In June this year 26 navies from around the world will be participating in the Rim of the Pacific exercises hosted by the US navy. Given that New Zealand is acting as the sea combat commander for these exercises it might be worth examining whether we as a country should be spending significant sums of money on these exercises. My considered opinion is that such spending is foolish and ill – considered for the following reasons:
The USA is a singularly unpleasant imperial power
Involving ourselves in exercises of this kind signals at least a tacit approval of the actions of the country organising them. In the case of RIMPAC, this is the United States of America, the most powerful, wealthiest and most heavily militarised state in the world. If we wish to decide whether to support the US militarily, we would do well to consider their moral record and competency to act as the world’s predominant military power. That record is lacking. Consider: the Korean War lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths and is in large part responsible for North Korea being the Stalinist hellhole that it is. Their prosecution of the war also pushed back the democratisation of South Korea by several decades. The Vietnam war was a complete failure from beginning to end and was marked by massacres of civilians by US forces and the use of chemical defoliants and napalm that caused indiscriminate destruction. Not only that, the war featured the bombing of Cambodia, which was at least partially responsible for the rise of the Khmer Rouge and all that that entailed. Next we have the interventions in Afghanistan in support of the Mujahideen, leading in a fairly direct manner to the Taliban regime and Al – Qaeda. More recently, we have also witnessed the US invasion of Iraq, featuring widespread torture by US forces, massive civilian casualties and the complete collapse of political order in the Middle East, leading to the rise of DAESH. So, what can we conclude from this incomplete list of US military involvements? Well, firstly we can probably conclude that the US has a very lax attitude to morality. This is not something we should be at all supportive of. Secondly, given their record of fighting and losing wars, and thus making the situation for themselves worse, we can conclude that this record of adventurism and human rights violations will only continue. Perhaps we shouldn’t be associating with such a singularly unpleasant and incompetent state?
The other countries involved in RIMPAC are also very unpleasant
Disregarding the USA for a moment, we should consider the other states involved in these exercises. Firstly, we have the UK; a former colonial power with a decent number of atrocities to their name, now reduced to being the USA’s obedient lapdog. Next we have France, a colonial power with a reputation for doing explosive things in the Pacific. Never mind the native inhabitants and their land: we need to know if we can make deuterium and tritium fuse through the sheer force of our arrogance, garcon! Finally, we have Israel, a new entrant to the global stage and one that is notorious for stealing Palestinian land, ejecting the original owners, demolishing schools and homes and killing teenagers armed with rocks on a regular basis. It seems unquestionable that if we involve ourselves in military exercises with these countries we are going to emerge morally tainted.
RIMPAC is a naked attempt at intimidation
Next we might consider the purpose of these exercises, which as far as I can ascertain is nothing more or less than gunboat diplomacy. What else could it be? It’s certainly not a serious military exercise; those tend to take place individually and if not secretly at least covertly. Moreover, the countries involved are far from being uniformly within the US sphere of influence; China and Russia have been active members in the past, and they’re probably the people the US ends up fighting. Neither is it simple politeness; that tends not to involve heavy ordnance. The purpose, I conclude, is twofold. Firstly, the exercises communicate America’s great military might to the world and suggest that starting a war would be very foolish. Secondly, the invitations communicate which countries America likes and which it doesn’t, acting as a crude form of patronage. Neither are particularly edifying or useful to us, and participating in these circumstances feels awfully like giving in to blackmail.
These exercises damage the environment and local communities
Another important impact to be considered is that on the environment. RIMPAC are live – fire exercises, and they take place in areas which many indigenous and other communities use to produce food and live. Into this environment we are introducing depleted uranium rounds (not a radiological hazard, but highly chemically toxic), copper, lead and mercury from various munitions. Add to this residual hydrazine from missile propellants, smoke and other pollutants from diesel – burning ships and the consequences of the sheer mass of sailors in the area (holding tanks only have so much capacity) and we have an ecological disaster on our hands. I’ve seen tidier industrial sites, and in fact if civilian industry were to cause this level of pollution it would be held to be unacceptable. It thus follows that we probably shouldn’t accept it from the military either, especially given that this is poisoning people and defiling their sacred sites (I imagine the average American would take badly to me dumping rubbish on a military memorial: this is roughly the same thing).
The whole exercise is absurd
Finally, consider the exercise as a whole. Tens of thousands of soldiers and sailors are running around playing the hero and shooting guns for the edification of senior military and political officials. There’s no war happening and it’s not necessary training: it’s nothing short of boys playing at being soldiers, but with real guns. It’s childish: but this childishness is costing millions of dollars that could be spent on housing, health and education. I’d like to think that we as a country are more adult than this.
Taking all these points into consideration, I think it clear that taking part in these exercises is something we should not do.