Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:45 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:45 | SYDNEY

In defence of military recruitment abroad

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

28 May 2009 15:13

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

Earlier this week, Cameron Crouch proposed a foreign recruitment scheme for the ADF. Below, Cameron responds to criticisms of his idea.

In response to the comments from Rodger Shanahan:

First, Nadi, Manila and Johannesburg were provided as examples of possible locations to establish recruiting centres, not as a definitive list of countries from which an overseas recruitment scheme would seek to source potential recruits. No applicant should be precluded simply based on their country of origin.

Second, the point about the technical skills needs of the ADF is a good one. However, it is important not to underestimate the recruitment potential of less-developed countries. For example, during 2004/05 (the last year for which data is available) higher education institutions in the Philippines produced over 50,000 graduates in engineering and technology fields, and over 35,000 graduates in mathematics and computer science. It would seem chauvinistic to assume that all of these graduates either do not have, or lack the capacity to develop through existing Defence training programs, the technical skills required by the ADF.

Third, I do not have an answer to the problem of ‘brain drain’ – a problem, incidentally, that Australia is already contributing to through its skilled migration program. I will leave that discussion to someone more knowledgeable about international labour flows, the economic impact of remittances, and the morality of restricting the movement of peoples across borders.

Fourth, I agree that ‘sticky questions’ would follow if an overseas recruitment scheme meant that ‘in times of economic downturn, the military (recruited) fewer Australian citizens because it (had) a program of recruiting non-citizens from overseas.’ Fortunately, this is not what I am proposing. As my original piece states, the objective of an overseas recruitment scheme would be ‘to fill a proportion of Defence’s recruitment shortfall by enlisting unseasoned foreigners.’ In other words, an overseas recruitment scheme would not seek to replace the recruitment of Australian citizens, but rather, to augment this recruitment when it does not meet Defence targets.

Fifth, with reference to the need for an overseas recruitment scheme, I would argue that: (1) as the White Paper notes, ‘(a)ttracting and retaining the future workforce will be one of the most significant challenges facing Defence’; (2) traditional approaches aimed at increasing the attractiveness of a career in the ADF have not been able to meet the complete recruitment needs of Defence (best demonstrated by the ongoing recruitment problems of the submarine fleet); and (3) because it seeks to expand the supply of potential recruits, rather than focus on increasing domestic demand for an ADF career, an overseas recruitment scheme would seem to provide an alternative, though complementary, means of addressing Defence’s recruitment problems.

Lastly, I am unaware of any polling data that explores public opinion about ‘doling out citizenship simply for military service.’ However, at least on the basis of anecdotal evidence, I would suggest that the public places a higher value on military service than Rodger’s statement implies — high enough that they would be prepared to exchange a lengthy period of service for the prize of Australian citizenship.

The concept raised by Peter Layton is intriguing and would seem to offer a means of mitigating ‘brain drain’ – particularly in the Southwest Pacific. My only concern is whether removing the link between service and citizenship would negatively impact perceptions of overseas recruits among the broader rank and file and the Australian public. For instance, would they simply be seen as mercenaries, lacking the full commitment to defending Australia? Nonetheless, Peter's concept is one that deserves further attention.

Photo courtesy of the Department of Defence.