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Defence spending: What should we be measuring?

2 May 2014 11:27

The Abbott Government's repeated commitment to build Australia's defence spending back to 2% of GDP within a decade is welcome.

Our defence budget carries a heavy load. In the first instance it must of course provide for the defence of a whole continent and ensure that the responsibilities we have across more than 10% of the earth's surface can be met. More broadly, defence capability must underpin Australia's strategic weight in an ever more competitive region. And our spend must be of a size that assures our strategic ally, the US, that we are not simply bludging off the alliance, and that we do indeed take seriously our own rhetoric about 'self reliance'. 

COMMENTS

6 May 2014 08:17
By

Andrew Carr is a Research Fellow, and Peter Dean is a Senior Research Fellow, at the Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University.

There's much we can agree with in Ric Smith's discussion of funding Defence at 2% of GDP. He is right to say that there is no science behind the 2% figure and that it is no guarantee of security. As we have argued in some recent work on this subject, GDP 'hinders more than it assists the development of strategic policy and strategy. It is often misleading as a form of analysis, it will not make up for a strategic deficit and it will be almost impossible to achieve in practice'.

COMMENTS

6 May 2014 16:01

Ric Smith, Andrew Carr and Peter Dean all present a compelling case as to why a 2% of GDP target for defence spending does not constitute a strategy. But this completely overlooks the target's purpose. The bipartisan 2% target is not for defence planning, it is for alliance management.

As Ric Smith points out, the 2% target is shared by NATO countries. This alone tells you that the figure is not 'arbitrary'; rather, it serves an important political purpose by demonstrating Australia's fidelity to, and independence within, the ANZUS alliance framework.

COMMENTS

13 May 2014 08:00
By

 By Andrew Carr, a Research Fellow at the Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, ANU, and Peter Dean, a Senior Research Fellow at the Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, ANU.

Crispin Rovere claims that both we and Ric Smith have missed the point: the purpose of setting a 2% of GDP defence spending target is alliance management, not strategy. The problem is that not only is it not strategy, its aim was never alliance management either. 

COMMENTS

21 May 2014 16:54

It is good to see a widening of the debate on this issue, and Andrew Carr and Peter Dean have done a commendable job of covering the political history of the 2 % of GDP commitment as it has played out in the public debate. It is certainly true that the Coalition exploited Labor's inability to meet the funding pledges outlined in the 2009 Defence White Paper and the subsequent budget cuts made in Defence in pursuit of an elusive budget surplus.

The core policy recommendation made by Carr and Dean, however, is that since the bipartisan target of 2% of GDP is not based on defence planning, it should be abandoned. Even if we fully acknowledge the domestic political optics of the 2% target, this in no way detracts from the target's alliance management utility. The question then becomes: does having a 2% of GDP target undermine defence planning in Australia to such an extent that abandoning it is still justified, despite the cost to alliance integrity? 

COMMENTS