Five reasons to Disrupt Land Forces
The Land Forces International Defence Exposition is back in town. The biggest arms fair in the southern hemisphere, it will take place from October 4-6 at the Brisbane Convention Centre. Last time it was on, in May 2021, it was anti-militarism activists who stole the show – blocking tanks and trucks during the setup, staging cacophonous protests outside the convention, breaching the defences of the defence expo to run inside and jump all over a tank, and in general making the whole thing quite unpleasant and difficult to organise. This year, we are getting ready to do the same again in the hope that this is the last time arms dealers do business in our city. Here are five reasons to Disrupt Land Forces:
1. Basic honesty.
Look on the front page of the Land Forces website, and you could be forgiven for not knowing what it’s all about. The word “weapons” is never used once, nor even the common euphemism “arms”. “Defence” features a lot, with some fancy sounding weapon names, and all kinds of indecipherable jargon like “key meeting hub for Australian and international industry, defence, academia and government, as the Australian Army implements the most substantial period of recapitalisation and optimisation since the Second World War.”
Why be so coy? If the Land Forces exhibitors are going to travel from around the country and the world to show off their products, shouldn’t they be proud of what they do? Instead they have to walk a tightrope between privately boasting how efficient and effective their products are at “eliminating targets” while publicly pretending that all they are selling are a bunch of buzzwords.
So it’s up to the protesters to point out what’s really going on inside the Convention Centre – they are selling tools to kill people, or at least threaten them with death. And not just theoretical “targets” either. These are real people, with names and families, who have been killed by the weapons being showcased at Land Forces. That’s why Disrupt Land Forces is making sure to invite people from the affected communities – West Papuans violently occupied by Indonesian forces armed by Thales and Rheinmetall; Palestinians locked in the Gaza Strip surveilled by Elbit Systems, Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory demanding police stop bringing NIOA guns into their communities after too many deaths at the hands of police.
As Land Forces delegates schmooze and booze next week, we need to disrupt it to remind everyone what is really behind those business cards and sales pitches – weapons of death and destruction that rely on ever expanding wars and surveillance to keep their profits rising.
2. To protect our planet.
The military, and those who make its weapons, are some of the world’s worst polluters. The natural environment is always one of the first casualties of any war, and even outside of conflict the military are constantly emitting vast amounts of carbon dioxide as well as plenty of other harmful chemicals. Here’s a stat for you: studies estimate that the military accounts for 6% of global carbon emissions. Yet nations do not even count the carbon cost of their military when it comes to calculating their emissions towards the Paris climate goals.
Australian Defence Force chief Angus Campbell has actually said that climate change is Australia’s greatest security threat, and certainly we have been besieged by natural disasters in recent years to an extent invading forces could only dream of. Unfortunately, when it comes to climate it seems our military is doing more to harm us than protect us.
Some people will justify military expenditure by saying the army is useful for natural disaster relief. But when people say this they ignore some important considerations – firstly that the immense carbon footprint of all the jets, helicopters, tanks and ships is making climate change worse and therefore increasing disasters; and secondly that every dollar and minute spent on the military and the arms trade is money and time that could be spent on what we actually need – renewable energy, energy efficiency measures, global climate strategy, disaster relief planning, climate resilience programs.
But that’s not the entire story either. On the frontiers of environmental destruction, it is the military that are enforcing extraction. In West Papua, Sarawak, or the Amazon, it is the military, using weapons displayed at Land Forces, who come in and move indigenous people off their land to allow forests to be cleared for mining or cash crops.
Like every other corporate buzzword, the companies at Land Forces like to talk about sustainability. But it’s only the protesters who will state the obvious – that to protect our earth we need less weapons sold, not more.
3. To stop corruption
Any study of global corruption requires large sections dedicated to the arms trade. Researchers suggest it is the most corrupt industry on the planet. Tufts University in the US tries to keep track of all the dirty deals, and has concluded that “corruption within the industry is often treated in terms of isolated incidents, when it is, in fact, representative of the business model for the industry“.
That corruption comes in many forms, and doesn’t just affect conflict zones where the weapons are used. In Australia, defence industry corruption is abundant – with weapons manufacturers employing battalions of lobbyists and infiltrating the army, Department of Defence, strategic think tanks, even the War Memorial foundation.
Journalism website Michael West Media has been conducting a study into what it calls the “revolving doors” of personnel between the military, government, and weapons industry. On that website it lists nineteen examples of people who in recent years have moved between roles in these different sectors – no doubt making and repaying countless favours and loyalties along the way.
