Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:28 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:28 | SYDNEY

The ADF as sociological petri dish


Rodger Shanahan


This post is part of the ADF recruitment abroad debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

27 May 2009 11:06

This post is part of the ADF recruitment abroad debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

I know I'm supposed to be writing about the role of Arab women in politics (and I am), but I felt the need to reply to this post proposing that the ADF go overseas in search of recruits. As a starter, Cameron Crouch proposes looking in Fiji, the Philippines and South Africa for high quality personnel.
My first question would be 'why?', followed closely by 'what does Cameron understand to be the critical trade shortfalls that the ADF faces now and into the future?' The ADF is an increasingly high technology force, and the critical trades tend to be those where technical skills are hard to obtain because of the educational competencies necessary to qualify for the training, which itself is long.

The future ADF's technical requirements are only going to be more rigorous, and I don't think the countries Cameron has proposed are going to provide a wealth of future avionics technicians for the Air Force, weapons systems specialists for the RAN or IT technicians for the Army. If they did, how would their governments view Australia taking their best and brightest away with a view to making them citizens simply because they can't grow enough of their own? Not very neighbourly, I would argue. 

If we ignore technical trades, we can look at a situation where these recruits could man the higher volume but less technical parts of the ADF such as the infantry battalions, as has been the case in the British Army where, besides the 3000 Nepalese in the Brigade of Ghurkas, about 1500 Fijians now serve. Any member of the Commonwealth can join the British Army without taking out citizenship (unlike Australia). The UK was also faced with a very big shortfall in Army recruiting numbers, particularly for its infantry battalions (which Australia is not, but we'll ignore that for the sake of the discussion).
Once you begin recruiting overseas you run the risk of having recruiting policies affected by unforeseen circumstances like military coups, as in the case of Fiji. Governments would be on the spot answering why they were recruiting soldiers from Fiji when the Fijian military had overthrown the government. Sticky questions would also follow when, in times of economic downturn, the military is recruiting fewer Australian citizens because it has a program of recruiting non-citizens from overseas.

In addition, on what basis will the decision of which countries' citizens will be allowed to serve be made? If South Africans can, why not Zimbabweans or Liberians? If Fijians, why not Indonesians? And what of the impact on the donor countries' militaries? Why join the East Timor or Papua New Guinea Defence Forces when the ADF beckons? As to the argument of possible deportation as an incentive to maintain good behaviour for these recruits and to see out their period of service, I could just see the political storm the first time somebody tried to deport a non-citizen soldier who had served the country on operations overseas — headlines such as 'Good enough to fight there, but not good enough to live here' and worse would be grist for the media's mill.
The ADF already has a significant lateral recruitment program for ex-service and service personnel from overseas. Unlike the proposal put forward by Cameron Crouch, they are recruited to fill specific trade or rank vacancies and hence come fully trained. The majority of them come from the UK, not because we like them necessarily but because their technical and military training standards mirror those of the ADF. 

Recruiting and retention in the ADF waxes and wanes, often in line with national economic performance. Technical trades will always be difficult to fully man because of their attractiveness to industry and the training lag inherent in replacing them. These are the facts of life in the military, and probably always will be. Until the end of WWII, Australia's was truly a citizen's army (hence the Citizen's Military Forces being the precursor to today's Army Reserve). That notion of the ADF as being representative of the people is still strong within Australian society. Cameron's post fails to make a cogent argument for the need for his scheme, doesn't address the numerous flaws (I have only mentioned a few) and doesn't ask whether Australia is disposed to the notion of doling out citizenship simply for military service.

Photo by Flickr user Cornell Fungi, used under a Creative Commons license.