#ClosePineGap: actions and activism against global militarism
In September and October 2016, antiwar activists from across Australia gathered near the centre of the country to demand the government close the secretive Pine Gap military base, 50 years after its establishment. WILPF members from Australia, as well as the director of WILPF’s Reaching Critical Will programme, Ray Acheson, participated in the actions and the Independent and Peace Australia Network (IPAN) National Conference on 1 October.
What is Pine Gap?
Pine Gap is a “joint defence facility” of the United States' and Australian governments, located less than 20km from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory on the traditional land of the Arrernte people. It is used to conduct mass surveillance, including as part of the Five Eyes intelligence network; provide data that enables the targeting of US drone strikes; support communications of the US armed forces; and help target US nuclear weapons.
Pine Gap is a central part of the US war-fighting machine. It facilitates the operation of nuclear weapons and armed drones, as well as mass surveillance and military communications. It is a prominent node in the global network of militarism created by the United States and sustained by its allies.
Militarism, and the threat of massive nuclear violence, is at the heart of the US-Australia alliance, which affects Australia’s engagement internationally on disarmament and arms control. Civilians are dying in Yemen from bombs sold to Saudi Arabia by the United States and major arms exporters. Australia was a champion of the Arms Trade Treaty, but has failed to challenge the US or its other allies over their active war profiteering, and is allowing weapons producers to advertise at the Canberra Airport. Meanwhile, the most destructive bombs at all, nuclear weapons, threaten all our lives—yet Australia is part of a small group of countries trying to prevent their prohibition.
Citizens, researchers, and whistleblowers have called for the closure of Pine Gap for decades, but the Australian government doesn’t even like to admit the facility exists and does not exert any real control over the operations there. Edward Snowden’s leaks of National Security Administration (NSA) files have revealed the base’s intimate role in US acts of armed violence and surveillance.
2016 is the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Pine Gap. Activists from around Australia are gathering to host a series of independently organised events and nonviolent protests in and around Alice Springs. They set up a peace camp just down the road from the main gates, where they held daily protests and blocked the entrance to workers. They also organized protests at local offices of weapons manufactures in Alice Springs.
WILPF Australia, together with the director of Reaching Critical Will, Ray Acheson, participated in the direct actions at the gates to Pine Gap. As a member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) Ray also participated in the production of a video portraying the dismantlement of an “atomic bomb”—to be released soon!
After the actions at the gate, the Independent and Peace Australia Network held a National Conference on 1 October, to examine the role of Pine Gap in US wars and the Five Eyes network and seek to build a broad public dialogue around the demand for an independent Australian foreign policy. Ray addressed the conference, bringing news of progress towards negotiations of a legally binding treaty to ban nuclear weapons, as well as information about drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia that are launched from Djibouti—which are targeted from Pine Gap.
She also highlighted that at the same time that activists were meeting in Alice Springs, activists campaigning for the end of the US military base on Diego Garcia also gathered. 2016 also marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of that military base. Diego Garcia is a small island in the Chagos Archipelago that is part of Mauritius but was excised by the United Kingdom during colonisation. The UK and US governments have imposed 50 years of militarism upon the people this small island in the Indian Ocean, who were forcibly removed from their homes. The Chagossians and other Mauritians from other parts of the country have led 50 years of resistance, demanding the decolonisation and reunification of Mauritius and resettlement of people that were forcibly removed by the UK government and the closure of the military base on Diego Garcia. WILPF issued a statement of support for their conference in October.
Activism throughout Australia
Ahead of the actions and conference at Pine Gap, Ray also engaged with ICAN and WILPF initiatives around the country, briefing members of parliament, civil society groups, and students about nuclear weapons, drones, militarism, and gender. For example she spoke at a the Medical Association for Prevention of War, Victoria Branch Dinner and the Melbourne Free University in Melbourne, a briefing hosted by WILPF Australia and New South Wales Branch in Sydney, and at Parliament in Canberra.