fear of Australian military Technologies that got into the wrong hands have been revitalized through efforts to share more defense technology with the United States.
Australia aspires to be a Top 10 exporter of defense equipment. Critics have attacked the lack of transparency about Australia’s arms exports and the possibility that those exports are used in civil wars and human rights abuses.
The government announced earlier this year that it would enter into a partnership with the United States Guided missile project.
Defense Secretary Peter Dutton said before a trip to the US next week allegedly told a meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce that Australia and the US need to pool knowledge and resources to develop a range of missile and cyber technology, as well as autonomous drones that can “swarm” or work together.
Dutton said China’s “increasingly compulsive” behavior means that Australia must be prepared for any eventuality, and as part of that, governments and the defense industry must work to “remove barriers to cooperation and integration.”
In response to requests for freedom of information, Defense announced that it had approved arms exports to countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries.
The exports are divided into two parts. Part 1 covers military goods and non-military lethal goods (such as non-military firearms), and Part 2 covers dual-use goods that have been developed for commercial purposes but “either as military components or for the development or production of military systems or weapons of mass destruction”.
Australia has granted Israel nearly 200 Part 1 permits (what charged with war crimes) and another 43 Part 2 permits to Israel in the five years ended March 31.
Save the Children’s vice chairman Mat Tinkler said that as Australia seeks a bigger share of the export market, security and transparency should be increased.
“We don’t necessarily follow guns into the hands of the ultimate user,” he said.
“The Yemen conflict is a good example that we have given permits to the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia, the main fighters in this conflict. We know that human rights violations occurred and children were killed in this conflict. When Australian weapons are used it is a massive problem.
“Australia cannot put on its heart that our weapons will not be used.”
Medical Association for Prevention of War President Sue Wareham said that “guns are changing hands” and that Australia’s increasing interoperability with the US is “deeply worrying”.
In the Middle East, she says, the US has lost control of weapons, and in Yemen, other weapons have changed hands.
“To believe that we … can always keep control of our own weapons is just fantastic.”
Armed drones are a particular problem, Wareham said, because people are misidentified and become collateral.
Regarding exports from the Middle East, defense analyst Marcus Hellyer said the defense was hiding behind “trust deals” if they refused to disclose what weapons Australia was exporting.
“I’m sure the defense is following the letter of the law,” he said.
“But they admitted that once it went abroad it was hard to track. If you sell a weapon system to the Saudi Arabians, it is difficult to see whether it will be used in Yemen. The defense does not have weapons inspectors in Yemen to check that they are doing the right thing. “
He points out that Australia publishes a glossy catalog that details what is for sale (the Australian military sales catalog) but not what we sell. The disclosures are incomplete and patchy, he said, and more transparency is needed.
Green Senator Jordon Steele-John said Australia should work to de-escalate tensions in the region rather than sign military deals with the US and trade deals with China and get stuck between two nuclear powers.
He described the recent steps towards further armaments as “an absurd contortion to join America with a little pounding on the chest while enjoying the status of China’s largest trading partner”. The Greens want to ditch the idea of becoming a top ten arms manufacturer and allowing US military operations on Australian soil while doing diplomacy in the region.
Dutton was asked to comment.
Australia’s Declaration on Compatibility with Human Rights states that Australia’s regulatory framework for export controls “reflects international best practices and continues to support the responsible export and delivery of defense and dual-use goods and technology”.