Monday 16 July 2018

The Costa Rican Solution.

A Military Free Zone: It is surprising that the Greens haven’t adopted the “Costa Rican solution” of complete disarmament. What prevents the party which proclaims “Non-Violence” as one of its four founding principles from following the example of Bob Jones who, in 1983, announced that his newly-formed New Zealand Party would join Costa Rica in abolishing the armed forces?

GOLRIZ GHARAMAN, the Greens’ defence spokesperson has castigated her coalition partners for purchasing four Boeing P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft to replace the Air Force’s ageing fleet of Orions. Her stance is more-or-less in keeping with the Green Party’s pacifist leanings, but Gharaman’s objections to the aircraft’s war-fighting capabilities raises the more interesting question of why the party needs a defence spokesperson at all?

Rather than call for an air force devoted exclusively to search-and-rescue, and supporting scientific research (which wouldn’t really be an air force at all) would it not be more philosophically consistent of the Greens to follow the example of the Central American nation of Costa Rica which, in 1948, did away with its armed forces altogether?

That’s right, for the past 70 years this small, Spanish-speaking country, sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama, has done without an army, navy and air force. The closest Costa Rica comes to a military formation is its Special Intervention Unit of 70 highly-trained commandos who operate under civilian command and are tasked with protecting their fellow citizens from heavily-armed drug lords and terrorists. National security is maintained by Costa Rica’s “Public Forces” which are themselves answerable to the Ministry of Public Security. An “Air Vigilance Service”, operating fewer than 20 aircraft (none of them military) assists with fisheries protection, search-and-rescue and general government support.

Costa Rica’s unbroken sequence of democratically-elected administrations stands in sharp contrast to the tragic history of her Central American neighbours. Since disbanding its standing army in 1948, the nation has avoided entirely the bloody military coups and foreign (i.e. United States) interventions which have torn apart El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama and Nicaragua. Over the course of the past 70 years, Washington may well have contemplated intervening in Costa Rica, but how could the American government persuade the world that the USA and its southern neighbours were under threat from a country that has no soldiers?

It is surprising, when you think about it, that the Greens haven’t adopted what I shall call “the Costa Rican solution”. Why would a party which has “Non-Violence” as one of its four founding principles, and which proclaims “non-violent conflict resolution” to be “the process by which ecological wisdom, social responsibility and appropriate decision making will be implemented”, refuse to do what that favourite bogeyman of the Left, Bob Jones, did in 1983 when he announced that his newly-formed New Zealand Party would follow the Costa Rican example and abolish New Zealand’s armed forces?

Not only would the Costa Rican solution save New Zealand tens-of-billions of dollars over the next few decades, but it would also get us off the particularly sharp horns of the geopolitical dilemma of how we should respond to the competing and contradictory demands of the United States and China. As a completely disarmed and neutral state, reliant upon the United Nations for defence against foreign aggression, New Zealand would have no need, or desire, to become embroiled in the Pacific power games of China and America.

Those who feel obliged to object that the UN could offer New Zealand only scant protection against foreign aggression, are under a consequential obligation to reveal exactly which nations the UN would be unable to protect us against. Throughout its long history, China has never shown the slightest interest in conquering a maritime empire – preferring instead to secure its offshore interests through skilful diplomacy and trade. Which only leaves the United States and its Australian lap-dog as potential aggressors. Are we, then, being asked to re-ally ourselves with these two repeat imperialist offenders because that is the only practical way to avoid being overpowered by them? If so, then it strikes me as a pretty odd basis for New Zealand’s supposedly “independent” foreign affairs and defence policy!

If Costa Rica, located in Uncle Sam’s back yard, has been safe from his predations these past 70 years on account of it not presenting a credible military threat to anyone, then why shouldn’t New Zealand anticipate a similar degree of security? Come on, Golriz, prove to us that the Greens still possess some of their old radical fire and step out on the journey to achieve what Bob Jones only proposed: the abolition of New Zealand’s armed forces.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 12 July 2018.


peteswriteplace said...

Abolish our own armed forces and lease some foreign ones - Australia is very much a foreign power now. The Yanks and Aussies claim to be very 'matey' with each other these days.

John Hurley said...

