Friday 26 June 2015

The Kindness Of Friends

Who? How? and With What? The Defence White Paper currently being drafted will attempt to answer the most basic questions about New Zealand's military posture. Who should do our fighting? How should they fight? What sort of weapons should they use? And, how much are we willing to pay? Historically, that last question has been crucial.
RIGHT NOW a hand-picked group of worthy citizens are hard at work spending $26 million of our money. They are doing so at the behest of the Prime Minister, John Key, who decided, a few years back, that what New Zealand really needed was a new flag. At the same time, but a lot further back in the decision-making machinery of state, a diverse collection of top-ranking military officers, senior bureaucrats and politicians are engaged in producing the 2015 Defence White Paper. As part of the flag-changing exercise, New Zealanders are being asked what they stand for. The much lower-key consultative exercise for the Defence White Paper needs to know what they’ll fight for – and how.
It’s a great shame that the same quantum of resources currently being poured into the flag-changing exercise have not been devoted to determining what goes into the Defence White Paper. Certainly a country’s flag is (or should be) a powerful symbol of national identity. As many old soldiers are quick to remind us, it’s the object under which tens-of-thousands of young New Zealanders marched off to war in 1939. And it’s still the object we drape over the caskets of the fallen as we pipe them off our ageing Hercules transport aircraft and into the care of their grieving families. It would, however, be foolish to equate the symbolism of war with war itself. Deciding how our nation should be defended, and by whom, is surely as worthy of intense public debate as the colour of the flag they fight under?
A Government “White Paper” is, as its name suggests, an attempt to come at important public policy from first principles. It should be a statement of fundamental intent: the starting point from which we collectively determine to set forth. What then, are the first principles of a New Zealand strategy for national defence?
The first big question to ask must surely be: Who will defend us?
This is not as naïve as it sounds, because if your answer to that first question is: “a defence force made up of New Zealanders”, then you’re immediately faced with a whole host of other questions. Should that defence force be large and conscripted, or small and professional? Should it operate on the assumption that New Zealand will be fighting its enemies alone, or as part of coalitions of allied forces? And, if it’s the latter, then how much of our national sovereignty are we willing to forfeit in return for the military assistance of larger, richer and more militarily formidable nation states?
The second big question to answer is: How shall we fight?
Should we attempt to equip ourselves with the most sophisticated and effective military technology in order to repel enemies attacking us from any quarter – land, sea or air? Or, should we build military proficiency in only a limited number of areas, relying, once again, on more powerful allies to supply the full array of military options?
The acquisition of full-spectrum military capability would entail the reconstitution of the RNZAF’s fighter-bomber squadrons, along with medium- and short-range surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles, a submarine force and naval vessels at least equal to the task of apprehending Patagonian Tooth-Fishers.
The other alternative is to build a resistance-style defence force, based upon a universal people’s militia, ferociously schooled in the strategy and tactics of twenty-first century asymmetric warfare.
The latter option would be by far the cheapest option – a not unimportant consideration. Indeed, the third big question is: How much are we willing to pay?
The answer, historically, is “not very much”. Certainly, a defence force capable of defending New Zealand unaided, using conventional military weapons, would be eye-wateringly expensive. Taxes would rise and our welfare state would shrink. In the absence of a slavering, swivel-eyed existential threat, it is, therefore, very difficult to see the average Kiwi voter ponying-up for a Swiss or Israeli-style defence force. Equally unlikely is the prospect of New Zealanders suddenly becoming the South Pacific’s answer to the Viet Cong or Islamic State.
All of which leaves us in the position of Blanche DuBois in Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Blanche relied upon “the kindness of strangers”, New Zealand’s security depends on the kindness of her “friends”.
Bluntly speaking: once a colony, always a colony – with or without a new flag.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 26 June 2015.


Nick said...

Love the comment once a colony always a colony. Seems the only way to gain sovereignty is to have the imperial power decide that it no longer gets any gain for the cost of imposing its will in a colony.

My take is that the only way that the current imperial (financial / military / intelligence) interests in NZ are likely to leave is if their own economies collapse or they suffer catastrophic military defeat.

That said you have to ask the question who we are going to be defended from next?

Wayne Mapp said...


As a member of the Defence Review Advisory Panel, I hope this item generates a few comments. i will advise the other members of this item.

However, there are more options than the there that you have postulated. Australia for instance tries to do the option of self sufficiency, even though they are a member of ANZUS and one of the United States closest allies.

In large measure New Zealand considers the risk of direct threat as very small. So our defense force is more about dealing with more likely contingencies in the South Pacific, and making modest but useful contributions elsewhere.

I have said elsewhere that New Zealand could take the Chilean option. This would mean hardly more of a defense force than we already have, but most probably doing much less internationally, or if we did so, it would almost always be as "blue hatters" in a UN force. I am not sure that New Zealanders would want several hundred people drawn into the numerous civil wars in Africa (though I imagine some would say that is already what we do in the Middle East).

The reality is we have a choice, we can either decide to be an active part of the "west", or we can choose not to be. I guess in your case you prefer not.

Your closing line might be cute, but I suggest that if you said to the countries formerly in the Warsaw Pact, but now in NATO, that they are colonies of the US, they would take rather large issue about that.

More important than the reflexive anti-US view typical of many on the Left, is what the Defence Review says about China and South-East Asia. A serious comment on that would be worth hearing about.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

We clung to Britain for years. They basically told us they couldn't defend us in World War II. But it still took us a good 20 years or so to completely let go of their skirt hem and clutch on to the American. It'll probably take at least as long to escape their clutches. Who knows where we'll go next if anywhere.

greywarbler said...

