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Recruiting labour for the ADF

PM Howard has just announced a series of financial moves to boost recruitment into the Australian military from a total of 51,000 to 57,000.These include retention bonuses, possible recruitment bonuses, allowing introductory ‘gap year’ programs of 1 year service in the ADF, reducing service entry requirements and reducing the time taken to achieve entry. As yet there are no proposals for simply increasing salaries offered – the immediately most effective way of improving the attractiveness of serving in the military.

It is interesting to consider the long-term labour recruitment issues facing the military in Australia, the United States and in other countries – particularly those poorer countries supporting international terrorism. The threats of terrorism, and unconventional or asymmetric warfare, clearly indicate that technology alone is not enough to resolve future military conflicts – terrorists will fight on their terms not ours. In addition, Australia’s ADF have recently had substantial police-military roles in East Timor, the Solomon Islands as well as their partly peacekeeping roles in Afghanistan and Iraq. All of these activities are labour not technology intensive.

Australia, like the US, is a high income country with good future social and economic prospects and relatively low, though increasing, fertility. Women have substantial gender equality and over 60 per cent are in the paid workforce – this increases the opportunity cost of having children and helps create low fertility. A family’s children have high human capital and consequently, the cost of a death of one of them in terms of foregone human capital, is high to the individual concerned and to their family. In wealthy societies, apart from high living standards, young men and women enjoy a variety of recreations, healthy sex lives and normal male-female relationships. Australia is a society with few strong internal conflicts, few direct external military threats, moderate religious views and moderated libidos and an eminently sensible national contempt for religious and ideological fanaticism. It is predictably difficult to motivate young men to risk their lives for political or religious objectives given the possible opportunity value of benefits foregone.

The countries that support terrorism and religious fanaticism have almost none of these characteristics in common with Australia. For the most part they are low income countries with failed social and economic development programs and joyless, repressive social mores. All are undemocratic dictatorships, failed states or have subversive, militant, undemocratic groups within their fledgling democracies. In almost all, fertility rates are among the highest anywhere, in part because the only role for women is to raise children – they have low levels of education and low levels of workforce participation. A family’s sons have low human capital, poor economic and social prospects – unemployment prospects are, for example, very high. Young men and young women have sexless, joyless lives that trigger male aggression/fanaticisms and female fatalism. The cost of death is relatively low to individuals and to their family particularly if the death can be rationalized in terms of martyrdom or other religious myths. The joyless, low-living-standard societies containing such families are wracked with internal conflict, external military threats and religious fanaticism. In such settings it is much easier to motivate people to risk their lives for bizarre religious or political objectives than it could ever be in countries such as Australia or the United States. Those serving in the military have less to lose and the prospect of a good life in the hereafter makes sense to those whose current lives are worth little to themselves.

In David and Goliath conflicts between rich societies with advanced technologies and poorer societies without either technology or future prospects, terrorism is an equilibrium strategy for those without technology in dealing with international conflict.

Then labour rather than capital-intensive military responses to terrorist threats are called for by wealthy countries particularly if, as has become standard, the poorer societies use their local populations as hostage to technologically-based military responses. Civilian casualties matter relatively little to societies who value their own live children at relatively low levels whereas, those in wealthy countries, feel pain at seeing even their enemy’s civilian populations being subject to attack, even if they are clearly being used as hostages. The winging of left-leaning Australian intellectuals over Israel’s aerial bombardment of southern Beirut, even while Hezbollah was launching almost continuous daily missile attacks on non-military targets in Israel, was a recent instance of the hypocrisy of the left.

Australia and the United States need to meet their military human resource needs by taking advantage of their wealth by paying incomes to service-people that compensate them for the substantial economic and social benefits they put themselves at risk of losing by joining the military. Wealthy societies have the financial capacity to provide such benefits and do not need to rely on such things as conscription. The Australian military has an excellent reputation for being well-trained and effective – they need to continue to be intensively-trained to retain their military edge.

3 comments to Recruiting labour for the ADF

  • conrad

    I think you’ll find that people are more willing to sacrifice for political objectives if they happen to think the objectives are a good idea.

    A good example of this is East Timor — this event apparently helped the army recruit people. The opposite end is Iraq, which turns people away.

    Thus a simpler solution would not be to join stupid wars based on ridiculous premises in places people don’t care about nor can point to on a map, in which case the additional cost of recruiting is not going to be as high.

  • hc

    Conrad, I agree that the unpopularity of conflicts affects the ability to recruit – this has certainly been true for the US military’s recruiting problems

  • Graham Bell

    H.C.,
    Congratulations on your excellent concise post. Let’s hope it is read in Canberra ….. especially on Russell Hill.

    The situation for Australia is actually worse than you have said.

    Here we have had successive governments (both Liberal-National and Labor) that have neglected or attacked their own war veterans and in so doing sent a powerful message to potential recruits and their families that those who join the ADF invite harm and disadvantage on themselves.

    At best, only nebulous temporary gains ever came from such neglect and attacks and sooner or later they became quite damaging losses. A few examples:
    [a]. Preventing the recognition, for civilian employment, of high-level professional qualifications gained during military service may have seemed like a good substitute for actually doing something about the causes of declining retention rates – but all it did was damage ADF recruiting as well as worsen the retention problem. It was a problem that could have been solved quite easily with the stroke of a pen and at almost no cost to either the government or to private industry …. and it would have boosted recruiting and retention.

    [b] Despite all the flag-waving and all the happy-snaps of politicians shaking hands with old war heroes spun for a gullible public, the reality is that Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs and its related bodies and firms go all out to discredit and humiliate any military personnel who claim to have been harmed during their service.

    Of course the taxpayers have every right to demand that their dollars are not squandered but the taxpayers also have every right to demand that their dollars are spent properly …. and spending properly does not mean more Rorts-For-Rich-Doctors, Money-For-Favoured-Malingerers and Loot-For-Lawyers nor does it mean denying justice to those manifestly harmed whilst on active service.

    It’s a bit hard trying to get nephew to join the ADF when he sees uncle being treated like a mongrel dog for having served in the ADF. Instances of the abuse of bureaucratic power do not have to be in the news media to harm ADF recruitment and retention; word-of-mouth spreads the news just as fast – and no spin-doctor is even aware that it is happening. I wonder what the overall cost is for allowing such injustices to continue?.