Pacific island recruitment idea

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Working more closely with Pacific island partners could help solve Australia’s military recruitment and retention challenges while also building collective regional security and interoperability, a new Australian Strategic Policy Institute report argues.

The report examines options to integrate Pacific islanders into the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and highlights in particular the merits of raising a “Pacific Battalion” that could be stationed and deployed across the region and could focus on maritime security, national resilience and humanitarian and disaster response.

The report, ‘Regional security and Pacific partnerships: recruiting Pacific islanders into the Australian Defence Force’, by Bec Shrimpton and Zach Lambert, will be released today.

An initial ‘Pacific Battalion’ option could build and evolve over time, learning and implementing lessons through an effective monitoring and evaluation framework,” the report states.

That may prove a tremendously useful way for Australia and the region to coordinate and co-operate on regional security. 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.”

The report suggests it be raised as a combined force with a rotating mix of Australian and PIC officers and possibly include soldiers from other like-minded, close partner countries, or police and paramilitary forces from those countries without militaries.

The impact on solving the recruiting problem for the ADF from this option would be “indirect but … consequential”.

The increased regional collective security resulting from a Pacific Battalion would reduce the requirement for the ADF to respond using forces from Australia.”

A Pacific Battalion is one of three main options that the report considers to boost ADF enrolment and retention through the recruitment of Pacific islanders.

Another option is direct recruitment of Pacific islanders into the ADF, either from the general population of the Pacific Island countries (PICs) or from within existing PIC security forces.

Under this option, ideally, Pacific personnel would be working towards a common security goal such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, regional stability or peacekeeping operations, and would be provided with ongoing access to education and training opportunities, as well as a pathway to citizenship.

However, the report notes that the recruitment of Pacific islanders to fight for Australia can be viewed as “colonialist” in a region sensitive to and with a history of such practices. In addition, any scheme seeking to relocate workers to Australia would need to address the risk of draining critical skills and human resources from their home countries.

Under the third option, Australia and appropriate PIC partners would explore arrangements similar to the US model of Compact of Free Association agreements. While this is a highly ambitious model that’s been effective for the US in the Pacific over time, the report notes that it would have wide ranging societal implications that are difficult to assess.

While there are arguments for significant societal benefits from this option, including social mobility and development opportunities, “there are also deep concerns about these arrangements, including unaddressed low levels of English proficiency and low job skills, among other disadvantages”.

The report explores the impacts the three options would have both in the Pacific and for the ADF. A critical consideration in developing these options was a two-way benefit from the Pacific to Australia and from Australia back to the region.

Such an initiative could help the ADF’s recruitment numbers but, importantly, it could open up economic, skills and training opportunities for Pacific islanders,” the report states.

It could also provide a powerful cultural and practical engagement opportunity for the ADF, while also providing Australia with avenues to help shape the region’s security environment in positive and culturally relevant ways.”

The report also examines alternative options for building closer military to military relations between Australia and PICs that should be explored further. This includes enhanced exchange opportunities for Pacific islanders to fully embed into the ADF, increasing direct investment in PIC militaries, and expanding Australia’s Defence Cooperation Program and other similar programs.

Click here to read the report

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