DIY Defence Of Human Rights: Imagine a highly-trained ready-reaction force combining elements of the army, navy and air-force specifically trained and equipped to project New Zealand military power independently across the South Pacific. Such a force would be capable of restoring ousted democratic governments in a matter of days.
WHEN THE LEFT-WING Fijian government of Timoci Bavadra was overthrown in May of 1987, I was outraged. At an executive meeting of the Labour Party’s Otago Regional Council, I asked my MP, Michael Cullen, what he and his government colleagues intended to do about this blatant attack on democracy in the South Pacific – New Zealand’s supposed “backyard”. Cullen was bemused. “What do you think we should do?”, he demanded. “Do our armed forces not have the capacity to intervene?”, I inquired. “What’s this? The ‘Trotter Doctrine’?”, Cullen chortled. The idea that New Zealand could intervene unilaterally in the South Pacific was dismissed as fanciful.
Interestingly, I was not the only member of the Labour Party who considered military intervention in Fiji an appropriate response to Sitiveni Rabuka’s coup d’etat. New Zealand’s prime minister, David Lange, had requested action from the NZ Armed Forces in response to the seizure of an Air New Zealand passenger plane, only to be informed by his departmental advisers that prime ministers lacked the requisite authority to order troops into action unilaterally. It was also made clear to Lange that the NZ Defence Force, as then constituted, would struggle to defeat the Fijian military in a full-on stoush.
That a democratically-elected, multi-ethnic, Labour-led coalition government could be overthrown in the name of reactionary indigeneity, while the Labour governments of New Zealand and Australia sat on their hands, struck a great many democratic socialists in the labour movements of both countries as outrageous. At a more personal level, the revelation that New Zealand’s armed forces could only respond to crises in the South Pacific by becoming an appendage to some much larger military operation struck me as appalling.
The genteel resistance encountered by Lange, coupled with the absurd configuration of New Zealand’s armed forces, confirmed what I had long suspected. This country operates on the assumption that it will not be permitted to act independently of its “friends” – Australia and the United States – and its armed forces have been organised and equipped in accordance with that assumption.
It gets worse. When the Labour-Alliance Government (1999-2002) determined to make New Zealand less dependent on its friends militarily, announced a radical re-configuration of the NZ Defence Force, there followed a series of disastrous equipment purchases which, to a cynical pair of eyes, looked suspiciously like sabotage. As if the “top-brass” were determined to de-rail and/or delay any and every reform which might render New Zealand capable of projecting its military power independently.
The election of the John Key-led National Government in 2008 locked-in the ill-effects of this military incapacity by starving the NZ Defence Force of the funding necessary to raise it above “appendage” status. When required, New Zealand can offer a very limited menu of services to the armed forces of Australia and the United States – but practically nothing else. In foreign affairs and defence terms, this leaves New Zealanders absolutely dependent upon the kindness of, if not strangers, then, at least, a couple of often quite disreputable “friends”.
Nowhere is that disreputability more in evidence than on the tiny island of Nauru. The Australians have deliberately subverted Nauruan democracy in order to facilitate their appalling “Pacific Solution” to the “problem” of seaborne refugees seeking asylum in the Lucky Country. New Zealand has had no option but to stand by helplessly while these friendless men, women and children have been subjected to treatment which is in clear breach of international law and Australia’s own undertakings. The New Zealand Government has repeatedly offered to take at least 150 of the refugees marooned on Nauru. The Australians have brushed aside all such offers with sneering contempt. After all, what can the Kiwis do about it?
What can the Kiwis do about it? Nothing. What could the Kiwis do about it with a radically re-configured and re-equipped NZDF? Plenty.
Imagine a highly-trained ready-reaction force combining elements of the army, navy and air-force and specifically trained and equipped to project New Zealand power both tactically and strategically. Such a force would be capable of securing airfields and harbours anywhere in the South Pacific. Deploying a combination of special forces and regular infantry units, the likes of Sitiveni Rabuka could be stopped in their tracks and ousted democratic governments restored to power in a matter of days.
In the case of Nauru, the ready-reaction force would be able to place the authoritarian regime under house arrest, disarm and detain its police force and Aussie jailers (just like Barbara Dreaver) and take the desperate refugees on board the air-force’s new C-130J Hercules transports. The detainees would be safe in New Zealand before the Aussies could even rub the sleep out of their eyes and demand to know “What the hell is going on!”
Wellington’s insouciant answer to Canberra would be that New Zealand was merely fulfilling its moral obligation to uphold international law. Over howls of Aussie rage, the government would then go on to quietly explain that this was the first – but hopefully not the last –demonstration of “The Kiwi Doctrine”.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 6 September 2018.
mmm Not comfortable with this at all I oppose any interference in the affairs of other states. Your argument looks awfully like thne hideous gareth Evans R2P that has provided the figleaf for the likes of the Libyan regime change jihadi installation. Imposed solutions like these by outside armies are never durable.
If there was only a will to do it. That's why I personally say ANZAC died years ago. I'm not sure I would want modern Australians at my back. Let me say the Kiwi SAS are a different kettle of fish that the Nauruans and their Aussie bosses would find extremely difficult. How about a whole battalian of Kiwi SAS troopers, Chris?
So we're going to try to do in miniature, what the Americans said they were trying to do in Iraq, and Afghanistan and in Vietnam? Without asking the locals what they actually want? Which may not in fact be democracy. Hmmmm – "never get involved in a land war in Asia." – or the Pacific.
Oh what a good story. You should write novels Chris. I don't know who I would compare you to, but it sounds like a rollicking good tale could arise.
I don't know whether you would be blacklisted by certain personages after though. But every time I read of the scenario for Operation Katipo I get uncomfortable. And I read that Australian redbacks have settled in parts of lower South Island, along with some expensive USA human resources. Does each of these groups have its own peculiar sting?
