Why the Land Forces arms expo and conference must not go ahead: in Defence of Earth

By Robin Taubenfeld, Sam Castro, & Phil Evans

A convergence of activists from across the progressive spectrum will gather in Meanjin / Brisbane in June 2021 to oppose the Land Forces conference, described as a "killing conference alongside a massive killing expo."1 Friends of the Earth activists from the Defence of Earth project will join those gathering in an attempt to not only disrupt the conference, but the wider corporate movement for war and militarism.

Land Forces is an arms fair masquerading as an industry trade show. The accompanying military conference is sponsored by the Queensland Government and the Australian Department of Defence. Some of the world's largest arms and defence manufacturers are expected to exhibit their wares in 2021 at the taxpayers' expense. The event is scheduled to take place from 1‒3 June 2021 at the Brisbane Convention Centre.

According to the organisers of the last expo, Land Forces in 2018 "attracted record total combined attendances of 15,331 over the period of the event, from throughout Australia and the world (up from 13,450 in 2016)" and promoted "624 companies from 26 countries."2

There has been long-running resistance to the conference by activists who question the moral right of Land Forces to go ahead as profiteering off war continues to result in death and destruction of people in the Global South, exacerbates climate change and the abuse of human rights, with the majority of casualties in modern warfare being civilians.

In recent years we have seen the consequences of climate change, famine and war decimate countries such as Syria, resulting in millions of displaced people seeking asylum. The cycle of the military industrial complex can be felt for generations and it begins with the profiteering of weapons designed for no other purpose than to kill.

Defence of Earth ‒ Dismantling Patriarchy

Friends of the Earth believes that peace is a precursor to gender, climate, economic, social, and environmental justice. We understand militarism is an extension of a patriarchal system that is both damaging to people and planet, and thus perpetuates mutually reinforcing and interlinked oppressions of colonialism, sexism, cis-heteronormativity, ableism, capitalism, and racism.3 In 2018 Friends of the Earth Australia instituted a national project concerned with dismantling this aspect of patriarchy in order to progress system change based on gender, social, and environmental justice.

It has become clear that not only are women and children disproportionately impacted by war and austerity but are also most impacted by the current pandemic. War threatens social infrastructure such as healthcare, transportation, sanitation, and education as well as agriculture systems and the environment. As primary caretakers for the young and elderly, and even in peacetime economically-disadvantaged women are at the frontlines of caring for the community as they are during the COVID-19 crisis.

Women are often left to protect their land, their communities and their families in war zones, and are targeted with gendered violence including war crimes such as rape and kidnapping. They often have less representation in political and other power structures within their societies. In fact, women are on the frontlines in war, in the fight for climate justice and in the global response to the pandemic, making up the majority of workers in services, health and other care industries, grocery and server sectors, all of which are considered essential services. Also much like in war, women are being severely impacted by the pandemic, facing spikes in domestic, sexual assault and state violence across the globe during this crisis.

Even within the military, women face discrimination and sexual violence. According to a US study published in 2018, "women veterans reported the highest rates of lifetime and past-year post-traumatic stress disorder compared with women civilians; men veterans; and men civilians."4

Defence industries which promise to support post war or post-COVID-19 economic recovery are also male-dominated and notoriously poor at providing workplaces free of sexism and misogyny, with the Australian women in defence industries report stating that "(women) experience high levels of discrimination and sexism, both overt and subtle."5

War and economies based on extractivism and military violence normalise violence at home and in other sectors of our society. There can be no climate justice or economic justice if we build our economies on industries that perpetuate violence and gender oppression.

Climate change and the carbon bootprint

"Climate change will see higher temperatures, increased sea-level rise and will increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events." ‒ The Australian Defence Force6

Previous Land Forces exhibitor lists show that the Queensland government is most likely sponsoring an event that includes at least nine of the top ten global arms producers and key players in the global weapons supply chain.7 The Queensland government as the official sponsor and the owner of the venue, the Brisbane Convention Centre, and is using our taxpayer dollars to fund these corporations profiteering from climate recklessness.

It is a well-established fact that the military is bad for the climate ‒ and they know it. We can only estimate the combined emissions from the activity of the above corporations, but even more mysterious is the total carbon emissions of militaries from around the world. What we do know is that the US military is the world's largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels and the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases.8 Further, under the current Paris Climate Agreement, reporting of defence emissions is voluntary and readers may not be surprised to learn that military reporting of emissions does not appear to be happening.

