Defence spending in Australia is soaring, all the while, we slash foreign aid. Is this good for the security of Australia and the region? Does the military even effectively achieve its stated goals?
The 2016 Defence White Paper outlines an additional $29.9 billion in funding for defence from 2016 to 2025 – 2 026, with the defence budget reaching $42.4 billion by 2020-2021 (2% of projected GDP). The main goals of the Australian military in the coming years are predominantly focused on the protection of Australia’s borders from people, weapon and drug smuggling by crime syndicates as well as preventing fishing in Australian fisheries. The paper also discusses at length the military modernisation expected in our region – although that modernisation is not expected to be directed at Australia. The increase in funding will mostly be used to fund new manned and unmanned aircraft as well as better marine vessels. The paper ties the stability and prosperity of Australia’s neighbors, in particular Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Indonesia and Pacific Island countries in the South Pacific with our own prosperity. The real question is whether the measures taken by the military will result in stability and prosperity in our region. I think they won’t.
$42 billion per year is a lot of funding. Is stopping neighboring countries from fishing going to make them more stable and prosperous? Will stopping their refugees from coming here make them more stable and prosperous? The reality is that defense is almost always used for short term economic gain and ironically, for attack. Finding examples where this is not the case in history is difficult.
Increasing funding in one area of government naturally requires cuts in others. In the 2015-16 budget Australia’s foreign aid was cut by $1 billion (around 20%). In the 2016-17 budget foreign aid spending fell another $224 million. The lack of spending in respect of foreign aid by first world nations is sad and disappointing. Especially when you compare it to the enormous, reckless amounts spent on military apparatuses.
It is my understanding, what promotes stability and prosperity are things like access to health care, food, water, education, shelter, electricity and employment. It seems that the Defence White Paper is good for one thing – identifying threats. However its solutions are poor at best. If Australia, or any first world nation for that matter actually fixed the problems in the developing world, there would be far fewer threats to defend against. The UN estimates that for an extra $1.7 billion in funding for increasing immunization coverage against influenza, pneumonia and other preventable diseases, around 1 million children’s lives could be saved. The cost of military spending is more than economic. It costs lives.
The countries which Australia used to give foreign aid to will suffer greatly and needlessly as a result of increased military spending. The developing nations will suffer needlessly as a result of the first world’s seeming inability to help anyone but themselves. The domestic population needs to demand that our government do its part to end unnecessary and horrific global suffering. These issues are complicated and difficult to solve, but that does not mean we shouldn’t try.