Who or what is New Zealand these days. As a people we have no collective consciousness. The West has killed itself (the giant Maori doll on Bastion Point won't improve things either).

Wayne Mapp said...

The Costa Rica option won't work. The cost to New Zealand would be the end of the ANZAC relationship, not just in defence, but across the board.

I reckon the Australians, being the bloody minded types that they are. would probably withdraw from CER, just to make the point. The cost to our economy, and also the end of free entry to Australia, would be way more than the annual cost of defence. Probably an immediate 5% reduction in GDP (around $10 billion annually).

Defence costs $2.5 billion annually, way cheaper than the likely cost of ending the Australian relationship. In any event the Costa Rica option is not free. With our extensive EEZ, etc, we would still have to spend around $1 billion annually doing surveillance, patrol and disaster relief.

Kat said...

Great idea, lets have our own AVS, just keep the silent sonic weapons handy and the knowledge of how to use them........just in case. War is abhorrent but so is being invaded.

Geoff Fischer said...

We were invaded in the nineteenth century by Australia and Britain and in the twentieth century faced a number of threats, planned invasions (for example the planned invasion by US naval forces in 1908) and minor incursions or assaults (by French special forces and the British colonial military). We cannot take it for granted that we will not face similar threats in this century. However I don't believe that we need a standing army, navy or airforce to confront such threats, and the Costa Rican model would seem a better fit to our circumstances than, say, the Swiss or Swedish model of heavily armed neutrality. In the end, like the people of Costa Rica, Switzerland and Sweden we are responsible for our own defence, and if we can avoid repeating the political, strategic and tactical errors of the war against Great Britain and Australia, we can be reasonably secure against invasion by outside powers and will have no need of, or place for, a standing army.

Wayne Mapp said...

Geoff Fischer,

Presumably the "we" who were invaded by Australia and Britain were Tainui and Taranaki. The settler government asked for support from Britain for the land wars, hence the arrival of General Cameron's division. Presumably you know all this, so were simply being provocative.

Coming back to Costa Rica, for the reasons I have already stated, I think it is an entirely unrealistic notion and in any event is completely divorced from our history.

I have written in the New Zealand International Review about the Chilean option, which is about New Zealand stepping back a bit from traditional alliances. I don't personally support it, but it would at least allow us to fulfil the Anzac obligations.

Chris's article stems from the P8 decision and the Greens reaction to it. New Zealand has one of the largest search and rescue zones in the world with responsibilities from the Antarctic to the equator. The P8 is the only maritime surveillance aircraft in service that can cover the full range, with basically 12 hours endurance. All other aircraft options that have been canvassed by various writers are basically coastal aircraft. Sure the P8 has antisubmarine capability but it is much more than that. It has an extremely capable radar and optics system, and intelligence gathering capabilities. Presumably we don't have to buy the anti shipping missiles if we think they are not necessary.

Nick J said...

Unfortunately (in my opinion) we in NZ are mired in our past associations, and with our current needs. We were part of one empire, now transferred to another. In terms of the cost and implication of disengagement Wayne Mapp sums it up well.

Myself I thought the concept of the patrol vessels and aircraft to support other agencies in managing our economic zone was wise and sensible.

The real question for a maritime trade based nation becomes how do we protect our access to trade routes, and prevent aggression? Im not sure Wayne or his Leftist critics would agree with me here, but we have a recent example of how one nation spent a tiny fraction of their opponents military budgets to make themselves invulnerable to their far superior enemies. I'm talking the latest Russian missile and electronic warfare technology. A little apparently goes a long way.

Exkiwiforces said...

Actually Chris,

You might find that Costa Rica is undertaking a study to reform it Military Force as it’s Northern neighbour brought a battalions worth of T-90 Main Battle Tanks off the Russians and according to Janes Defence Weekly late last yr they were brought for Anti Drug Ops. Being an ex Tankie the only thing a MBT will be good for an Anti Drug Op if they attacking entrenched positions armed Anti Armour wpns etc in a Direct Fire Support Role or spearheaded an ground attack on a defenceless Southern neighbour.

The choice is yours on what your COA will be if I was your neighbour and suddenly brought 90 odd T90’s for so called Anti Drug Ops.