Back in 2019, Friends of the Earth wrote to the Department of Defence in an attempt to establish the ‒ 'carbon bootprint' ‒ emissions of the ADF. Research into that matter continues, but it is clear that ‒ like militaries around the world ‒ the ADF considers its activities above and beyond the scrutiny and accountability required to maintain a safe climate.

Chemicals and contamination

Our ecosystems are under great stress, as evidenced by the 2019/20 bushfires, and even the ADF acknowledged in its 2016 White Paper that "effective environmental management is an important part of successfully managing and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Defence estate."9 But militaristic activity is not only damaging ecosystems but contaminating them with dangerous chemicals and contaminants.

Back in March 2019, Friends of the Earth welcomed a decision to compensate Mr Eric Donaldson for pollution of groundwater used on his property, near the Army Aviation Centre at Oakey in southern Queensland. However, in a shocking move, the Department of Defence would not make any admissions of liability ‒ despite the settlement. Thousands of "red-zone" residents are now involved in legal action against the Department of Defence.

The Department of Defence is still investigating PFAS contamination from its activity around the country, with AirServices Australia and state governments looking into the potentially hundreds of contaminated sites. Friends of the Earth continues to work with the community on the matter and have a mapping tool tracking contamination sites.10

Capitalism and arms divestment

The federal government is pushing for Australia to become a "top-ten global defence exporter by 2028" expecting to drastically increase the military budget to $175.8 billion in 2022-23.11 That's an increase from an already staggering $100 million+ per day to over $480 million per day. State governments currently appear to be vying to take the lead; with Queensland aiming to turn the Sunshine State into the Khaki State while Victoria is developing a weapons and military technology area in the Docklands. Ironically, the push to make Australia a bigger defence player has, in fact, seen Australia increase its defence imports making Australia the world's second biggest weapons importer behind Saudi Arabia.12

State and federal governments are ploughing money into defence industries ‒ imports and exports ‒ while local manufacturing, the arts, healthcare, childcare, education, climate change responses and research are underfunded. The millions being spent to develop Australian tanks could have been spent on public hospitals, public schools, helped maintain and develop a local renewable manufacturing industry or provided a fair and just transition for workers out of the fossil fuel industry into sustainable energy systems or other care and services industries.

Get involved with #DisruptLandForces

War is incompatible with a healthy environment and contributes significantly to economic, gender and racial injustice across the globe. Arms fairs such as the Land Forces conference are a direct manifestation of this violence and greed. Investment in military capability should be diverted to supporting industries that strengthen communities, centre care and life in our societies and prioritise environmental sustainability. Our governments should not be profiteering off weapons of war but creating a post COVID-19 economy that affirms and centres life and care, investing in peace, justice and sustainability ‒ not the war machine.

Find out more about the planned disruption of the 2021 Land Forces conference at https://disruptlandforces.org

Email [email protected] if you want to get involved in Friends of the Earth' s Defence of Earth project.

References

  1. https://disruptlandforces.org/ (accessed 20 April 2021)
  2. https://www.landforces.com.au/about/2018-highlights.asp (accessed 20 April 2021)
  3. https://www.foei.org/what-we-do/gender-justice-dismantling-patriarchy (accessed 20 April 2021)
  4. Lehavot K, Katon J, Chen J, Fortney J & Simpson T (2018). Post-traumatic stress disorder by gender and veteran status. Am J Prev Med. 2018 Jan; 54(1): e1–e9. Accessed 20 April 2021: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7217324/
  5. Post K & Tegan D (2019). Growing the defence industry workforce: Attracting and retaining women with critical skills and trades. Rapid Context, Canberra. Accessed 20 April 2021: https://www.rapidcontext.com.au/publications
  6. https://www.defence.gov.au/whitepaper/Docs/2016-Defence-White-Paper.pdf
  7. https://www.sipri.org/databases/armsindustry
  8. https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2019/Pentagon%20Fuel%20Use,%20Climate%20Change%20and%20the%20Costs%20of%20War%20Final.pdf
  9. https://www.defence.gov.au/whitepaper/Docs/2016-Defence-White-Paper.pdf
  10. https://pfas.australianmap.net/
  11. https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/debate/australia-s-defence-export-strategy
  12. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-09-30/australia-worlds-second-biggest-weapons-importer-behind-saudi/11558762

Published in Chain Reaction #139, national magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia, May 2021. www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction


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