Lowy Institute

Debate: ADF recruitment abroad

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Cameron Crouch is author of the forthcoming 'Managing Terrorism and Insurgency: Regeneration, Recruitment and Attrition'.

The recently-released Defence White Paper is an ambitious document. It proposes the acquisition of significant maritime and aerospace capabilities and the expansion of the ADF to approximately 57,800 personnel. Attracting sufficient numbers of recruits to help realise these goals will be (as the White Paper notes) ‘one of the most significant challenges facing Defence.’

To meet this challenge, the White Paper canvasses a number of proposals, including improved remuneration, providing greater flexibility in housing choices, and the development of a Multicultural Recruitment Strategy. These are worthy prescriptions, but are primarily focused on increasing demand for ADF positions. There would thus appear scope for Defence to develop complementary strategies aimed at increasing the supply of potential recruits.

A possible means of achieving this goal is through an expanded and formalised Overseas Recruitment Scheme. This would seek to fill a proportion of Defence’s recruitment shortfall by enlisting unseasoned foreigners. Specifically, people without Australian citizenship or permanent residency and who do not necessarily have previous military training.

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The underlying principle is that prospective recruits would be offered the promise of Australian citizenship in exchange for a fixed period of service (say, 10 years). A similar exchange has underpinned the French Foreign Legion since its inception in 1831. The American military is also reportedly considering offering a path to citizenship for temporary immigrants in an attempt to stem its manpower deficit.

To target potential recruits, Defence could identify a dozen diplomatic posts around the world (such as those in Nadi, Manila and Johannesburg), chosen for their propensity to attract sufficient numbers of high quality personnel. Aspiring recruits would be required to register their interest at these selected posts. This would include preliminary medical, psychological and security screening. Those that passed this initial vetting would then be invited to attend (at their own cost) a formal selection process in Australia or some other designated location.

There are two means by which Defence could manage the placement of successful overseas recruits. The first of these would be to restrict overseas recruits to a separate unit, though mixed with Australian service personnel. The second would be to spread overseas recruits across existing units, with possible limits on the number of overseas recruits per unit relative to Australian personnel. While the former approach has a number of security advantages, the latter would seem more appropriate if Defence’s goal was one of integration and cohesion.

Besides helping to alleviate recruitment pressures, an Overseas Recruitment Scheme would have several benefits. Personnel recruited under such a scheme will face considerable incentives (eventual Australian citizenship) and disincentives (possible deportation and sunk costs) to fulfil their fixed period of service and maintain a level of good behaviour. They are thus less likely to pose retention and disciplinary challenges.

Overseas recruits would also bring with them language skills and cultural knowledge and understanding. These characteristics would help bolster Defence’s intelligence capability, as well as its operational capability on overseas deployments.

A possible concern is that foreign recruits could act contrary to the national interest (such as by passing on information to hostile intelligence agencies). This is a real risk, but not one that cannot be managed by Defence, similar to how it already manages the security risk of permanent resident and citizen recruits (eg. through the use of psychological screening and risk profiling). The intense socialisation of life as a service member also has the potential to strengthen the loyalties of foreign recruits towards their comrades-in-arms and adopted country.

Photo by Flickr user Leonard John Matthews, used under a Creative Commons license. 

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I know I'm supposed to be writing about the role of Arab women in politics (and I am), but I felt the need to reply to this post proposing that the ADF go overseas in search of recruits. As a starter, Cameron Crouch proposes looking in Fiji, the Philippines and South Africa for high quality personnel.
 
My first question would be 'why?', followed closely by 'what does Cameron understand to be the critical trade shortfalls that the ADF faces now and into the future?' The ADF is an increasingly high technology force, and the critical trades tend to be those where technical skills are hard to obtain because of the educational competencies necessary to qualify for the training, which itself is long.

The future ADF's technical requirements are only going to be more rigorous, and I don't think the countries Cameron has proposed are going to provide a wealth of future avionics technicians for the Air Force, weapons systems specialists for the RAN or IT technicians for the Army. If they did, how would their governments view Australia taking their best and brightest away with a view to making them citizens simply because they can't grow enough of their own? Not very neighbourly, I would argue. 

If we ignore technical trades, we can look at a situation where these recruits could man the higher volume but less technical parts of the ADF such as the infantry battalions, as has been the case in the British Army where, besides the 3000 Nepalese in the Brigade of Ghurkas, about 1500 Fijians now serve. Any member of the Commonwealth can join the British Army without taking out citizenship (unlike Australia). The UK was also faced with a very big shortfall in Army recruiting numbers, particularly for its infantry battalions (which Australia is not, but we'll ignore that for the sake of the discussion).
 
