Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:06 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:06 | SYDNEY

Defence debate: Security about more than just hardware


Bill Bowtell

28 April 2009 16:44

In my op-ed in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, I wanted to concentrate on what we might call the opportunity costs of the very large equipment procurement programs that will be foreshadowed in the Defence White Paper.

It seems axiomatic to defence debate insiders that Australian taxpayers should accept that such programs will consume somewhere between 2% and 3% of GDP stretching into the indefinite future. But I am not sure the public will so meekly accept that other, more pressing, areas of domestic need should be subordinated to military procurement programs of the scale and scope being contemplated in the present debate.

The nature of the recent boom led many otherwise sensible people to conclude that we might afford both guns and butter, with something left over for our retirement. But its collapse has destroyed public and private wealth on a hitherto unimaginable scale.

The old guns or butter conundrum will again dominate public debate and argument about our defence priorities. So far, those who advocate the dramatic upgrading of our military forces have not made the case that their priorities should outweigh increasingly pressing domestic demand for such things as improved public health, renewal of our crumbling transport infrastructure and the consequences of a shift to a low-carbon economy.

I, for one, would prefer to see our rapidly diminishing wealth applied to redressing the neglect of our overseas aid development budget rather than equipping our forces to fight conflicts that, to my admittedly untrained eye, seem highly unlikely ever to eventuate.

No doubt, the White Paper will signal the beginning, not the end, of the important debate that has fascinated us on this blog for the past several weeks.

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