US military base in Darwin: what risk to NT?


Above: US Marines in an assault exercise on Le Shima Island, Japan, in March 2017. A similar exercise took place earlier this year. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Charles Plouffe.

The Agreement between the Governments of the United States and Australia which underpins the stationing of up to 2,500 US Marines in Darwin is called the Force Posture Agreement (FPA). The concept was first announced by US President Obama in 2011 in a visit to Australia and was presented as part of the new US military strategy called the “Pivot to Asia”. A clearer explanation of this strategy would be “the relocation of a major part of the US military forces including naval forces to the Asia/Pacific area to confront and contain China”.
Our politicians in Canberra, including the then Prime Minister Gillard, gave him a round of applause when he made this announcement.
The Agreement was signed in 2014 and operates for 25 years, unless terminated by either side giving a year’s notice. Whilst the stationing of US troops in Darwin is the more visible expression of the FPA it also includes:
•Giving the United States airforce unimpeded access to Australia’s airfields and facilities for their fighters and bombers as well as seaports for their naval vessels.
•Giving the United States military and its contractors access to and use of  “agreed facilities” for training, transit, support and related military activities such as refuelling of aircraft, bunkering of vessels, temporary maintenance of vehicles, vessels and aircraft, temporary accommodation of personnel; pre-positioning of communications equipment, supplies, fuel, ordinance and materials and deploying forces and materials as the parties may agree.
One could infer that, in reality, this FPA has enabled the United States to set up Australia as its southern military base for operations in the Asia/Pacific area.
One could be forgiven for thinking that Australia must be in a state of war, even though the last Defence White Paper made the point no less than three times that no military threat to Australia could be identified in the foreseeable future.
Yet we have this FPA with the US with its foreign troops annually stationed in Darwin, defence expenditures raised to 2% of the GDP ($200 billion over the next 5 years) with pressure from some military/industry quarters to raise this percentage even higher.
Peace groups including the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) have asked successive defence ministers to explain the purpose and role of the US Marines in Darwin and indeed the FPA. The answers are vague, refer to the ANZUS Alliance, mention joint training exercises and improving the interoperability of the US and Australian Forces. But the FPA has nothing to do with the ANZUS Treaty which simply requires both parties to consult if either party is threatened in the Pacific area. The FPA is a new and significant escalation of the military relationship between Australia and the US  – a stronger “joining at the hip” so to speak.
One indicator of current US military strategy in utilising their Marines was made evident this year when US Marines in a “training exercise” landed, invaded and captured an island off the coast of Okinawa called Le Shima.
Alex Lockie of the Business Insider (29/1/19) said of their activity: “The U.S. Marine Corps is developing a new concept of naval warfare to allow Marines to take South China Sea islands from Beijing in the context of a massive missile fight in the Pacific.”
Global Research (22/3/19) said: “Last week, 31st MEU, backed by the 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Marine Logistics Group and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, members of the Air Force 353rd Special Operations Group, and Army soldiers with 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, conducted a series of simulated military exercises attacking and seizing Le Shima Island located off the northwest coast of Okinawa Island in the East China Sea, reported Task Purpose.
“The new military strategy, known as Expeditionary Advanced Base (EAB) Operations, will allow Marine units to seize, establish, and operate multiple small bases across the Pacific Ocean, a tactic that will be beneficial in a high-end fight with China.”
One might ask whether this recent war exercise of the US marines throws some light on why US Marines are now being embedded on Australian Naval ships such as the HMAS Adelaide which has been fitted with amphibious landing gear.
Nick Deane, spokesperson for the IPAN campaign to end the stationing of US marines in Darwin, responded to this report by saying: “This US Marine exercise affirms the US intent to prepare for war with China. It also reinforces the IPAN campaign to end the stationing of US marines in Darwin. The HMAS Adelaide has been modified to support amphibious landing of troops on island territories and US Marines are now embedded on HMAS Adelaide in training exercises. Clearly this is preparation to draw Australia into the US plans for hostilities with China.
“Every effort should be made to keep Australia out of yet another US war overseas and especially against China, our major trading partner. In such a war scenario the US marines operating out of Darwin would also draw fire, perhaps missiles on the Northern Territory. We need, for our own peace and security, to see an end to the stationing of US marines in Darwin and end these war exercises with the United States.”
The US Marines’ chain of command rests at the top with the recently formed US Indo-Pacific Command, established in June 2018. The area under its “responsibility” embraces Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, Japan, The Philippines, Guam, and ambitiously, China, and the South China Sea, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. It is still not clear whether the Australian Government can veto US Marine activities operating from, or out of Darwin.
Against this background of the US Pivot to Asia, US confrontation with and containment of China, training to capture Islands in the South China Sea and determination to maintain its hegemony in the Asia/Pacific area, the stationing of US Marines in Darwin and implementation of the Force Posture Agreement no longer appears as a benign inter-forces training operation designed “to assist in humanitarian emergencies”.
Peter Hartcher, writing in The Age (5/3/19) reminded us that: “North Korea publicly painted a nuclear target on Australia in April 2017. Kim Jong-un’s government seized on the fact that a contingent of US marines is now in a permanent, rotating deployment in the Northern Territory.”
Australian involvement in a US-led “coalition” in hostilities against China with US Marines operating from Darwin and embedded on Australian naval vessels could well draw fire from China. And Chinese missiles can reach all parts of Australia including Pine Gap, the North West Cape and Darwin.
A reasonable conclusion would be that the US Marines stationed in Darwin and the FPA do indeed draw Australia into dangerous waters and are a risk to our peace and security.
Note: Bevan Ramsden is a member of the coordinating committee of  Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) which is organising a national public conference in Darwin, 2-4 August 2019 with a focus on the US Marines in Darwin and under the conference banner of “Australia at the crossroads- time for an independent foreign policy”.