Anyway I think the Greens wouldn’t know what real time Peacekeeping was even if it bit them on the bum and that’s after they sent that muppet Locke to East Timor in early 2000 after it quieting down just the INTERFET drawdown. Out of the four of them that had any sense at what was happening and questions incl the RNZN chasing TNI Type 209 Submarines by the old Type 12 Frigate Canterbury was Ron Mark as Bradford, Burton and Locke were like a possum caught between two lights about to be run over. As one of cousins said those three muppets totally disinterested in the we were doing and didn’t really give a shit either unlike the Aussie pollies that visited us.

Geoff Fischer said...

Kia ora Wayne. There is a common assumption that the collective "we" or in your words "New Zealand" consists of those who are represented by and are in allegiance to the British monarchy in New Zealand. There is however a contrary view, a different historical experience and a different political perspective which is held by people who do not identify with the Realm of New Zealand. In putting that other perspective I hoped to provoke some thought, but definitely not anger so I don't think it is fair to suggest that I was "simply being provocative".
It was not only the Taranaki and Waikato tribes who suffered from the Anglo-Australian invasion of the 1860s. Between 1845 and 1872 virtually every iwi experienced the wrath of the British military. Pakeha settlers were divided which is shown by the fact Pakeha had little direct involvement in the fighting, while some (admittedly only a few) actively supported the nationalist cause, and had their lands confiscated along with Maori land at the cessation of hostilities. The significance of these facts is that the New Zealand wars were not actually race wars or even land wars as commonly alleged. They were wars conducted by the British Crown against those who either openly challenged or were silent on the British claim to sovereignty in Aotearoa. That covered members of every iwi in the motu, and many Pakeha settlers. So the New Zealand wars were the expression of a political struggle which remains unresolved, between the supporters of the British Crown and indigenous nationalism. The Realm of New Zealand's current alliance with Australia, Britain and, indirectly, the United States of America is entirely based on the military success of the British and Australian regiments in the nineteenth century, and I suggest that your perspective is simply that of the victors, which is understandable but does not preclude the possibility of other perspectives. When you talk about "us" and "our" defence requirements you are talking about the Realm of New Zealand. When I talk about such things I am talking about those who remain true to the nationalist cause. It happens that "we", the nationalists and republicans of Aotearoa, have no need of greater military capability or foreign military alliances. We are doing quite well just as we are. We can defend ourselves against any hostile power, including the Realm of New Zealand, just so long as we acknowledge and correct the mistakes of previous wars.

Anonymous said...

Um, Chris, Costa Rica is as a result dominated by the US. It's going to be anyway, given it's size and geographical location.


"Throughout its long history, China has never shown the slightest interest in conquering a maritime empire."

I don't think that is at all true anymore.

Take a trip to South East Asia. The Chinese are building deep military-grade ports along the South East Asian coast, buying up all the land, and building military bases deeper and deeper into Pacific territory. South East Asian and Pacific nations are saddled with debt impossible to pay off, and that debt gives China enormous political influence.

Of course, the World Bank/IMF has been doing the same thing in terms of debt for a long time. And the US has military bases all over the show.

Anonymous said...


I am not suggesting that the Chinese have aggressive military intentions, or will be military aggressors, but economically they are taking over supply chains everywhere, including in New Zealand and Australia. For instance, in the food industry, they tend to take over the shipping first, and the overseas processing plants of Western businesses, then eventually go down the chain and buy out the whole business.

Controlling shipping and distribution in greater Asia is a planned part of the One belt, one road initiative, and it is somewhat dangerous, potentially, because when you control the supply and distribution of another country's or a big businesses products, you can potentially shut down or cripple competition for political reasons quite easily. Things can get tied up at port or even before they reach port...

If you live in South East Asia or the Pacific it is fairly obvious that China is now an expansionist power. They are also ramping up military spending significantly. And then there is the strategic selling of Chinese made routers to public bodies, telecommunications companies, and so forth, and other internet infrastructure, as well as mobile phones - which we all know have spy chips in them. It's not news. Visiting shops in South East Asia you are increasingly seeing iphone shops being replaced with Huawei shops, and all the routers (you can check these things easily) especially in public places or major businesses including on public transport are Huawei. China is funding internet and telecommunications surveillance infrastructure for free in Cambodia, and installing cameras throughout the country on the country's crossroads, and in other public places.

