Jennifer M Shipley

New Zealand's Strategic Setting - Nov. 25, 2000

Jennifer M Shipley
November 25, 2000
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Historically, the defence of New Zealand used to be something most of us could agree on. Sadly, that's not the case right now.

Over the past year, the starkest contrast imaginable has emerged between how Labour and National consider the ANZAC relationship, and New Zealand's security role in the South West Pacific.

Labour is taking us into uncharted waters. It apparently wants to disconnect us from our friends and allies. Bit by bit, with no public debate, we're edging down a road towards isolationism.

There is now little difference between the Labour approach and the extreme view of the Greens.

It will be impossible to construct any form of bi-partisanship if Labour allows the Green MPs to effectively dictate the stance of New Zealand's defence.

New Zealand would be the loser for that.

It's vital that we understand the consequences of decisions that are now being made. And it's vital that we debate the issues, which is why I am so delighted to be opening this seminar.

The clear implication of Labour's defence decisions is that it wants to disengage New Zealand from serious security co-operation within the region. Note that I just said security co-operation. Labour's acknowledged commitment to regional peace-keeping is not the same thing as a commitment to shouldering our share of security responsibilities in the region.

Let's get it straight. Defence is about protecting New Zealand's territorial integrity, about protecting the lives of New Zealand citizens, about ensuring New Zealand's security in the Asia-Pacific region, and co-operating with our friend and ally Australia, in promoting our mutual security goals.

Peace-keeping, within the so-called Arc of Instability throughout Melanesia and Papua New Guinea or on UN missions farther afield, is indeed about playing our part as a world citizen and as a South Pacific neighbour.

But the Prime Minister protests too much when she constantly affirms that she values the ANZAC relationship. What Labour says and what it does, just don't add up.

It is extraordinary in a maritime region that Labour wants to deny New Zealand maritime surveillance capacity by refusing to refurbish the Orions. In fact Labour won't even say if it will keep the Orions.

On the other hand Labour says it wants to retain a capable peace-keeping army. But as Admiral Blair on his recent visit warned Labour, peace-keeping isn't only about soldiers on jungle patrols. As a technologically advanced nation we are capable of much more including advanced maritime aircraft and frigates, much of which we have actually built.

I hardly need to remind you about National's commitment to peacekeeping. Sending troops to East Timor was one of the hardest, and proudest, decisions I made as Prime Minister.

But National believes defence must also be critically committed to ensuring the security and stability of the region while considering peace-keeping an important part of that task.

Labour offers the ambulance at the bottom of the proverbial cliff. National wants New Zealand to pull its weight to help see that things don't get to that stage.

Labour is engaging in double-talk. Defence does not mean defence in Labour's book. They seem to see defence as a trauma relief service for neighbouring countries in turmoil.

The impact on our defence forces is stark. We now have an "army-only" policy. Labour is not prepared to guarantee that our own defence force will possess even the minimum skills necessary to ensure the security of our own country. Two of those services, the Air Force and the Navy, are being seriously compromised in their capabilities.

The truth is that the Prime Minister has carried her Cold war paranoia with her into the 21st century. She still lives in her world of nasty Americans and misunderstood Soviets. Whenever she's under pressure on the security issue she reverts to the anti-Americanism of her university days.

She would sooner allow New Zealand's defence policy to be formed by the extremists among the Greens, rather than reach out and form a broader consensus on this vital issue.

Helen, no one reads John Le Carr anymore. It's time to enter a new security scene that's been with us 10 years now. And President Clinton has visited Hanoi. The Vietnam War ended a quarter of a century ago.

I repeat, when National talks about defence it means precisely that the security of our own country, of our own borders and of our fellow New Zealanders, of our the Asia-Pacific environment, of our trade-routes and of sharing those burdens with our friend and ally, Australia.

It is true that no power presents a direct threat to New Zealand and Australia. But a sovereign nation does not possess a defence force simply because it has an obvious enemy. If a country just prepared and trained a full defence force only when it can identify a potential aggressor, it would of course be too late.

What we are talking about is maintaining the full range of skills within the New Zealand Defence Force appropriate to New Zealand's circumstances.