  1. A very comprehensive analysis of why the stationing of US military and intelligence forces on Australian territory makes the citizens of our country less safe.
    The history of US military interventions since WW2 (wars) in countries far and wide needs to be known by all Australians.
    Think about the millions of people who have died in Korea, Vietnam, Central and South America, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen.
    None of these wars were about defence of the US or the other nations who joined in the wars including Australia, they were about expanding US military and economic influence and still are today.
    It’s time we as a nation declared we will no longer be a lackey to US interests.
    IPAN Conference in Darwin will address these issues.

  2. Interesting article expressing right concerns. Being a defence analyst, let me add few more points.
    1. Chinese will be fools if they allow US to mount such amphibious assaults. All mounting bases in Australia will become military targets at word ‘Go’. These mounting bases will be kept under active surveillance even in peace times. Will be very difficult to hide.
    2. Such treaty makes Australia an active US military ally against China and will be treated as such in Chinese military plannings.
    3. Chinese will make attempts to ambush such force at sea. Today they are capable. They may not first hit land targets within Australia.
    4. Russia has made her intentions clear. To be with China in case of such military conflict.
    May be it is time to make Commonwealth strong. Member countries of Commonwealth are strong enough to defend their own interests. India with no external military aspirations can play a big role.

  3. The Opium Wars are over. China won. And all this “containment” and forward posturing is more like dogs barking in the night while the caravan moves on.
    Poor Oz! Hanging like a pendulum between London and Washington with (just) the Kiwis for company. That means Boris Johnson and Donald Trump. What can go wrong?

  4. One question that might be worth considering is this:-
    “Do Australians feel more, or less, safe now – than they did seven years ago, when the US marines first arrived?”
    For my part, I sense that we have moved closer to war and I notice that China is being identified as the enemy with increasing frequency.
    So I feel less safe than I did in 2012. We have got US aggression (exemplified by the presence of US Marines) to thank for the precarious situation we are now in. It is time to re-assess the value of the US Alliance.

