Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Some Thoughts on NZ Defence

Aaron Bhatnagar has written an insightful post on New Zealand's defence and in particular, what he believes our military requirements should be. Most of you have probably heard the announcement that our Government is going to increase defence spending by 44%. While this is to appauled we ought to remember what else our government has done to New Zealands defence*. Robert Ayson, the Director of the Strategic and Defence studies at the Australian National University points out that "most of it is actually going in operational expenditure, so it's designed to support things like personnel numbers, infrastructure, stocks and reserves and depreciation" hence it does represent a policy shift but in fact a confirmation of their policy. It is Labour's policy that I would like to examine here.
I've recently been researching on the implications of ending our air combat capability (hence why I haven't posted in a while). I wish to make some observations in this area thus contributing to the debate over our defence requirements.
- New Zealand is modernizing the army at the expense of other areas such as air combat. This is because we are percieved to be in an 'exceptionally benign strategic environment'. It also because the most likely role for the NZDF is peacekeeping and other non-military operations. It is these two ideas that ought to be challenged.
- New Zealand and Australia have vastly different strategic perceptions. Hugh Wright notes that this explains the "differences that have emerged in their defence postures in the last two decades." Unlike Wright I am concerned about this. The way I see it, if Australia is threatened, then so are we. Any problems they have could easily spill over to us. This is an example of how things have changed:
“In February when ministers were asked about the previous presumption that Australia and New Zealand are a single strategic entity and an attack on Australia would be regarded by Wellington as an attack on New Zealand, they shuffled into phrases such as “we haven’t been approaching it from the point of view of attack”
- This difference in strategic outlook has resulted in New Zealand moving further away from Australia. Check out this briefing paper prepared by the Center for Strategic Studies which discusses the consequences of ending our air combat capability.
- It has also resulted in us moving away from the United States. Cheap military deals may be harder to come by now. Another consequence was explained by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick when he “conceded that this new litmus test [of expecting co-operation] would make it difficult for the U.S. to consider a free trade deal with New Zealand, a nation which had failed to support the U.S.-led war on Iraq, and has long refused to allow nuclear powered vessels into its waters”
- Finally I'd like to add that any strategic outlook ought to have undergone under major revisions since September 11th. For example, what is NZ meant to do if a plane is hijacked here and then flown into the Sky tower? New threats have emerged. We need to be prepared.

Btw, more information on NZ Defence can be found at the New Zealand International Review web site.

* Message to National supporters: As Ayson notes, there was "underinvestment in Defence, particularly over the period of the 1990s" when National was in power. The 'Peace Dividend' excuse won't hold. National was wrong to cut defence spending as much as it did as it set a precedent for low defence spending. National supporters ought to take responsibility for this.

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