Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 09:04 | SYDNEY
Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 09:04 | SYDNEY

Proposition: More butter, fewer guns

13 October 2010 15:29

Justin Jones is Navy Fellow at the Lowy Institute and is the maritime adviser to the MacArthur Foundation Lowy Institute Asia Security Project.

I attended last night's IQ2 debate as an interested citizen. The proposition was, 'we'd be better off without our armed forces.'

Despite whatever bias readers presume I have, I believe the' guns versus butter' debate is an important and necessary discussion in a liberal democracy. It behooves Government and Defence to articulate beyond doubt the justification for possessing armed forces and the manner in which they are to be used.

As one who, on our first date, was asked by my future wife to justify why we have a defence force when money could be better spent on health and education, it was with eager anticipation that I waited to be mesmerized by the arguments presented by Alison Broinowski, Edison Yongai and Ratih Hardjono on the 'for' team. Unfortunately, their argument quickly descended into a combination of motherhood statements and typical denigration of the defence budget, the need for better aid and diplomacy, Iraq, Afghanistan and images of our defence force personnel as killers.

How disappointing. This was the low hanging fruit.

There was no presentation of the pacifist approach espoused by Gandhi, little examination of unintended consequences of conflict, no exploration of defence industry and revenues associated with war, and no discussion of alliances and opportunity cost. Much of the 'for' team's argument did not specifically address the proposition and, therefore, did not convince the audience that we would be better off without our armed forces.

The 'against' team of Jim Molan, James Brown and Ian McPhedran put together a generally more cogent argument, ultimately supported by the final result. However, the 'against' team was weighted with Army experience and this detracted from a broader discussion of the value of our services to the nation. Having commenced their argument with a realist perspective, which attracted some groans from the audience, the line of reasoning was eventually broadened as the wider role of our armed forces in domestic security, civil aid, humanitarian aid, disaster relief, peacekeeping, peace monitoring and protection of the people was discussed.

James Brown, a colleague here at the Lowy Institute, injected some much appreciated levity into the argument (there is a certain appeal to the notion of being able to invade New Zealand to ensure that no one again makes an art house movie about a musical instrument).

In summing up, Ian McPhedran gave an excellent perspective of the ADF's work across the globe as a force for good. There are many in Defence who will see some irony in that. Ian is a self declared 'unashamed critic' of the ADF and is viewed by many in our services as an antagonist. However, as stated last night, that does not mean that he believes we would be better off without our armed forces. His description of sailors, soldiers and airmen saving lives in faraway places evoked some powerful images and were met with nods of approval from around where I sat.

In any event, the motion was not carried, the final result being:

For: 22.4% (pre-debate poll); 36% (post-debate poll).
Against: 55.6%; 51%.
Undecided: 22%; 13%.

Perhaps the generally poor quality of public debate relating to our armed forces was enhanced a little last night, but I suspect not much. The SMH coverage of the debate can be found here. I will follow up in a later post with some specific points of rebuttal against the 'for' team's argument.

Photo by Flickr user Jose Antonio Galloso, used under a Creative Commons license.