Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Free-riding may be selfish, but it works

Free-riding may be selfish, but it works

Former US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage yesterday issued one of his periodic calls for Australia to stop free-riding off the US alliance and start spending more on defence: of the many things America’s rebalancing in the Indo-Pacific is not an opportunity for countries to free ride off US taxpayers...I think that people who automatically expect the US to be there to defend Australia and want to free ride but are not willing to sacrifice appropriately are being totally unfair and selfish.

From an American perspective, I can understand his frustration. But surely Armitage can see that, from Australia's perspective, the incentives for free riding are not diminishing, they are only getting stronger. The less Australia spends on defence, it seems, the more America compensates.

If America wants Australia to spend more on defence, why would they offer to base (sorry, 'rotate') 2500 Marines in Darwin? Instead of adding forces and thus easing Australia's defence burden, wouldn't you instead remove some from, say, Guam and come up wth an agreement that sees Australian forces compensate for that loss? And if you want Australia to spend more on defence, why embark on a 'pivot' or 'rebalance' that expands America's strategic footprint in the region? If America is going to do the heavy lifting itself, what incentive is there for Australia to do any?

Australia's behaviour may be unfair and selfish, but in the circumstances it is perfectly rational.

Photo by Flickr user mattlemmon.

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