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Once upon a time there was a small island nation..

Once upon a time there was a small island nation in a remote far off part of the world. It was a world of even smaller island states and one big continental state. The big state was seen as the guardian of the region.

There was no known threat to our small island nation. What threat there might have been would have to come through the big guardian first, so all was rosy. Because there was no known threat, this nation felt that it was not necessary to spend lots of money maintaining sizeable defence
forces. So it didn't.

Nevertheless, this nation loudly proclaimed to the world that it was the champion of freedom and democracy, and the right to conduct free trade was its lifeblood. Accordingly it would claim to maintain a balanced military force that could contribute to regional and global stability. It would profess to be a good international citizen. This posture was cheap, and could be easily maintained provided it was not tested.

One day, however, dark clouds began to develop in one small community in the region. These clouds were possibly the harbingers of a significant storm. For this small community was to be given the opportunity to become another small freedom loving democracy, much against the wishes of the colonial power which currently occupied it.

Trouble on the horizon, said the generals and admirals. We need to get ready they said. Yes said ministers, but how much will it cost? Much said the military. Forget it said Ministers. But, said the generals, in accordance with the purchase agreement, all our troops are at 60 days notice. The people will be voting in a little over three months and we
need to get ready. The guardian of the region, said the top brass, has already brought a large force to 28 days notice, at tremendous cost. Thankyou said the Ministers but we will take the risk.

At least give us $2.5 million so we can let a contract to prepare our aged armoured vehicles for a possible deployment. Alright, said a begrudging Sir William, but only if you sign a contract which includes progress payments and the right of cancellation at any time - and only if you generals pay the first half a million.

A month later the generals went back to Ministers. D-Day is getting closer, they said, the guardian has two brigades at 28 days, and we still have our "deployable" battalion at 60 days notice. Noted said Ministers, but we think everything will be peaceful in the new budding democracy. Just bring a company to 28 days, but do not spend any extra money doing so.

Well, so the story goes, this small community voted for independence and all hell broke loose. Towns and cities were burned, and many innocent lives were lost. UN observers were endangered and eventually forced to withdraw. The citizens became refugees, as the thugs and criminals, spurred on by the army of the colonial power, ransacked the place. Freedom and democracy comes at a price, they said.

Naturally, the indignation of the free world was aroused. The leader of the free world, currently visiting "do-nothing land" spoke out against events. The United Nations demanded action and began preparing for a peacekeping force of some size. The guardian nation volunteered to lead the force and offered several thousand of its own young men and women to participate in this humanitarian mission.

Do something, yelled the people of our nation. The same people who only months ago had decried the extravagant wasteful expenditure on defence were now prepared to commit the hitherto unwanted armed forces to foreign danger - once again.

Meanwhile, Ministers dithered. Panic in parliament resulted in the Government announcing that troops were at 14 days notice - which was the first the generals had heard of this. Then Ministers frantically searched to see what else they could commit at short notice - anything to save face. As luck would have it there just happened to be a frigate
in the region and some SAS troops and a hercules. That should stave off the criticism, said Ministers.

As we sit here now, the guardian nation is preparing to commit 4000 or so of its youth to this task. Estimates are that it will cost about a billion dollars to sustain this for a year or so. Our nation has an infantry company of about 100 soldiers ready to join them. But it will cost so much!. Where will get these millions of dollars asked Sir William. That is the cost of commiting forces to real world operations said the generals, read the purchase agreement. How can we do the least possible, at minimum expense, while still ensuring that we do enough to justify making a lot of self-righteous noise, asked Ministers.

We will need to move in a hurry, said the generals. The guardian will have two brigades on the move this weekend, and other nations have already pledged their commitment. We warned you months ago. And our battalion is still at 60 days notice...........

To everyone's surprise, the people of this small nation discovered that Ministers had resolve after all. Perhaps it was the strong words of the leader of the free world which provided the much needed backbone. Perhaps, basking in the success of APEC, the leaders felt brave.

Whatever it was, for once the generals' advice would be heeded. A company would go straight away to join the forces of the guardian nation. And the rest of the battalion would follow next month.

A whole battalion!! Unbelievable. So the 1997 White Paper was right. So the Purchase Agreement was not fiction afterall. Just think - if they had listened to the generals three months ago the whole battalion could have gone together.

And the people said we are doing the right thing. Politicians of all persuasion said go with our blessing. Is this, we wonder, the closest we will get to a national consensus on Defence??

Let's hope they all come home safely.

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