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The costs of discounted diplomacy

By James Wise

This report outlines how and why Australia has under-appreciated diplomacy and under-invested in diplomatic capability—and why things should change.

The prominence of deterrence, alliances and border controls in Australian security thinking has pushed diplomacy into the shadows.

Over the last twenty years, Australian governments, sensibly, have invested massively in defence, intelligence and border control. Over the same period, though, the operating budget for DFAT’s foreign policy and diplomatic work, has been cut by 9 per cent.

In a more contested and multipolar international environment, lightweight diplomacy reflects lightweight thinking. Australia will be safer, richer, better regarded and more self-respecting if our diplomatic influence is enlarged, not if it remains stunted.

A properly funded DFAT can improve the government's understanding of the motivations, intentions and capabilities of others, and help the government to develop policies and coalitions that enable Australia to navigate risks and exploit opportunities.

The report recommends that the government prepare a comprehensive capability assessment for DFAT, followed by a financial plan to match capability needs.

The report will help analysts calculate whether governments are increasing or decreasing the critical operating budget for DFAT’s policy function—an important bellwether of their commitment to the role of diplomacy in Australia’s national security.