Anti-Bases Campaign Update

ABC UPDATE

1/ Warbirds Over Wanaka 2020 Cancelled, So No USAF B-52 Bomber Visit – Coronavirus hasn’t been all bad news; there have been some unforeseen good consequences. One of the multitudes of New Zealand events forced to cancel by it was the April 2020 War Birds Over Wanaka air show. Anti-Bases Campaign (ABC) had been alarmed to learn that the "star" of the show was scheduled to be a US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber, making its first ever appearance in New Zealand. Here is ABC’s February 2020 press release when the visit was first announced: http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/press_release_files/press-release-2020-02-29.html

2/ RIMPAC 2020 War Exercise – Despite the coronavirus pandemic sweeping all before it, with giant global events such as the Olympics falling victim, the US military and its satellites – including New Zealand – are determined to press on with business as usual. Every two years there is the US-led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) military exercise, the world’s largest. As originally planned for June 2020, it was going to be held in Hawaii, involving more than 26,000 troops from 25 countries, including more than 300 from NZ. This would have been a perfect transmission vehicle for the virus to be spread far and wide. Preparations for this were proceeding at the same time as 2,700 sailors were being evacuated from a US aircraft carrier infected with the virus. Even the world’s mightiest military is no match for it.

The latest news from Cancel RIMPAC Aotearoa is that it has been postponed to August 2020 and will only be conducted at sea. But the exercise has not been cancelled and New Zealand has not withdrawn. Maire Leadbeater, veteran peace activist and ABC member, wrote to Defence Minister Ron Mark urging NZ to withdraw.

Mark was having none of that and a replied with a nonsensical assertion that such exercises allow the “New Zealand Defence Force (to play) an integral part in supporting that rules-based international order, for the benefit of all people” (letter, 7/5/20). The activities of the US military can be described as many things but “rules-based international order” is definitely not one of them and definitely not under this President. Mark went on to detail the role of the NZ military in the fight against the virus in NZ, and its role in regional disaster relief. That is all well and good but it is not what countries have militaries for – which is to fight wars and dish out murderous violence as directed by the State.

The same thing was seen in the aftermath of the 2011 killer quake in Christchurch, which led to the longest peacetime deployment by the Army in NZ history. You can bet when those soldiers joined up it wasn’t with the intention of guarding a fence around the ruins of central Christchurch for a couple of years. In terms of responding to local, national or regional disasters (be they quakes, cyclones or viruses) the same results could be achieved better by a properly resourced civil defence agency and/or a coastguard. You don’t need State-sanctioned killers.

3/ GCSB Given $220m In 2020 Budget – The NZ Government Communications Security Bureau (which runs the Waihopai spy base) has existed since the late 1970s and Waihopai since the late 80s. In that time many, many hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money have been spent on the GCSB spies and its Waihopai spy base. The most recent Budget (2020) alone allocated more than $220 million to the GCSB, a $50m increase on the previous year (no official figure has ever been published about the cost of running Waihopai, either for any individual year or in total).

4/ New Zealand’s Military Spending “Shamefully, in 2020 New Zealand is ranked at number 13 in the Stockholm International Peace Research Insitute (SIPRI) table ranking the highest increases in military spending around the world. The SIPRI figures, which are based on self-reporting by the Government, put the 2019 increase at 19%. However, the Government figures do not include military spending across all three of the Budget Votes where it is mostly itemised: Vote Defence, Vote Defence Force and Vote Education”.

“The increase in military spending in the 2019 Budget – the first ‘Wellbeing Budget’ – when compared with the allocation in the 2018 Budget was 24.73% (‘Wellbeing Budget: Shocking rise in NZ military spending’, Peace Movement Aotearoa, 29 May 2019, https://www.facebook.com/notes/peace-movement-aotearoa/wellbeing-budget-shocking-rise-in-nz-military-spending/2230103127037044)”.

“The allocation for military spending in 2019’s ‘Wellbeing Budget’ increased to a record total of $5,058,286,000 (NZ) – an average of $97,274,730 (NZ) every week. By way of contrast, more than 20% of children here are estimated to live in a family with an income below the poverty line, and an estimated one in one hundred New Zealanders are homeless”.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, essential public services including health, education, support for persons with disabilities and housing desperately needed increased spending, yet the Government continues to prioritise military spending – in addition to the increase in 2019’s Budget, in June 2019 the Government announced that it would spend $(NZ)20 billion over the next decade on increased combat capability, frigates and military aircraft…”

2020: Still Funding Outdated Military Concepts

Peace Movement Aotearoa updated this by analysing the 2020 Budget (“Welfare Or Warfare? Military Spending In Budget 2020”): “Military spending in the 2020 ‘Rebuilding Together’ Budget is a total of $4,621,354,000 – that is an average of more than $88.8 million every week… While this is a small decrease when compared with the record amount of military spending allocated in Budget 2019, it does not go far enough. This year’s allocation shows that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government still has the same old thinking about ‘security’ – a focus on outdated narrow military security concepts rather than real security that meets the needs of all New Zealanders”.

