Wednesday 10 Aug 2022 | 10:29 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 10 Aug 2022 | 10:29 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Spend less on defence

29 August 2012 17:00

Bernardo Camejo writes:

There's been a lot of debate going on about defence spending in Australia, mainly among experts who know what they're talking about, and whose opinions should be heeded by policy-makers. I'd like to add my two cents to the argument, not because I want to contradict them, but to address an issue that seemingly has escaped their analyses.

Our strategic alliance with the US (ANZUS) goes back a long time, and we derive great benefits, in military terms, from it. However, alarming news is coming from the other side of the world, as the Republican candidate Mr Romney has said that, if elected, he'd raise the defence budget by 34% compared to the budget of 2001. That's a total of about US$525 billion.

I don't think this is a sensible course of action given that current security challenges don't call for larger or more expensive armies. Security is no longer a game of sheer numbers — it's a multifactorial game encompassing environmental, cultural, national and transnational aspects. Modern security has to manage all of these factors.

For us in Australia to follow in our ally's steps would be a costly mistake, because there is no valid reason why we should spend more on military expansion. Defence economics analyst Mark Thomson disagrees too with an increase in military spending in Australia, and his argument rests on various premises; a very important one goes that:

The expansion and modernisation of the ADF over the past decade provides an adequate base to build a force to hedge against risks that might (a) arise in the fragile states in our immediate region, (b) emerge from or arise within Southeast Asia, or (c) require a contribution to a US or UN operations further afield.

This couldn't be more spot-on. Nevertheless, I'm going to stick my neck out and say that, although I agree with Mr Thomson in that we shouldn't spend more on the ADF, I would also like to raise the following:

a. Mr. Thomson's proposition seems to only cover threats arising from outside Australia, while domestic ones are out of the equation, which can be even more dangerous. And,

b. His argument overlooks non-military risks, and there's no doubt that these will undermine nations in the years ahead.

Perhaps the single most relevant non-military threat is related to resources. Future conflicts over resources — maybe armed ones — are likely, and while it'd be interesting to elaborate more on the different kinds of resource issues that could lead to struggle in the future, unfortunately this is not the appropriate format for that analysis. Off the top of my head some of them could be: threats arising from an increase in demand of resources, or threats caused by restricted supply.

What we could definitely start doing here at home is increasing financial outlays in areas like: environmental research, renewable energy sources to decrease reliance on foreign oil, and more development programmes in poorer countries to diminish economic migration.

An increase in Australia's aid budget is a great opportunity to start off and bring more stability to the Indo-Pacific region. In summary, focusing on security purely in terms of military spending is to ignore the integral and complex picture of modern global security.