Our friends. Australia getting more fascist every day, and which has already scrubbed our previous mutual friendly social welfare arrangements on some phony excuse. Nauru is being stripped of its policies of progress, under the influence of a wealthy, demanding Australia. We are also, for various reasons of political preference and power, and prevailing ideology, of humane policies and systems.

The USA is invading with Roman enthusiasm. They don't even meet hand to hand in 'noble' warrior fashion, but play computer games with real people. Britain seems now a fair-weather friend. They and the USA will probably start exporting their convicts here soon, as with Nauru. That would be a business opportunity now that opportunities for business here have been stifled by our politicians opening our ports to the free market. We can't afford to decide our friends.

But we won't have to worry about which country we consider as friends if we join TPPA. The other countries in that document will just walk into the country and carry out projects enriching themselves, and our feelings of friendship or not will carry no weight. An island adrift on the sea, we will be possessed by whoever comes to salvage us. Do we have any real say as citizens or even as leaders and politicians in who we support. How do we balance our commitments to China and those required by our western 'friends'?

Robert M said...

In reply to Wayne Mapp it is difficult to see why Chile has a powerful conventional naval force, as Argentina hardly constitutes a possible enemy. Although in some ways Chile is an interesting case as it maintain a pretty high tech blue water Navy and the Chilean new right neo fascist, neo liberal settings under Pinochet has been maintained much more than the Argentines and Sebian attempts at the same model.
I would see the main role for the NZ forces as a civil defence backup for the Police and Civil Services and secondly as a South Pacific and Sub Antarctic patrols force.
The sub antarctic could be the site of a future fight for oil and the worlds and asians food source and I have always thought NZ required 6 to 10 advanced OPVs like the Dutch Holland class OPV or the proposed New RN Black Swan Sloops which will be highly automated versions of the Mk 3 River class OPVs the Royal Navy is currently building.
In terms of involvement in Iraq, its a hopeless cause but keeps the army in touch with current doctrine and practice. My own view is the ultimate answer to the likes of Dash and Al Quaeda will be a far more ruthless systematic approach. Isis, the feverent anti abortion movement and the militant religionism of the rural Iranians has the same cause, woman are no longer interested in rural, uneducated and poor men and do not want their children because from those sources they will never finance or get into a good college education. For much the same reason the military mission to Solomon Islands and Timor are the ones I was most opposed to, as their hopeless causes and the decisive victory of one side is probably the only answer which is why I oppose the pro palestine postion of the NZ Government. We should primarily support Israel and the United States.
Stephen Franks argues NZ really only ever contributes, its flag and our forces can not be significant. However the Orions, Leander frigates when new and the Royalist probably did constitute a significant force in the 1960s supporting Britain in the confrontation in 63-66 and the US in the 1960s aiding the defence of Australia and providing rest and recreation for the Carriers Shangri la, Intrepid and America in Wellington port.
Our ability to patrol our own waters and develop a more substantial and numerical Southern Ocean patrol force may be of signficant strategic importance.
I favour raising force entry requirements to an IQ of 107 and prefer higher tech solutions which is why I gave tacit support for the F-16s, revival of that option is not possible now, but it was a crime to sell the Aermacchis and to fit sub standard engines when they were first purchased.
Global warming, shortage of water, overpopulation mean future war is likely in a contest for fuel, space and women.

Nick J said...

Wayne you really don't surprise me that you see a reflexive anti-US view as typical of many on the Left. It would appear to me that an Advisory Committee with a member who sees this issue as a Left v Right, West v rest issue is seriously hamstrung before it even begins. Or perhaps the whole idea is to legitimise a proscribed result? Would it not be a little more intellectually honest to drop the pretence to any sovereignty in decision making? We all know we are part of the "Empire", who would be shocked? Maybe we even prefer this option, who knows unless we have an open and honest debate?

Unknown said...

Our defence force should be merged with Australia to become an Anzac force. Funding should an agreed amount per head of population and our individuality should be preserves by having a NZ Battalion, a NZ helicopter squadron, a NZ transport squadron and so on. Training could be integrated and NZ could have access to fast jet training and other things we are just to small to do on our own. Having a fighter jet squadron makes little sense based in NZ as almost any threat we will face is north of Australia. Having Orion long rage patrols makes sense from NZ. Same as our surface ships, we need to be thinking more about fisheries than defence down here while the Aussies need to be able to react faster.
Retaining our separate entities within a big Anzac force would bring a competitive element that would be positive and the overall command could be rotated to give both countries the same opportunities.
4 million people can never fund a sustainable defence force in terms of having access to the best and brightest equipment but 24 million could. It would be a win win for both countries and our needs will always be pretty closely aligned.

Victor said...

Where's your sense of vision, Chris?

I don't know why you're so worried about the machinery of war, given how Murray McCully's diplomatic genius is about to inaugurate an epoch of universal peace and brotherly love.

One he's sorted the Arab/Israeli conflict, he will no doubt end the fighting in Ukraine, broker an agreement between China and Japan over their disputed islands, solve the global refugee crisis, end the Kashmir dispute and restore peace to Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, ending the Sunni/Shi-ite split in the process. And all by next Thursday afternoon.

He'll probably leave averting Grexit and rescuing the world's economy to Bill English and discovery of a cure for the common cold to Jonathan Coleman. But all of it will be achieved without an airforce and without forcing respectable citizens to play at being Che Guevara/Captain Mainwaring.

Just have a bit of faith in the government New Zealanders have had the wisdom to elect!