Why does NZ need a military? For more reasons than you might think
Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/news/113389596/-

2019-06-11 06:52:29

COMMENT: We're a peaceful, tiny country at the bottom of the world.

When our Government seems obsessed with "wellbeing", teachers are struggling to be paid properly, the public health system seems to be falling apart at the seams and people are homeless; it's not unreasonable to question why New Zealand even needs a military.

Guns, ships, planes and drones don't bring "wellbeing". Peace and security do though.

Sustainable food sources do, ongoing climate science hopefully will, disaster and humanitarian relief does in a very direct and measurable way - and that's not just in New Zealand.

Few question New Zealand's need to hold an independent foreign policy and protect our interests and our place in the world. Few also question the logic of focusing on our own back yard, as the Government has done, with the Pacific Reset.

The defence force is vital to making that work.

The Government has released a $20b shopping list of the things it says it needs to buy over the next 10 years so that the military can carry out it's job.

The defence force does far more than fight. In fact, heading into war zones might even be the least of its tasks.

To understand what New Zealand's military does, is to have an understanding of what's going on in the world around us.

These are the reasons New Zealand needs a military.


The South Pacific is disproportionately affected by the consequences of climate change. Cyclones are becoming more frequent and severe, sea levels are rising and small island developing states do not have the populations or resources to support the economies needed to be able to deal with the challenge alone.

In the event of a major cyclone, New Zealand's defence force is usually among the first sent in to Pacific neighbours to help populations there displaced and without food, shelter and basic services.

The defence force is predicting an increase in the number of humanitarian and disaster relief operations, it must attend - predominantly due to climate change.

But it's not just responding to the effects of climate change; the military also helps our science in the area of climate change.

New Zealand's presence in Antarctica has a varied focus, from conservation and sustainability, to defence and strategic security. But at the forefront of our presence there is New Zealand's Antarctic science programme - advancing the world's knowledge on climate change and its effects is a large part of that.

The only way scientists get there - not just from New Zealand, the United States too - is if the airforce flies them. The new C-130J planes, approved for purchase at a likely cost of around $1.1b is how they make the trip.


Consider this: New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone covers 11 per cent of the Earth - 4,083,744 km², or roughly fifteen times the land area of New Zealand.

We are one of the smallest countries, with one of the largest territories in the world.

Combined with Australia, and we're jointly responsible for 20 per cent of the Earth's surface. Within or near that territory, are dozens of island nations who not only depend on that resource for food, but for their developing economies.

Japan has just reinstated commercial whaling in its own territory, but there is always concern it encroaches into others'. And the poaching or over-fishing of finite tuna supplies, sometimes on a grand scale, has to be monitored.

The same applies for a number of species in Antarctic waters and the Southern Ocean.

New Zealand, Australian and even the US militaries run frequent monitoring missions to enforce international law.

Just in January the Navy, along with the Ministry of Primary Industries boarded about 50 commercial fishing vessels (out of 74 vessels in total) to inspect their catches, and their crews. It pays to note here the defence force also has a role in enforcing rules against slave labour, prevalent on some commercial fishing vessels.

That operation used the offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington and an airforce P-3K2 Orion surveillance aircraft, which is about to replaced with new P-08 Poseidons, to be able to patrol further.


Already mentioned, was the NZDF's responsibility for disaster relief in other Pacific nations. It's only set to increase as climate change worsens.

New Zealand is a country prone to natural disasters; the defence force's response to the Christchurch Earthquake and the Kaikoura Earthquake are also well documented.

The military's efforts in a disaster span logistics and shipping in vital supplies for cut off areas (food, water and medical supplies), to helping local Government's and service providers get critical infrastructure back on line.

It's the defence force which is often in the best position to help with ongoing logistics in an emergency, helping coordinate the responses of a range of emergency services, NGOs and volunteers.

In disasters, resources can quickly become scarce and populations panicked - the NZDF also has a hand in keeping the peace if needed.


Perhaps one of the most important lines in that document, is a clear directive to the military to "operate in the South Pacific to the same level as New Zealand's territory, the Southern Ocean and Antarctica".

That means the NZDF must do all of the above, with the same level of presence and priority right across the Pacific, as it would here.

The reasons for that are largely security ones. New Zealand has shifted its approach in the Pacific to one of partnership, which is in no small part a response to the increasing presence of China, but other countries too.

The use of Chinese soft infrastructure development loans to island economies unlikely to be able to afford to pay them back, has piqued fears from some quarters that leverage could be used to set up a Chinese military base in the South Pacific.

So New Zealand and Australia are ramping up their presence there.

If there is even a perceived vacancy, it will be filled.

Last year's Strategic Defence Policy Statement identified concern at the expanding presence of China, in the region. Although the Government is clear to point out it works on a number of transparent aid and development projects with China in the region.


Yes. The NZDF goes into war zones.

The Prime Minister this week, announced a draw-down of Kiwi troops in Iraq - there to help train Iraqi soldiers in the fight against Isis. The ground threat of Isis in that region has waned, so the decision has been made to bring them home.

In Afghanistan, however, we'll remain with a slightly smaller presence and a changed focus that perhaps is a good example of how the NZDF works to uphold New Zealand values abroad.

The number of NZDF personnel deployed in Afghanistan will decrease from 13 to 11, comprising six personnel deployed to the Officer Academy, two personnel within RSM Headquarters and potentially up to three focusing on Women, Peace and Security and reconciliation and reintegration.

Supporting the international rules-based system is hugely important for a country like New Zealand - not least because it's what protects us from unfair or competitive behaviour by super-powers we cannot compete with.

New Zealand also has a responsibility to contribute to UN Peacekeeping Missions and mandated operations, as well as our international partners on other security issues.

And through the release, by the International Red Cross, of details relating to Louisa Akavi - the Wellington woman known to have spent more than five years as an Isis hostage - we know New Zealand's defence force is part of the US-led Operation Gallant Phoenix. The operation is partly aimed at trying to find her, but little else is known.

A $20b spend on defence equipment is a lot of money. Personal politics is likely to dictate whether that's seen as wasteful or necessary.

But New Zealand relies on the defence force for its protection in more ways than may be obvious.

A defence force is necessary.

Having one ill-equiped to do what it needs to would arguably be a more definitive waste.

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