing platform docks (amphibious warfare ships) and a handful of patrol vessels will sail into the Waitematā Harbour on Thursday. The ships are coming to celebrate the NZ Navy’s 75th birthday. There are 21 party guests including the US, UK, France, China, Indonesia, Chile, Australia and Singapore.
Along with the warships, another group of partygoers is arriving Wednesday to join in the celebrations of war making. Approximately 550 representatives from 169 weapons and military supply companies will converge on the Viaduct Events Centre for a two-day defence industry expo. They are likely to be in a good mood: the NZ government plans to spend NZ$20 billion on new weapons over the next 15 years. Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest weapons dealer, is sponsoring the event. It can afford to: its already got a half-billion dollar contract with the NZ Navy, and made NZ$5 billion in profit last year. The Expo is an annual event where military brass and industry executives rub shoulders, talk procurement deals and give each other awards.
Many people I talk to are very surprised by these events and what seems to be a vast and rapid expansion of New Zealand militarism. The build up to these events, however, has been steadily growing since September 11th, 2001. It received particular impetus following the signing of the 2012 Washington Declaration, a new NZ-US defence cooperation agreement.
Since then, the NZ Navy has been a participant in two US-led RIMPAC war-training exercises, the world’s largest naval war preparation drill. The US Marine Corp has also been conducting regular exchanges with the NZDF, and was a participant in last year’s Exercise Southern Katipo (pdf), New Zealand’s largest war-training activity on the West Coast of the South Island.
The Key government’s release of the Defence White Paper this year laid out the plans and challenges for the military over the next five years. In it, the NZDF itself admits that New Zealand faces no immediate military threat. In spite of the absence of any compelling reason for its existence, the government has decided to spend what amounts to the entire discretionary budget for the country (that which plugs the ever-emerging holes in our health, welfare, education and housing systems) for the next 15 years on buying new weapons.
The rationale for this new spending is largely about meeting the expectations of “our” defence partners, in particular Australia and the US. Australia, in turn, is ramping up its defence spending committing about AUS$195 billion over the next decade to buy new submarines, warships, drones and fighter jets.
In this context, the Navy’s birthday “celebration” this week, pitched to the public as a way to honour the military, is more clearly seen for what it is: a large scale public relations campaign to secure support for this massive theft of our collective wealth by weapons dealers. The government’s own internal documents admit as much: it’s about “recruiting, reputation, relationships and retention”. It is not about honouring soldiers, for if the government really wanted to honour soldiers, it could bring home the bodies of those NZ soldiers killed in Malaysia that it is currently refusing to do, or it could award compensation to those men exposed to Agent Orange in the Vietnam War who have lodged a Waitangi Tribunal claim. Or it could have ensured that the soldier suffering from PTSD didn’t have to go to court to get ACC coverage – instead the NZDF fought him “very hard”. This is the kind of real “honour” accorded to war veterans.
This is the side of the military that, well, the military would rather we not see. It is the “hearts and minds” campaign that has been waged upon us for more than a decade. It is the one that tells us our troops are not waging war in Afghanistan or Iraq, but rather somehow doing some nice peacekeeping amidst the brutal US-led occupations. It is a campaign that has cast the NZ Navy as mostly concerned with fishing patrols and disaster relief, not escorting US warships through the Persian Gulf to the illegal invasion of Iraq; hosting GCSB missile-strike signals intelligence gatherers on board in that same war theatre; or boarding the “pirate” vessels of poverty-stricken Somalis in order to ensure that they don’t interrupt the flow of global capital.
Up until this week, the reasons to be out on the streets resisting these obscenities were already clear: these events are about promoting war, profiting from war and glorifying war.
The election of Donald Trump, however, gives an acute urgency to all action to stop the global war machine – and New Zealand’s part in it. That fascist will soon control the world’s most powerful and terrifying killing machine. Alex Evans at the Intercept writes,
“He’ll control an unaccountable drone program, and the prison at Guantanamo Bay… He will inherit bombing campaigns in seven Muslim countries, the de facto ability to declare war unilaterally, and a massive nuclear arsenal — much of which is on hair-trigger alert.
The day after his election, the stock prices for the major weapons manufacturers skyrocketed. These companies can already see the tremendous opportunities for new weapons sales. The millions of people murdered by the US campaign of terror across the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia is set to become far worse, if indeed that is possible. Millions more will join the 60 million people currently seeking refuge from war, as conflicts escalate. There will be new private prison gulags despoiling the globe, warehousing black and brown bodies. The rich will continue to arm themselves with ever more sophisticated tools of violence to enforce the extreme and ubiquitous inequality.
This is the future we can expect if we don’t get to work, right now, dismantling the whole of the war machine. Fortunately, we’ve got a great opportunity to do our part. This week, while the government has its war fest, Auckland Peace Action is hosting a Week of Peace. The actions on offer are not simply about hoping for a better world. They are about taking direct action to confront, challenge and stop those who directly profit from war. On Wednesday at 8am, the peace action kicks off with a blockade of the weapons expo. The blockade is a space for all those who can actively physically blockade the venue, for those who can support them, and those who want to resist with their words, their music, their art or simply their presence.
On Thursday, peace protectors will take to the seas to resist the entry of the warships into the Harbour. The Pacific Panthers will call to the sea – Karanga ki Tangaroa – both to reclaim their atua from the military that has appropriated its name and called its war training “Operation Mahi Tangaroa”, and to offer blessings to the flotilla as it heads out on its mission of resistance. The action starts at 9am at Mission Bay. So find a friend with a boat, borrow a kayak, or appropriate a dinghy and head out on the Harbour.
The Week of Peace has much, much more organised. A full list of events is here. There is also plenty of space for you and your crew to take your own peace actions. The warships will be parked up all week, a “1,000 soldier” march will take over Queen Street on Friday, and weapons dealers will be wining and dining at all the local hotels.
We’ll see you in the streets!