  5. Despite all else we have to be in bed with someone!
    WHY? Because we would be unable to defend ourselves. The government has made it so.
    Forget the foreign bases here, that’s only the sweetener for our enemies.
    The government has allowed and encouraged foreign ownership of some very powerful infrastructure and allowed the sale of land.
    Our enemies purchase this land to grow food as their countries don’t have the facilities.
    Does anyone else see where this could go?

  6. Will the time come when Australia will look after its own interests and not at the Americans’?
    Is Australia the last star next to the stripes?
    Shall we always need the firm hand of Mum (UK) or Dad (USA) to guide us?
    I wish I’ll still be alive when Australia become a republic in her own rights with not only recognition but a place for an Indigenous voice in it. It is all part of the same process: to grow up.

  7. Maya, your wish will come true the day Australia has a Premier of the like of Charles de Gaulle. Even I did not always agree with him, I know that he had balls: After 15 years of US Air Force presence, French President Charles de Gaulle decided to evict NATO forces from France.
    On March 7, 1966, he announced that France would withdraw from NATO’s integrated military structure. He gave NATO forces one year to depart France.
    The State Department, the United States Department of Defence, and Air Force carefully managed the news about the American departure from France, and the attendant problems of an integrated NATO air defence for western Europe and the decrease in tactical airpower.
    Due to the US media focus on the Vietnam War, the removal of NATO forces from France went virtually unreported in the US.
    During 1966-67 all USAF offices and facilities in France were closed and personnel and equipment moved. The last USAFE activities were the 1630th Air Base Squadron at Orly Airport and the Paris Administration Office. Both were closed in June 1967.
    On October 23, 1967, all foreign flags were furled and after 17 years the last NATO forces departed France.

  8. A nation should not let any other nation’s troops be in their land. That’s just pure invasion or interference.
    Also the stealthiness of a certain nation using other nations’ names to conceal its true nature and motives should be regarded warily, throughout history.

  9. The media reports about the $300m push by the US Navy to construct a naval base in Darwin.
    This is a concern because at what point did the people of Darwin, the NT and in fact Australia, ask for or were consulted about the US defence deployment, and now construction of US military defence facilities in the Top End with talk of a further $70m for US upgrades to Tindal Airforce base?
    And how is it – as reported – that the US Congress can be working on a Draft Congressional Bill in their defence legislation for the Secretary of the Navy to acquire property for military construction outside the US such as in the NT?
    All the Australian Defence Department can reportedly say about it is: “Too early to comment on the US military plans for the NT.”
    The US can legislate on matters to do with our country and the Australian government just allows it to happen?
    Matters of alliance can be reasonably understood, but to allow the US to legislate on matters to do with our country is going a bit too far.

  10. Having watched the subtle penetration of China into Fiji and other Pacific areas over years, the sight of large numbers of sat dishes emerging in even the remotest areas of Fiji when the outback shortwave service stopped here is hugely concerning.
    Simultaneously the Radio Australia service disappeared in Fiji to be replaced with services from China.
    The rough bush track I used to use travel there is now a bitumen road and the villages now all have solar power thanks to China, but they do nothing for nothing.
    The same story in the Solomons, and possible New Guinea.
    The last memory I have of Fiji, where I lived for many years, was two years ago and was of a Chinese surveillance ship in Suva harbour with five high tech antennae along the deck.
    Now Cambodia is experiencing a Chinese naval base on its western shores, well before the American activity here.
    In the same area there is a booming Chinese tourist facility and a lot of concern amongst locals.
    The under the counter activity is aimed at our resources – mostly rare earths which both countries need for their hi-tech manufacturing-particularly weaponry.
    China controls around 97% of the world supply. If you look at the Northern Minerals (Dysrosium) website and their share registry it becomes obvious what the Chinese are aiming at. We are just the pawn in a much larger game.

  11. We all know how desperate Gunner must be to at least put one run on the board, so perhaps it’s as simple as an injection of $300m and the ongoings from that, plus the additional spend of the military personnel.
    Based on the bullshit income the government tells us the red centre Nats brings in (BTW I like the Nats) we’d be set for life!
    The Gunner induced deficit would disappear like a mushroom cloud in a tornado.


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