Delightful post and delightful picture, Chris. Idealists in NZ felt your same feeling of shock re first Fijian coup. It's all rather disgusting from then to now, but even now, in retrospect, I don't know if it wasn't deeper than hoons with guns. Those cheery Fijians taking to the hills. Very evenly tilted.
I do wish IDEAS mattered as much to Fijians as us but, perplexed as I am, I have to give them the benefit of doing things their own way. I'm sure we are as strange to others as the 'Fawlty Towers' guy found us in the 60s.
Though this does make me think again about Western intervention in the 'Arab Spring', the focus of my idealism then. Have we ever came to terms with how democracy comes to terms with racial and religious loyalties stronger than ideas? Summary of Africa, allowing that a lot of those countries are finding their ways through it. Definitely better than one nation Somalia. Massey played the Catholic card against Labour and won in the 20s. Brash played the race card and lost in 2005.
Maybe a more forceful, idealistic UN. To replace the destructive empires with their exploitation. Taking from those who have and giving to those who need, via declared government policy would have caused war in the First World and thus wouldn't have been considered, unlike how it was done successfully. Which now boils up.
I hold to the principle of "non-interference" on a number of grounds.
First, because it is very difficult for outsiders to see all the nuances of a political situation in another country.
Second, because if a people are not able to provide security from internal enemies, then there is very little that any outside power can do to assist them. Fiji's "friends and allies", New Zealand, Australia and Britain, and the Queen of Fiji, Elizabeth II, all turned their backs on Fijian democracy, but the key factor in the success of the coup was that Bavandra and his democratic supporters did not choose to fight.
Third, because forces of intervention can very quickly come to be perceived as invasion forces, even by those locals who may have been initially well-disposed towards them, with all the attendant consequences.
It should be sufficient for the people of Aotearoa to provide for their own defence within their own territory, while upholding the principles of good government and the rights of peoples internationally.
The NZDF, as you point out, has a very different agenda, but that does not stop us from doing what we ourselves need to do.
New Zealanders don't want to take those refugees on Nauru. They are a drop in the bucket and if we accept them ten times more will follow.
Greywarbler I note your comment about operation Katipo, in which apparently several times over the last decade the Americans and some others, but very largely the US Forces have made an amphibious landing of an interesting number of troops on the beaches around Timaru. Well Timaru is basically like Auckland a few defunct volcanoes from aeons ago, and therefore mainly made of very strong Basalt. Essentially Timaru is about ten square miles raised above the Canterbury Plains and forms a naturally protected naval port or landing port which could be easily defended , like all those ports along the French north channel coast. In the event of vrey unlikely nuclear attack scenario or some total ecological or eathquake disaster Timaru, Bluff, INvercargill and New Plymouth would with area of Northland be the most survivable areas. During the cold war Timaru was quite frequently visited by major navies of the world but only made very occassional use was made of it by the RNZN. I often had a look over RAN ships there, Oberons, DDGs, PBs and training ships and the crews and officers tended to be a lot more cooperative than their RNZN counterparts who were often hostile and surly, in relation to me individually and however I was percieved by the RNZN and in Remuera Road ( the massive delusion existed by mistake or MFAT fostering that I was Helen Clarks little helper over certain Anzus issues- I suppose because some Auckland female academic could never understood anything about the Navy and secondly the idea that the Russians back in the day, might have suggested some of her strategies, was unthinkable in Aotearoa, as you know the left are harmless saints who only think diffently and anyway, we are of no value, although the truth we probably are- but its mighty good real estate).
The reverse is of course the true, the Army is of no value, far too small, low capability and divided to be of any use to anyone while the Orions and frigates could well have been of value to the USA and might have remained so if Muldoon had ever been interested for paying hte real money ot fit modern weapons, sensors and communication systems. Most NZ officer say modern data link and communication systems as the key to operational effectiveness, although the fact is most western naval conmunications, including ours were probably being intercepted post Pueblo's capture by the North Koreans with coding computers passed onto Russia.
My comment in relation to the NZ army is based on the war in 1944-45 most of all in France were two thirds of the British and US infantry proved pretty ineffective, athird would never put there head above the foxhole, another third fired immediately with any sense of direciton, only a third fired reasonably effectively and the overlarge forces were always at risk of panic and running interror back into their own advancing force wrecking the logistic train. Most of the Brtish Generals were hopeless, notably Montgommery and the British Army showed a total refusal to accept modern land war is simply a matter of attrition and percentage attrition. Churchill,MacMillan and Eden often totalled themselves on hard spirits with there favourite conversational topic the total hopelessness of Britsh land forces. in other words an effective army would have to be much higher capability people even at the level of the foot soldiers, not the hopeless unemployables currently selected who are inevitably overweight, short, have numerous defects.
In terms of the lack of naval capability for long range employment in the Pacific the general attitude of both the Amemricans and British was to encourage demilitarisation by encouraging western navies to concentrate on the highly scientific and largely impossible anti submarine warfare ( it was apparently sexy in naval terms but is anything but and those who concentrated on the forbidden black arts of gunnery and AA missiles generally got more satisfaction) task of protecting convoys against Soviet submarines which were probably pretty much unstoppable in real war situation but were hardly likely to have been wasted on disrupting our lines of communication. WW@ have shown that off NZ ports was the hardest place in the world to find useful trade for a U boat. Our diplomats were very keen that NZ not buy any long ranged warship or coast guard cutter or destroyer wiht nay real armament as something like the RAN Darings were probably more relevant replacemnts for the cruisers. The Navy considered the long range RN diesel T41/61 frigates and USCG Hamilton cutters many times
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