ADF recruitment crisis: ‘Foreign’ battalion calls grow



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While noting potential problems, the report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute says the government should examine three options to boost defence ties with the Pacific:

  • direct recruitment of Pacific Islanders into the ADF;
  • integrating regional co-operation through the creation of a new Pacific battalion; and
  • developing a regional compact that could grant Australia control over Pacific nations’ defence policies and rights to build military bases.

“One thing is certain: Australia needs to develop more creative and bold recruitment and retention strategies,” authors Bec Shrimpton and Zach Lambert argue in the paper, Regional Security and Pacific Partnerships: Recruiting Pacific Islanders into the Australian Defence Force.

The ADF has set a goal to expand staff numbers by 30 per cent by 2040, but the latest budget figures show personnel fell by 1200 in 2023.

The report finds that allowing Pacific Islanders to enlist directly with the ADF would boost Australia’s military strength and enable the flow of substantial payments to Pacific nations.

Britain’s armed forces have long recruited soldiers from other countries, including Nepal and Fiji, as well as from nations in Africa and the Caribbean.

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The battalion could be raised as a combined force with a rotating mix of Australian and Pacific Island officers, including soldiers from other like-minded countries, or police and paramilitary forces from those countries without militaries.

“That may prove a tremendously useful way for Australia and the region to co-ordinate and co-operate on regional security,” the authors state.

“Based on our research, and our conversations with PIC [Pacific Island country] security officials, this option possibly offers the greatest benefit across the broadest set of criteria and is the preferred option among those officials.”

Such a battalion would free up ADF personnel by reducing the requirement for Australian troops to respond to problems in the region.

The third option would see Australia and Pacific nations seek to establish a version of the United States’ Compact of Free Association, which it has signed with Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. These agreements grant the US control over these countries’ defence policies and rights to military bases in exchange for financial assistance and permission for their citizens to live and work in the US.

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