Those circumstances are obvious:

  • We live in a vast maritime region and so should be able to perform aerial surveillance and surface patrol of that region.
  • We require an Army highly trained and skilled in its combat role.
  • We require an Air Force that can complement the Air Force of our ANZAC partner Australia.
  • Two of these conditions will not be met by the end of this decade, if Labour has its way.

As the Australian Minister of Defence John Moore said this August:

"We are disappointed by the New Zealand Government's decision to cancel Project Sirius. Australian studies of the project assessed it as good value for New Zealand. Had the project gone in full, the modifications would have greatly increased interoperability with Australian forces."

This was the first time that Australia has criticised New Zealand over defence since the 1980s.

It is sad to see Labour's residual paranoia affecting our relations with nations like Australia and the United States. We share so many values and cultural features with those countries.

The United States has proposed that Australia and New Zealand constructively develop some form of regional security architecture among ourselves, to ensure the stability of our region.

Regional leadership has to be exercised by both Australia and New Zealand to be credible, and for the burdens to be shared. It is unfair and counter-productive for Australia alone to attempt both constructive diplomacy and security management in the region. Canberra's patience would wear thin if Australia always had to carry the more complex and expensive technological ends of the deal.

We must consider some of the realistic contingencies we have to prepare for, even within a peace-keeping role. We must look at what capabilities we need to engage in peace-keeping within our region.

UN peace-keeping experience in trouble spots throughout the world during the 90s tells us that New Zealand Defence Force personnel have been relatively fortunate in the circumstances in which we have engaged in peace-keeping. Peace-keeping in Africa has involved direct combat to secure a region, as the forces of the Economic Community of West African States found out in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

A good soldier makes a good peace-keeper. A peace-keeper does not necessarily make a capable soldier. Peace-keepers who aren't fully trained soldiers capable of working with integrated forces in coalition operations may find themselves bad at both policing and soldiering.

Timor required air cover and a naval presence to secure the area for the occupation by UNAFET. New Zealand contributed frigates to that naval presence. Major General Cosgrove made it clear that he wouldn't have allowed the deployment without naval and air protection. That was prudent since submarines were located, Indonesian fighter aircraft had been brought forward and Indonesian ships were on the margins.

If we don't play a full role, we can expect a gradual disconnection from Canberra. Expecting Australia to give us a free bus-ride in our own region is no way to affirm the ANZAC partnership.

Labour is fond of comparing us to Ireland. Ireland has had a particular doctrine, that may well be suited to its own circumstances. It is that Irish Defence Forces and Irish diplomacy should primarily contribute to the United Nations, as the ultimate guarantor of the sovereignty and integrity of small nations. It is a moral and principled policy that deserves respect.

But NATO has ensured the security of the Atlantic for Ireland for over 50 years now. And NATO still provides security on the European landmass.

New Zealand is in a vastly different situation. We are responsible for a fifth of the collective security of our region. And the Labour Government is playing hard to get with that fifth share.

One does wonder whether the $600 million to be spent on the armoured personnel carriers, excellent vehicles though they are, is an investment to prevent money going on the other services.

One wonders whether the New Zealand Defence Force is being denied the means to participate in broader collective security operations. An excessive expenditure on the new army vehicles can readily be seen as denying our defence force other urgently needed capabilities.

This will be the impact of Labour's decision. The absence of New Zealand from broader coalition operations within the region would also deny us diplomatic leverage with our partner, Australia.

If New Zealand no longer had a first rate army, able to go rapidly to trouble spots, we would still soon find that Labour may well have denied New Zealand the ability to engage with Canberra and Washington.

It is abundantly clear from my recent discussions with American and Australian defence leaders that New Zealand must urgently address these issues.

Continued fluctuation of New Zealand's defence and foreign policies, each time we change governments, is damaging New Zealand's international standing.

We must move forward to an agreed bipartisan position. That means airing the issues fully and honestly.

I urgently call on Helen Clark to re-activate the full strategic review that Labour talked about before the election. Australia has conducted such a review, and is all the stronger for the expert and public contribution to the debate.

If New Zealand embarked on a full, open review of our strategic priorities, we would be taking a huge step towards a genuine bipartisan policy.

And we would win back the confidence of our friends and allies.

National would come to such a review with the clear priorities I have outlined. They're based on true co-operation and inter-operability with Australia.

If Labour won't have that debate, we will. I urge you to engage in a good frank discussion today.

That's a great step forward for New Zealand and New Zealanders.

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