The Chinese seek supply chain and information dominance. Having dealt with Chinese business people (whatever country they are from) I know how well-coordinated they are. Now, Westerners have their AmChams and so forth. But in my experience the Chinese style of competition can seem very top-down and monolithic. And it arguably is less beneficial to the local population. They tend to fly in their own workers, for instance, to construction and other projects - even to factories. Nobody benefits much but some government officials. This is very evident in the port of Sihanoukville, where the Chinese have systematically bought up every business, usually tearing them down and putting casinos and the like in their place. Chinese staff are employed, not locals. They are not friendly to Western customers, or locals. This is being repeated all along the coast. Western and local business people alike have fled along the coast towards Vietnam but the same is beginning to happen in those spots, which were until recently very French-Cambodian.

Anonymous said...


This is all happening very, very quickly. Over a few years all the signs have gone from being in English and Khmer to Chinese only. Some hotels have been bought and are just sitting there, losing custom, running at a loss. The objective just seems to be to buy everything up. And, as I noted, the TWO ports being build on the western and eastern southern coasts are deep water ports that could accommodate military navy vessels and submarines. This has all happened in just 4-5 years. They've bought up Bokor Mountain - it was a national park - and built a city ready for 20,000 people on top. In nearby Kep, there are city-sized roadworks and infrastructure already laid out. Imagine if, Chris, in the space of 4 years, a large neighbouring power such as the US had bought up Able Tasman National Park and build enough houses for a small city in it, as well as a deep water military port, and done the same in Northland or up the coast of Wellington. In the space of four years. It's hard to get a sense of what an extraordinary plan and effort the one belt one road initiative is from way down in New Zealand. That is it. And it's not going to stop in South East Asia.

As I wrote, I don't necessarily think that the Chinese have plans to be aggressive militarily. They have a cleverer way of doing things, and are much better planners than the West is now, and are I imagine happy to let the US and its allies destroy their economies and people in hopeless, insane, expensive foreign conflicts while they confidently assert their economic hegemony - and culture. People who complain about Western paternalism or whatever are in for a shock. The Chinese are proud to be Chinese - and proud ethnic nationalists at that - don't particularly care about the niceties of other cultures, and have little interest in concepts like equality. They are shrewd business people, and the work together closely to their mutual advantage very well. The West should absolutely take a realist view of what they are doing, and perhaps put aside some of the very silly and divisive identity-related hand wringing and have a deep think about what sort of society we want to live in: not that there seems to be any common identity anymore among Westerners, something that will be seen in time to have been to our great detriment; to have been a decadence.

Having said all that, the Chinese are misunderstood on some important matters. They are leaders in green energy, for instance, and are quite sensible in their long-term planning, at least in respect of their own nation. I think China very well may be entering a period of glorious cultural and economic flowering and expansion but for the meantime they don't care about democracy at home and certainly don't abroad.

Anonymous said...


Let me add finally that I have spoken to a business person of Chinese decent not from China proper and that person told me "The Chinese government welcomes investment in the One Belt, one Road initiative from anyone with Chinese ancestry."

Liebestraum, essentially, isn't it then?

I am joking - I hope.

Anonymous said...


Oh, and having been quite sympathetic to the Greens in the past I now think they are crazier than I am. Or worse than that: at least crazy people have neurologically atypical or diverse thoughts or ideas. They are ideologically blinded. They have some great ideas, but they - and, to be fair, are many others - quite wrong to claim as many of them do that all the world's problems can be laid at the feet of Western history and institutions. Ironically, if they get what they want and have New Zealand give up all its defensive capacity and close down strategically important military relationships they will live to see that presumption tested.

The Chinese simply round up and shoot any potential troublesome Turkic Muslims in the North, don't care about LGBT rights, and are pretty firmly Han-centric despite the odd flourish of ethnic dance at snore-fest, state sponsored acrobatic events in NZ and elsewhere.

I live in hope that like the green city plans they have been touting against the dismal industrial reality of their today they will allow more freedom and outspokenness in the future. We can only hope, because they are quite happy to shut down "dissent" abroad, too (although they are not the only ones, at all, believe you me).