“Rather than continuing to focus on outdated narrow military security concepts, we urgently need to transition from maintaining combat-ready armed forces to civilian agencies that meet the wider security needs of all New Zealanders and our Pacific neighbours. Given New Zealand’s comparatively limited resources, the desperate need for substantially increased social funding domestically, as well as the urgent need for climate justice in the Pacific and globally, it simply makes no sense to continue to spend billions on military equipment and activities”.

“Fisheries and resource protection, border control, and maritime search and rescue could be better done by a civilian coastguard with inshore and offshore capabilities, equipped with a range of vehicles, vessels and aircraft that are suitable for our coastline, Antarctica and the Pacific, which – along with equipping civilian agencies for land-based search and rescue, and for humanitarian assistance here and overseas – would be a much cheaper option as none of these would require expensive military hardware”.

“If there is any lesson to be learnt from the current pandemic, surely it is that new thinking about how best to meet our real security needs is essential. Instead of relying on an ideology that focuses on outdated narrow military security concepts, New Zealand could – and should – lead the way. Instead of continuing down the path of spending $20 billion plus (in addition to the annual military budget) over the next decade for increased combat capability, including new military aircraft and warships, this is an opportune time to choose a new and better way forward”.

“A transition from combat-ready armed forces to civilian agencies, along with increased funding for diplomacy, would ensure New Zealand could make a far more positive contribution to wellbeing and real security for all New Zealanders, and at the regional and global levels, than it can by continuing to maintain and re-arm small but costly armed forces”.

5/ New Inspector-General Of Intelligence and Security Apppointed – https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/new-inspector-general-intelligence-and-security-appointed-0

6/ New Zealand’s Role In US Middle East Military Base A recent edition of Air Force News revealed that a senior NZ Defence Force (NZDF) officer served a six month posting at the Al-Udeid airbase base in Qatar, placing New Zealanders at the heart of the main targeting and bombing centre of that region, according to researcher Darius Shahtahmasebi (Global Research, 4/2/20).

Shahtahmasebinotes that although the NZ government has declared the end of NZDF deployments in Iraq, nothing has been said about the future of NZDF staff deployment to a US military base at the centre of a large proportion of US bombing missions in the Middle East. Operations of the base are implicated in large numbers of civilian casualties. The Global Research article says a recent issue of Air Force News revealed that a senior air force officer, Group Captain Shaun Sexton, served a six-month posting at the Qatar base (http://airforce.mil.nz/downloads/pdf/airforce-news/afn211.pdf).

The presence of New Zealand staff at the base has been kept largely quiet by the New Zealand military. According to information released by NZDF in response to an Official Information Act request, there were five New Zealand personnel currently serving at the Al-Udeid Airbase. Two of the personnel were involved with coordinating “air tasking” in Iraq and Syria and missions in Afghanistan. The base was responsible for 8,713 airstrikes (or weapons released) in 2018, 39,577 strikes in 2017 and 30,743 in 2016, including both manned and unmanned aircraft (Global Research, ibid.).

In the article, the NZDF confirmed that New Zealand personnel work across the region, including operations in Syria, but stated its troops are not involved in combat operations. An NZDF spokesperson said the organisation is confident its personnel on all operations are conducting themselves in accordance with both domestic and international legal obligations. Shahtahmasebi cites news reports of operations targeting Mosul (Iraq) and Raqqa (Syria), run from the base, that resulted in the destruction of large areas of the cities and the “appalling rate of civilian casualties” with the deaths of thousands (mostly unreported).

Of most interest are the three NZ personnel supporting intelligence functions within the US Central Command Forward Headquarters at the base. A 2019 Stuff Circuit report (https://interactives.stuff.co.nz/2018/02/the-base/) suggested that NZDF personnel had been secretly operating at the Combined Air Operations Center at Al-Udeid since at least 2016 (ibid.). The relationship between NZDF and Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) personnel remains to be revealed.

Murray Horton

Secretary/Organiser

Anti-Bases Campaign

Box 2258, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand

abc@chch.planet.org.nz

www.converge.org.nz/abc

www.facebook.com/AotearoaABC

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