The government throws around extraordinary amounts of money when it comes to the military, with the transactions often obscured by “national security” or “commercial in confidence” layers of secrecy. In these circumstances there are plenty of opportunities for a few extra million to be added to prices unnoticed. When senators have inquired the many dodgy deals in parliament, their questions are constantly batted away.
Christopher Pyne, who was Defence Minister for quite a few of those deals, literally walked straight out of his ministerial position into the employ of the weapons industry – first working as “executive consultant” at EY Defence, and currently holding positions at no less than ten companies and organisations with links to the weapons trade. It is extraordinary that this could be tolerated – a man who was privy to every sensitive discussion of national military strategy be allowed to suddenly appear on the side of the companies who stand to gain from them commercially. Last year Christopher could be seen shamelessly striding into Land Forces, with the protesters being left with the task of reminding him that he was elected to work for the defence of Australians, not to line up cushy corporate jobs for himself.
Land Forces relies on a certain dehumanisation of others to be able to sell all its products. But when the strategies of the arms trade include corroding our democratic structures for their own private gain, we need to realise that the targets are all Australians.
4. To challenge the arms trade’s claims of “progress”
The weapons industry loves to talk about innovation and development. Even outside of their official propaganda you hear it repeated – how good wars have been for technological invention. The industry gets a lot of mileage out of this. They get government grants for research and development (to ultimately make products they will then sell for more money to the same government!). They enter into agreements with universities – to funnel high achieving students straight into their employment, and to hijack the university’s reputations as knowledge gathering institutions for their own private profits. They even run programs in primary and secondary schools, trying to to entice students from an early age with the promises of playing with all the fanciest toys and being at the cutting edge of technological development.
No doubt many of the displays at Land Forces will possess impressive technological abilities. But to what end? Bigger and better ways of killing people? Often they don’t even manage that – one of the biggest technological advances in warfare in recent decades has been unmanned attack drones, which have been notorious for killing civilians despite claims of efficiency.
When you look more closely, some of the companies at Land Forces have been responsible for some of the worst technological developments in the last century – cluster bombs, land mines, nuclear weapons, concentration camps. To this we can add weaponised drones, and probably lethal autonomous weapons – the next step in technological warfare which many of the companies at Land Forces are working on as you read this.
Not only have these “developments” not really progressed society in any way, they have probably set us back as a species. They have killed, impoverished and traumatised many people who otherwise would have had plenty to contribute to society. They have directed trillions of dollars of public funds away from other causes in which it could have been invested. And they have harmed not only the people on the receiving end, but also those using the weapons – men and women with ample gifts they could offer society who end up grappling with PTSD or engaging in sociopathic behaviours like some of Australia’s most elite soldiers have been shown doing in Afghanistan.
The harms of the weapons industry would almost certainly have been worse if not for the counterweight of the unfunded and unheralded work of the anti-war movement. While all the money and media glory went to the military and their shiny weapons, everyday people were working together across borders to ban cluster bombs, land mines and nuclear weapons; to house the refugees and heal the traumas of war; to expose what really goes on at the frontlines of conflict.
It is this – hard work done for the love of it, in the face of scorn, but for the good of all humanity – that represents the cutting edge of progress; not the killing machines and crooked deals of a self-interested weapons industry.
5. To create a different kind of convention
The Queensland state government is pouring unknown millions of dollars into Land Forces as “host sponsor”, presumably with the justification that there is some kind of public benefit for Queenslanders. This, of course, is extremely dubious for all the reasons already listed.
A very different type of gathering will be taking place outside the convention centre and around the corner at Jagera Hall. A place where people congregate together unfunded and for no material gain. Rather than competing against each other, these people will try to put aside political and social differences to work on a common goal – a goal of peace and sustainability rather than conflict and destruction.
There will be a communal kitchen where meals are shared and voluntarily cooked. A welfare team who will try to make sure everyone is looked after. Friendships will be made, knowledge acquired, and new dimensions discovered within individuals given an opportunity to contribute. Each person is encouraged to bring their unique personal abilities and add them to the whole – whether the skills be creative, communicative, organisational, courage or just willingness to support.
Disrupt Land Forces is just a week-long gathering, but within it we can see the seeds of a very different way of organising our lives and society. Sadly so much of our energy goes to fighting against the vast resources of destructive industries. But every time we get together we learn a few more skills as groups and individuals; we get a bit more inspired; our relationships grow that bit stronger. Gathering together to work towards the world we believe in brings it a little bit closer to existence. There are plenty of good reasons to Disrupt Land Forces on October 1-7. Hopefully we will see you there.