I think that Alex Tewes has created a ‘straw man’ version of my argument in his rejoinder rather than dealing with my serious suggestions. My proposal to make Defence leadership’s views public, as well as Government’s final decisions, was intended to give the people a chance to hold the government to account.
I offered a solution which allows voters to assess the risk that the government is taking on their behalf. I also suggested that you would need to concentrate on operational outcomes rather than materiel inputs. So it would be fair to take issue on a few points; whether I identified the problem correctly, whether Defence is exactly the same as every other department, how practical or politically likely such a change might be and what other steps might be required to make this work, or whether it is possible to state a defence outcome rather than just count the inputs. Alex only picked one of these.
For the record, but also to fight against the comfortable stereotype of a retired General going into bat for the troops, I don’t see my solution necessarily resulting in increased defence expenditure as Alex claims, and I clearly stated that in my post.
Alex repeats my words when he says: ‘… what should determine how much Australia spends on defence should be the strategic environment. When this should be spent is the relationship between warning time and the time it takes to build defence capability’. He then goes on to misrepresent my views by saying that: ‘From the tenor of his contribution, the correct answer should be ‘lots’ and ‘right now’’.
What I do think and have explained here, is that the appropriate amount should be spent on defence, an amount derived from the relationship between the strategic environment, warning time and defence preparation time, not ‘lots’ and ‘right now’. Whether it is actually spent is up to government, but voters should know what is appropriate. Nothing that I propose would change Governments’ responsibility or how the argument goes in Cabinet.
In the absence of a direct and popularly obvious threat, many think, or find it convenient to say, that what determines how much should be spent on defence is how much government decides it can afford. I repeat that how much is actually spent on defence will always be decided by government, is essentially political, and should be so. It is Government’s job to allocate resources among its own priorities. The difference between what should be spent and what is actually spent is the crux of the defence planning problem in Australia, and openness can only improve the process.
Alex suggests an alternative spending option, arguing I think for more expenditure on diplomacy, assuming (apparently) that I would not agree with that. Having spent five years as a diplomat and having intimate knowledge of how much DFAT is underfunded, I totally agree that more money should be spent on diplomacy. I think it’s fairly basic that any security policy should have both a shaping and a hedging aspect, not just shaping alone. In that context, I note that the system of security decisionmaking that Alex supports (‘arguments be made in private, among serious people, where cases are made, won or lost around the Cabinet table’) has cut funding drastically to both the military and diplomacy.
Alex believes that defence as a government policy is exactly the same as ‘Health, and Education, and Innovation, and Science’. I totally disagree with this and I made my case as to why Defence is different in the first para of my post, referring to others who support this view. It is my experience that many think that there is no difference. This is convenient, but demonstrably incorrect.
Jim Molan is a retired Major General in the Australian Army and is a commentator on defence and security issues.