Once you begin recruiting overseas you run the risk of having recruiting policies affected by unforeseen circumstances like military coups, as in the case of Fiji. Read More

Governments would be on the spot answering why they were recruiting soldiers from Fiji when the Fijian military had overthrown the government. Sticky questions would also follow when, in times of economic downturn, the military is recruiting fewer Australian citizens because it has a program of recruiting non-citizens from overseas.

In addition, on what basis will the decision of which countries' citizens will be allowed to serve be made? If South Africans can, why not Zimbabweans or Liberians? If Fijians, why not Indonesians? And what of the impact on the donor countries' militaries? Why join the East Timor or Papua New Guinea Defence Forces when the ADF beckons? As to the argument of possible deportation as an incentive to maintain good behaviour for these recruits and to see out their period of service, I could just see the political storm the first time somebody tried to deport a non-citizen soldier who had served the country on operations overseas — headlines such as 'Good enough to fight there, but not good enough to live here' and worse would be grist for the media's mill.
 
The ADF already has a significant lateral recruitment program for ex-service and service personnel from overseas. Unlike the proposal put forward by Cameron Crouch, they are recruited to fill specific trade or rank vacancies and hence come fully trained. The majority of them come from the UK, not because we like them necessarily but because their technical and military training standards mirror those of the ADF. 

Recruiting and retention in the ADF waxes and wanes, often in line with national economic performance. Technical trades will always be difficult to fully man because of their attractiveness to industry and the training lag inherent in replacing them. These are the facts of life in the military, and probably always will be. Until the end of WWII, Australia's was truly a citizen's army (hence the Citizen's Military Forces being the precursor to today's Army Reserve). That notion of the ADF as being representative of the people is still strong within Australian society. Cameron's post fails to make a cogent argument for the need for his scheme, doesn't address the numerous flaws (I have only mentioned a few) and doesn't ask whether Australia is disposed to the notion of doling out citizenship simply for military service.

Photo by Flickr user Cornell Fungi, used under a Creative Commons license. 

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Two reader responses below to Cameron Crouch's post, first from Peter Layton, then Marc Gugliotta. Cameron will respond to these and Rodger Shanahan's post soon:

Cameron Crouch makes some good points. I would suggest, though, that focusing recruitment on the South-West Pacific could have some advantages beyond the ADF. Cameron’s concept of offering Australian citizenship is one means but perhaps it is worth examining an alternative of the external recruits from the Pacific returning home after their service. If they left the ADF after, say, 15-20 years service with a reasonable pension and lump sum they would be able to open small businesses and invest in the local communities they returned to, buying housing, raising familles and becoming a beneficial influence in their local social and political community. 

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They would bring needed skills, expertise, knowledge and transnational contacts and relationships back home to enrich their local communities, and also Australia, in a long-term interdependent manner. It is in a way a form of assistance to local communities, but in terms of recompense for service rendered and not a handout. 

Many of the islands cannot sustain a reasonable standard of living without some form of external funding. Some well-thought out scheme that allowed young people from the Pacific Islands to join the ADF, become skilled and receive good pay and compensation, and then return to their homes financially better off may offer real economic, social and political benefits to both their countries and Australia. This is not some Ghurkha-type concept but rather one that over the longer term would act to integrate Australia and the islands through mutual interdependence. Offering island recruits citizenship risks denuding the parent societies of their best young people, to everyone's detriment. A return scheme would be more sustainable and in its own limited way contribute to building a more secure and prosperous Australasia. 

Marc Gugliotta:

I just read your post on Overseas Recruitment and I wholeheartedly agree with your argument. I have often thought Overseas Recruitment should be part of the response to ADF recruitment difficulties, particularly in view of successful experiences by the British and American militaries to name a few.

However, I have one concern and I am curious to know your thoughts on it. My concern is whether deploying ADF personnel to their own nations would cause problems.

Now, there are several aspects to this. First, it would likely only be relevant to personnel from the immediate Pacific neighbourhood, due to improbability of Australian forces being deployed to South Africa or the Phillipines. Secondly, my understanding is that overseas recruited personnel in similar militaries have rarely, if ever, been deployed to their country of origin. Indeed, my cursory understanding of the British Indian Army suggests that they always took great pains to deploy troops far from their home. Of course, it is unlikely that the ADF would ever do some of the more unsavoury actions of the British Indian Army. Thirdly, accepting that it were a problem, juggling different units to prevent personnel being deployed to their home is probably not an option for such a small military as ours. This is exacerbated if they are spread throughout the ADF, which my instinct says is correct anyway.

So, let's say we have Fijian personnel in the ADF and they are called to intervene in Fiji for whatever reason; would it be possible to rely on the impartial execution of orders? While I am not doubting the ethics of the ADF, it is not hard to conceive a situation where Fijian personnel would be reluctant to fufill their orders. It is also possible that such problems could be managed or that the esprit de corps you mention could mitigate them.

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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. Read More

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.

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