Personally I am going to learn Mandarin. I'm probably too old but if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and if you can't join 'em maybe you may as well facilitate them because I am too old to be poor and too sickly for jail and wherever they go they show themselves to be the only game in town. At some point in life, people have to start thinking of themselves and their immediate families. Most people only ever think of that, if that, so as far as I am concerned, save the United States and Europeans picking up again economically or somehow protecting their ip and so forth without military action beyond the stupid conflicts already being engaged in a Chinese future in the Pacific, and in Eurasia, is inevitable if not in less than a decade a visible fact.

Anonymous said...


It is a great shame that the arguably -fairly strongly arguably - Western concept that being a member of a democratic franchise can have less to do with race and more to do with having the status of being a citizen is so out of favour. It is probably the West's greatest strength but for whatever reason seems to be under attack under various guises.

Geoff Fischer said...

The campaign to induce fear of China among the population of New Zealand is being orchestrated by the New Zealand security services (read the security chiefs' memo to Jacinda Ardern and Andrew Little) in concert with ASIO and the NSA. For the US the anti-China campaign makes some sense. It may also make an iota of sense for the Australians, but it makes no sense at all for New Zealand. In fact, given the state of trading and investment relations between the New Zealand and the PRC, it is positively barmy, as even anti-China members of the New Zealand intelligence community such as Paul Buchanan, have made abundantly clear.
I would go further and say that for New Zealanders to fear any foreign state - whether the PRC, USA, UK or Commonwealth of Australia - is ridiculous. But it is not difficult to understand how and why this phobic fear of foreign armies became so ingrained in the New Zealand psyche. The Realm of New Zealand, like the Dominion and the Colony which preceded it, owes its existence to the victories of British and Australian armies in the Waikato and Taranaki wars. These victories gave rise to the false conviction that New Zealand cannot defy Australia or Britain, that any invading force will inevitably overcome national resistance in Aotearoa, and that the Realm of New Zealand is only left with the choice of to which foreign power it must submit. This is not only cowardly and degrading. It is plain wrong, and it will eventually bring the Realm to disaster. Even though the Realm is historically the creature of Great Britain and the Commonwealth of Australia, and currently a client state of the United States of America, when push comes to shove those states will not put the economic and security interests of the Realm of New Zealand ahead of their own.
So it is the fear of foreign armies rather than foreign armies themselves which will bring catastrophe upon the Realm. The challenge for nationalists will be to avoid getting caught up in the resulting economic and social carnage, and so far as possible, to navigate through the chaos so as to set the country on a saner path.

Anonymous said...

Look at the Map, Wayne Mapp, NZ is essentially two static aircraft carriers, 2000km off the coast of Australia and therefore potentially crucial to Australia and Pacific defence
Chile is in the least strategically significant position on the globe,a dagger pointed at Antarctica as Henry Kissinger said.Chile does have strategic minerals but in 20C terms Argentina as a medium Atlantic seaboard power and Britain's real foodbasket. Argentina and its Buenos Aires seaplanes was significant.
Like New Zealand in some senses, but more significantly in the case of Chile the primary defence relationship with West was with Britain in the second half of the 20C with Chile maintaining a relatively large high tech navy which Britain and theRN which essentially equipped as a second line nuclear deterrent with only patrol conventional armament, with Chile developing much more heavily conventional armed variants of British designs and systems.Chile's version of the Leander class was the first to introduce the Exocet armedLeander and the early 1960s Admiralante destroyers are the British cruiser destroyers and ultimate AA gun cruisers enabling cf tests of an auto gun cruiser cf the British County and Seaslug and US Charles F Adams and Long Beach and again in 1978/after the Admiralante destroyers were refitted with CAAAIS the computer command control communication C4/of a RN T22 they proved the relative ineffectiveness of the T42 Sea Dart and led to a successful realigning of the Sea Dart by using HMS London's sea slug mk1 missiles as drone targets and Chile also brought the 4/Sea Slug mk 2 cruisers to disguise the fact mk 2 never worked and also to test the option of redesigning a RN small cruiser as a helicopter carrier RN

Unknown said...

We should get rid of our armed forces, then there will be no war. Next we should get rid of our police so there will be no crime. Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum.