The case for increasing NZDF presence in Afghanistan

datePosted on 16:22, January 13th, 2009 by Pablo

If not already, within the next few weeks NZ will be asked by the US and NATO to increase its NZDF contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan. NZDF are currently serving in their 13th rotation as a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan Province in Central Afghanistan (under US regional command). They also have officers deployed as liaison elements at Bagram Air Force Base, bringing the total to approximately 150. In its contribution to the ISAF mission NZ is comparable with other small states such as Estonia (130), Latvia (70), Albania (120) and Slovakia (130) and Macedonia (140), but falls short of most of the other members of the 41 nation ISAF coalition (Australia, for example, has. 1100 soldiers deployed in that theater). The questions are whether NZ should contribute more troops, in what role, and can it afford to do so both politically and economically? Most progressives would say no to all three. I beg to differ.

The answers should be yes, combat and combat support as well as PRT and yes. The reason is that rather than a (neo) imperialist intervention, the mission in Afghanistan is a multinational nation-building effort in the wake of state failure. That state failure was brought about by the medieval theocratic Taliban regime, whose record on human rights and support for external terrorism made it arguably the most oppressive regime of the late 20th century.  Under the “responsibility to protect” doctrine elaborated by the UN in the wake of Rwandan and Serbian ethnic cleansing in the 1990s, the international community has a duty to protect populations from the depredations of their rulers as well as from others. As a supporter of the UN mandate, NZ subscribes to this philosophy. It is thus obligated to be involved in Afghanistan and the NZ progressive community should welcome its involvement.

But, due to command failures in theater, Pakistan’s reluctance to fully cooperate in the anti-Taliban efforts and the fighting prowess and determination of the Taliban themselves, ISAF finds itself increasingly on the defensive against a resurgent Taliban. The corruption of the UN-backed Karzai government in Kabul does not help the situation, nor does the fact that the Taliban have re-established ties with the flourishing opium industry in the southeastern parts of the country (an industry that of course feeds Western consumers). In other words, the Afghan security situation is getting worse rather than better. It is only a matter of time before NZDF personnel are killed or seriously wounded in a Taliban attack (they have been targeted already). The US has increased the number of its troops and has asked its coalition partners to do the same. NZ needs to make a decision on that request.

From a progressive perspective, the fight against the Taliban is just. Their retrograde perspective condemns those who live under their rule to primitive lives of limited opportunity and fear. Needless to say, the Taleban oppress wimin, but so do they ethnic minorities, non-Muslims, and males who exhibit “softness” of character (who are often the subjects of sexual predation). In sum: the Taliban are a human scourge. Allowing them to restore their presence in any part of Afghanistan will encourage them to do the same in the tribal homelands in Pakistan (as indeed is occurring at the moment). Destabilisation of Pakistan, now ongoing, will lead to larger regional conflict, not just with respect to India, but in a number of other Central Asian republics grappling with Islamicist irredentism. That can not be allowed to happen because the implications of a wider conflict are perilous for international stability. Thus, contrary to those who see the ISAF mission is an imperialist venture that suppresses the will of the Afghan people, it can better be seen as a make-or-break nation-building and international stabilisation effort against a formidable adversary hell-bent on returning those who live under its rule to the 15th century whether they want to or not. Thus even the pacifist Left needs to support the ISAF effort on “lesser evil” grounds. It may be uncomfortable for them and other elements of the anti-imperialist Left to do so, but it is the morally correct thing to do given the alternative.

In light of this, New Zealand has to start walking the walk. It can no longer simply engage in reconstruction roles while the bulk of combat duties are carried out by troops from other countries. It needs to complement the Bamyan PRT with a restored combat contingent able and willing to help take the fight back to the Taliban. It has the capability to do so. Failure to act makes NZ appear unwilling to fully commit to its international obligations in this UN-mandated, NATO mission, which raises questions about its political character and fighting spirit. The question is whether, given local political and economic conditions, can the NZDF step up its Afghan operations?

The answer is yes, in a limited capacity. If NZ commits to restoring its combat element in Afghanistan (The NZSAS were withdrawn in 2005), most of the logistics in getting them in theater will be picked up by other allies. One third of the NZSAS are on active-ready alert in any event, and can be deployed within 48 hours (if they have not covertly been already). Other Army units have the capacity to engage in effective combat support, if not frontline combat itself. The expenditures involved have already been budgeted or will only be a marginal increase over current operational costs (with the total GDP spent on national defense being less than 0.9%).

The real issue is whether the NZ public can stomach the possibility of Kiwi combat losses in such a far-away place. The tradition of foreign military service for Crown and traditional allies has been lost (one might say rightfully so), but so has the sense of responsibility and sacrifice in pursuit of a higher (and distant) good. The narcissism of recent generations–in large part pushed by the rise of market driven logics that justify individual self-gratification at the expense of self-limitation in pursuit of the commonweal–has also become a political trait, as evident in the most recent election. Hence, while Mr. Key’s inclination will be to reflexively accede to requests for more NZ troops in Afghanistan, the issue is whether the public cares enough, or is willing enough, to support what is, in my mind, a fight worth fighting.

For progressives the issue should be not so much as to whether to support the increase and expansion of the NZDF commitment to ISAF, but to demand clear and concise guidelines for the commitment of troops (to include delineation of rules of engagement, chains of command and time limits on deployments). Otherwise the National government could well agree to deployment terms and conditions that are inimical to the NZDF’s ethical and operational integrity. That is what needs to be debated.

31 Responses to “The case for increasing NZDF presence in Afghanistan”

  1. Should we do more in Afghanistan? | Kiwiblog on January 13th, 2009 at 18:20

    […] Pablo at Kiwipolitico makes the case for an increased NZ Defence Force presence in Afghanistan: The questions are whether NZ should contribute more troops, in what role, and can it afford to do so both politically and economically? Most progressives would say no to all three. I beg to differ. The answers should be yes, combat and combat support as well as PRT and yes. The reason is that rather than a (neo) imperialist intervention, the mission in Afghanistan is a multinational nation-building effort in the wake of state failure. That state failure was brought about by the medieval theocratic Taliban regime, whose record on human rights and support for external terrorism made it arguably the most oppressive regime of the late 20th century.  Under the “responsibility to protect” doctrine elaborated by the UN in the wake of Rwandan and Serbian ethnic cleansing in the 1990s, the international community has a duty to protect populations from the depredations of their rulers as well as from others. As a supporter of the UN mandate, NZ subscribes to this philosophy. It is thus obligated to be involved in Afghanistan and the NZ progressive community should welcome its involvement. […]

  2. Oliver on January 13th, 2009 at 18:40

    You take an interesting stance and I agree with you whole-heartedly.

    There are dificulties for NZ in taking a combat role in afghanistan. The small size of our Defence Forces mean that we can not sustainably deploy significant forces and maintain proper training and rest periods for long. So to look at some our options:

    Army
    1) SAS – probably the best option. Extremely competent and highly regarded. They have proved have proved themselves to be effective in Afghanistan already.

    2) Infantry – The army are already challenged in maintaining current deployments in Timor Leste, the Solomon Islands, the Sinai, Sth Lebanon, Sudan and Sth Korea.

    Until the Timor deployments ends or is reduced he Infantry will not be in a position to deploy more than one or two platoons ona continuing basis.

    3) Artillery – The NZ army employs L119 105mm Light Guns. These weapons are operating well in Afghanistan with the British. Again the small size of our artillery mitigates against large deployments but we should be able to maintain a battery in Afghanistan for some time.

    4) Armour – The LAV is essentially an armoured personel carrier so would be deployed with any infantry.

    Air Force
    1) Helicopters – The Iriquos is simply not upto operating in Afghanistan. RNZAF helicopter operations in Afghanistan will not be realistic until the NH90 comes on line.

  3. Pablo on January 13th, 2009 at 20:23

    Oliver:

    I agree that some troop redeployments would have to occur before a significant combat contribution could be made (beyond the NZSAS). A lot of the NZ peacekeeping presence in places like So. Lebanon are more symbolic than effective, and in places like South Korea they may be superfluous (with no disrespect to those who serve there). I agree that the current chopper fleet is not up to the task, and have my doubts that the LAVs will be either (although that in large part depends on the terrain in which they are deployed).

    I have to groan at those who think that the ISAF mission is a “US” mission that merely is a continuation of the post-9/11 attack (which was authorised by the UN) on the Taliban. The US gave up operational command to NATO several years ago, and while it provides the bulk of the combat force, the ISAF mission has evolved considerably since those early days. The fact that 41 countries, including liberal societies such as the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Italy, have contributed over 1000 troops each to ISAF demonstrates that this is not just about the purported US interest in running a natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan on its way to the Indian Ocean. It is about confronting, and defeating, a nasty authoritarian movement fueled by a xenophobic and murderous ideology that is threatening to destablise a broad swathe of south central Asia.

    That is also why those who say that NZ has no dog in that fight are wrong. The fight against the Taleban is a fight against evil much as the fight against the Axis was, and as a vocal proponent of UN-led multilateral military missions, NZ can do no other than front to the fight. That is why I believe that it is worth progressive support, as it reaffirms NZ’s pro-UN stance and commitment to the defense of universal human rights.

  4. Oliver on January 13th, 2009 at 20:30

    The LAVs have certainly saved a lot of Canadian lives in Afghanistan. Thinking some more there may be a role for the LAVs to operate with the British in Afghanistan.

    I agree that the ISAF mission is extremly important. Failed states cause all manner trouble to the world, no matter how far away from them we are we still get affected. That goes as much for opium or terrorists in afghanistan to pirates in Somalia.

  5. Lawrence on January 13th, 2009 at 20:40

    Great post, New Zealand and the whole developed world should be doing more to eradicate the Taliban. But the question remains would any kiwi politician have the courage to commit New Zealand troops to a war. Remember Helen Clark’s hysterical “John Key would have killed 60 soldiers” claim from the election campaign. Phil Goff is very different of course and his family has already given blood in this cause. It would have to be bipartisan decision with Keith Locke left to wring his hands on the sideline.

  6. millsy on January 13th, 2009 at 20:50

    “The fight against the Taleban is a fight against evil much as the fight against the Axis was”

    Can you please explain to me how a reclusive bunch of one eyed bearded goat-herds armed with AK47s and RPGs compares with the 3 of the most industrialised militarized, richest economies of the 1930’s and 40’s?

  7. Pascal's bookie on January 13th, 2009 at 21:05

    Pablo, I’m not yet convinced, but not opposed on principle. The following is devil’s advocate stuff as much as anything.

    The Taliban are certainly a scourge and a destabilising influence regionally. However, we need to know whether western forces can be an effective stabilising counter to them. Why will they not simply be seen as the occupiers that Taliban propaganda will certainly portray them as?

    In many ways I fear the horse has bolted. Why did the Karzai turn out to be a disappointment? Partly I suspect because they were not given the financial support the west pledged after the initial invasion. They are not more likely to see those funds start flowing now. Things being what they are.

    The fact that the Taliban are resurgent, tells us that they have increasing support. We need to know why that is and whether more western forces and kinetic operations will be actually changing that support in our favour.

    Re the opium trade, I think that whatever we do, we need to be innovative. Destroying these crops is incredibly counter productive and drives the locals into the arms of the enemy. Is medical morphine still made from the same crop? Could that be an option as a new market? Should we try and outbid the taliban and then just burn the opium. Could be cheaper in the long run.

    Most importantly we need to know what the primary mission is. Is it to destroy the Taliban? Is it to support the Karzai government, whether the locals want us to or not? Or something else? How will we know what success looks like?

    The potential outcomes of leaving things as they are suck. For sure. But an escalation that fails could well be much worse. Will we need to be doing operations in Pakistan? How much priority should be placed on Bin Laden and co?

  8. Michael Stevens on January 13th, 2009 at 21:20

    Your description of the Taliban is accurate with regards to their attitudes and beliefs.

    Unfortunately they are not alone – Hamas are not that dissimilar in their form of Islam and their hoped for style of state.

  9. Neil on January 13th, 2009 at 21:25

    “It can no longer simply engage in reconstruction roles while the bulk of combat duties are carried out by troops from other countries.”

    I think that that’s Obama’s position. The US should not be left playing the role and paying the price of being policeman while everyone else is able to do the warm fuzzies cost free.

    I think that with Obama in the WH that argument will have a lot of merit with many progressives.

  10. Quoth the Raven on January 13th, 2009 at 21:43

    I have many misgivings – possibly I’m part of the pacifist left. You said That state failure was brought about by the medieval theocratic Taliban regime, whose record on human rights and support for external terrorism made it arguably the most oppressive regime of the late 20th century. One could quite easily say much the same for the Karzai government (except the support for external terrorism). The Karzai government is theocratic e.g, 20 years imprisonment for looking up information about women’s rights on the internet, the Karzai government also has a bad record on human rights – secret prisons, torture &c, as does, quite obviously, the U.S. And our friends the Northern Alliance are nothing but gangsters who kidnap and extort people. Of course there is no such thing as freedom of the press in Afghanistan. Corruption is rampant. So maybe the lesser evil, but worth figting for? I don’t know. Also it should be pointed out that the resistance in Afghanistan are simply not just the Taliban. It is factional tribalism and opium traffickers who are also responsible for violence. The Taliben, it should be pointed out, are not some homogenous entity they’re a pastiche of different groups. There’s never only two sides to a war. Richard Seymour has a different view of nation building:
    The strategy of creating impotent representative institutions as a facade for a highly patronised, tyrannical and undemocratic state has been commented on here before, so I simply want to go into some of the specifics of ‘nation-building’ in Afghanistan. Dispensing with glittering generalities, one finds that the policy of the occupiers was to create a weak central state and a strong network of war lords and police chiefs. Ismail Khan, one of the former anti-Soviet leaders and a Northern Alliance chief, was in possession of a 30,000 strong army in 2002, more than the entire Afghan National Army at the time. Rashid Dostum, responsible for several atrocities, not least the mass murder of thousands of ‘Taliban’ captives in 2001-2 under the watchful eye of US Special Forces, was rewarded with the post of deputy defense minister (and is now the National Army chief of staff, appointed by Karzai). He retained control of the central northern provinces, while General Mohammed Daud controlled the north-east (he is now the deputy Interior Minister). Commander Gul Agha Sherzai controlled the southern provinces until Yusuf Pashtun took over in 2003, although he remains in charge of Kandahar and now has a post in central government. The police chiefs who suppress the population for the occupiers include men like Jamil Jumbish, “implicated in murder, torture, intimidation, bribery and interfering with investigations into misconduct by officers directly under his control” according to Human Rights Watch.

    So I don’t know the answers. I despair of war.

  11. Anita on January 13th, 2009 at 21:46

    Michael Stevens,

    Your description of the Taliban is accurate with regards to their attitudes and beliefs.

    Unfortunately they are not alone – Hamas are not that dissimilar in their form of Islam and their hoped for style of state.

    In what ways are Hamas similar to the Taleban? They’re both Sunni (like 85% of Islam) and the US doesn’t like either of them, but what else?

  12. Pascal's bookie on January 13th, 2009 at 21:51

    QtR reminded me of another point (thanks); the Taliban weren’t the cause of Afghanistan being a failed state.

    They were the beneficiaries of it.

    The growth of the Taliban came about as a reaction to the fact that there was no state, just a bunch of competing warlords vying for supremacy. The Islamic schools were one of the few institutions left standing and came complete with an explanation for the country’s problems (not being Islamic enough) and a solution that resonated with the locals (sharia).

  13. Pablo on January 13th, 2009 at 22:59

    Thanks all, for some excellent commentary. The problems of Afghanistan may well be intractable and NZ may have political and operational difficulties in expanding its ISAF role. But it is worth debating.

    I disagree that Afganistan was a failed state pre-Taleban (at least of one goes back 15 years prior to Taleban rule). It was not a good state by any means but it did have a Communist government/Soviet ally-proxy in the late 1970s that had some success in instituting secular beliefs and socio-economic stability in major commercial centres while it slowly sought to extend its influence into the tribal hinterlands. It was its US and Pakistan-backed overthrow that precipitated the Soviet invasion, which elicited US support for the Taleban as an armed opposition resistance force (including military and para-military training and equipment). In other words, frontline Cold War security politics have now come home to roost, but it is no longer a matter for the US alone to resolve. It is now an international problem, hence the question about NZ’s role.

    One has to wonder why the Russians are not involved in the ISAF mission against their old enemies. Do they fear NATO more or are they still licking their Taleban-inflicted wounds? However, that is the subject of another thread…

  14. Jafapete on January 14th, 2009 at 05:40

    Pablo, A little off-track, but CNN running live stream of Clinton’s confirmation hearing, and it is gripping stuff. http://www.cnn.com/video/flashLive/live.html?stream=stream3
    I haven’t seen much on Afghanistan yet, but her answer on getting back into the business of reducing the proliferation of WMDs had Richard Lugar–the acceptable face of the GOP–grinning from ear to ear. Authorative, detailed, sensible, balanced. She has the potential to be the best SoS ever, and–to get back on track–I’m much happier with NZ contributing to a nation-building exercise in Afghanistan now than I would have been under the outgoing administration.

  15. Phil Sage (sagenz) on January 14th, 2009 at 08:19

    Excellent post Pablo – you really should have started blogging earlier, this blog has rapidly become a must read.

    Hillary is going to use “Smart Power” – a politically correct combination of soft power and hard power. Sounds very blairish.

    The other unstated reason that new Zealand should add further troops to ISAF as well as the moral imperative is the realpolitik jumping on the Obama bandwagon. He has endorsed more troops in Afghanistan so it must be right.

    The only thing I am curious about Pablo is whether you applied your morality to the govt of Saddam & sons. They were equally illegitimate.

  16. zeppo on January 14th, 2009 at 13:31

    Your piece is certainly thought provoking. Rather than a duty to the UN and international obligations, which we are not bound to as a sovereign state, we need to understand what benefits there are to New Zealand becoming further involved. Our army could of course benefit from the experience and training associated with continued deployment, and by assisting the US we are of course gaining a measure of insurance for the future.

    However, there is fundamental resistance to eradicating the Opium cultivation in Afghanistan. While it continues to be produced and sold, the country will never be properly brought under the control of the government, as it continues to fund independence and resistance. Therefore, once Afghanistan become less geo-politically important, it will simply revert back to what it was prior to intervention.

    I think that while New Zealand has made an invaluable contribution, as a small industrial country we should not be carrying a burden that other more localized states are avoiding. Weapons are reportedly being smuggled in from Iran, and like you suggest, Pakistan is not doing as much as it can to intervene. At some stage we have to stand up and say that as an international actor we are very active, but the costs to us out weight the benefits.

    The Pacific would benefit more substantially from our proactive engagement, especially throughout Melanesia, where we have definitive security goals and are subject to the insecurity and instability that is present. A conflict, such as the Bougainville civil, is far more deserving of our attention.

  17. Pablo on January 14th, 2009 at 15:37

    Thanks again everyone. Your commentary is reasoned and insightful.

    I agree that currently the NZDF has limited capacity to expand its operations in Afghanistan (beyond the SAS) and that the lower western Pacific basin should be a priority area. However, my purpose in writing the post was to help generate some debate about our strategic priorities and how to engage them (from a centre-left perspective). On that score I would argue that Afghanistan and Pakistan are the central fronts in the struggle between civilised secularism and an expansionist, retrograde armed theological authoritarianism (understanding that I do not have much regard for any organised religion but see this particular struggle in modern geostrategic terms). My support for an expanded NZDF role takes into account the obvious failures of the Karzai (and Pakistani) regimes, the issues of opium trading, and the grave command failures in theater. I am aware of Afghanistan’s local history and record vis a vis foreign occupiers. I understand the need for more carrots (hearts and minds operations) and less sticks (kinetic operations), and the extreme difficulties of winning over the support of a hostile local population by foreign occupying troops when traditional power structures are opposed to that (my take on hearts and minds is most informed by Mao in his “On Protracted War,” especially his sections on the non-combat roles of the People’s Popular Army–but even then he was working with co-nationals).

    That is why I see this as a make or break conflict, and therefore crucial to international peace and security. NZ has a strategic interest in seeing the ISAF mission succeed, even if the solution set is far from ideal.

    Although the danger of failed states and low intensity conflicts in the southwestern Pacific basin are clear, as is the regional expansion of Chinese influence and power (both hard and soft), the gravest threat to the international community is in south central Asia. Thus the need to direct resources towards that conflict as a priority over others. It is a hard choice for resource-strapped countries like NZ, but it has to be done because the stakes are so high. Thus smart decisions need to be made about how to prioritise amongst competing strategic necessities.

    That brings up my other (implicit) point: we need to have a robust debate on NZ defense expenditures and force configuration in light of current and future projected strategic realities. One of those realities is that the demand for multinational armed intervention in Low Intensity Conflicts will increase in the near future, be it for conflict resolution, peacekeeping or nation-building purposes. The NZDF has, and can enlarge its mix of combat and non-combat roles in such scenarios IF the government and public agree to increase expenditures on externally-oriented defense requirements (I am opposed to large increases in internal security budgets because I do not think that they are warranted). But that implies a public discussion of NZ’s role–specifically its armed role–in the international community. Hence my post, with the ensuing discussion here and elsewhere providing a good first start in raising the issue in the public domain, keeping in mind that politicians tend to follow rather than lead such public discussions.

  18. Anita on January 14th, 2009 at 16:16

    Pablo,

    Will continued military intervention in Afghanistan make the difference that needs to be made?

    One of my big concerns with the current plan is that I just can’t see it working. The presence of large very foreign military forces seems so likely to strengthen the government’s opponents (Taleban and other).

  19. Imperfect but far better than the alternative…

    Pablo’s post on the case for increasing our military involvement in Afghanistan. Pablo argues the military involvement there is justified by reference to liberal, democratic values and the UN’s new concept of ‘responsibility to protect’. Being …

  20. Pablo on January 14th, 2009 at 17:28

    Anita:
    It is not so much the presence of foreign troops as it is the way in which the conduct their operations. The ISAF Western Regional Command, recently led by a Spaniard, has had relatively good success even though it is flush against the Iranian border (or perhaps because of it). It would appear that it is in the US and UK-commanded areas where things have gone sour. That may be do to the over-emphasis on kinetic operations using stand-off weapons because of the lack of troops on the ground in the face of increased Taleban incursions emanating from the Pakistani tribal areas. That has been the main cause of civilian casualties and shift of support to the Taleban.

    One of the reasons I think that the NZDF can expand its contribution is that it has a good track record of doing non-combat “hearts and minds” operations (such as with the Bamyan PRT), but also has a good combat force in the form of the NZSAS. Adding the latter, or contributing an artillery battery, requires relatively few troops but can have a significant impact if discretely applied. The main thrust of NZDF operations can remain focused on peacekeeping and nation-building.

    The point being that it is not just the size of the force being used that matters–it is the way in which it is used. It is here where I believe NZ has something to contribute.

  21. Richard Hurst on January 14th, 2009 at 19:23

    The Afghans do not need yet another armed force deployed purely for combat. They have enough already from the worlds superpowers. Bullets and missiles cannot defeat ideas, they cannot defeat ideologies like that of the jihadists.
    Only if people can see a material improvement in their lives under the new govt and state will they feel an allegiance to it and a willingness to reject the jihadist alternative.

    By an improvement in their lives I mean the projects undertaken by the NZ Provincial Reconstruction team funded by the NZ taxpayer such as:

    The completion of 20 new village wells.
    The building and opening of five new police stations
    The building of five new flood protection walls.
    Supplying and setting up new generators for Bamyan Hospital and University.
    Supplying and instructing in the use of defibrillators to Bamyan hospital.
    The repair and building of various key bridges and roads in the Banyan region to ensure a reliable delivery of aid, access to medical services and transport links with the rest of Afghanistan.
    Building a new ward and supplying additional surgical equipment to Bamyan Hospital.
    Construction and opening of Bamyan boys school.
    Setting up water reticulation schemes.
    Providing advise and basic items like office furniture, stationary etc to the new regional administration.

    The list goes on and on. These are the projects, items and actions which will in the long term defeat jihadism and the things which allow it to grow: poverty, lack of education and despair.
    The Afghans don’t need more men with guns. They need more hope. The NZ Army is doing that. Leave them to it.

  22. Anita on January 14th, 2009 at 20:14

    Pablo,

    One of the reasons I think that the NZDF can expand its contribution is that it has a good track record of doing non-combat “hearts and minds” operations (such as with the Bamyan PRT), but also has a good combat force in the form of the NZSAS. Adding the latter, or contributing an artillery battery, requires relatively few troops but can have a significant impact if discretely applied.

    What would you see the SAS doing that wouldn’t undermine the kinds of “hearts and minds” approach that NZ has been doing in Bamyan? I can see some value in having troops to ensure that the PRT is safe and the locals they’re working with are safe. But is that what they’d be doing?

  23. reid on January 14th, 2009 at 21:05

    NZ does have a good track record of doing hearts and minds as does the UK and the other commonwealth countries. It’s in our blood, as they say.

    The problem is, if Nato’s in charge, the commonwealth countries aren’t.

    I quite agree Pablo that NZ needs to pull more weight and indeed I believe we need to pull as much weight as we reasonably can in these straightened economic circumstances, to make up for lost time since 1984 when we abrogated our international responsibilities and dropped the yoke of righteous obligation which forced other nations to assume those responsibilities that really were ours. In other words, we’ve been shirking for all that time. That may or may not be your view but it is mine.

    However while I believe in obligation I also believe in effectiveness and that is really the key here: what is the most effective ‘bang-for-buck.’ NZers can be quite effective in extracting that, but only if we’re allowed to play the game our way. Our way is not the Nato way.

    Because we’re so small, in addition to the military solutions offered above, I’d also like to see significant resources thrown into Afghanistan from MFAT, SIS, Crown Minerals, Treasury, MED and other state agencies capable of educating the Afghans in nation building.

    I think there’s a lot of value we can offer beyond bricks and mortar, that will go a long way, on the principle of teach a man to fish. We just don’t have the resources to make a significant difference, using only the military.

  24. reid on January 14th, 2009 at 21:55

    Anita, why would you want to confine some of the most elite troops in the world to guard duty? Is that a good use of resources?

    Don’t you think there are many genuine bad guys in Afghanistan that really won’t respond to anything other than the sort of treatment that only the special forces can met out?

    Why would doing that undermine the hearts and minds campaign? They are two separate campaigns, aimed at entirely different customers.

  25. Pablo on January 14th, 2009 at 23:55

    Friends: This will be my last comment on the issue as classes just started here and I have professional writing to deal with. Let me end with this:

    Reid is right in his assessment that NZ needs to be creative and bring more to the table, as in MFAT, etc. (I would keep the SIS out of it not only because such operations is outside of its purview or capabilities–do we really think that the SIS has specialists in Afghani politics and society?– but because it continues to demonstrate a lack of professional development that would be embarrassing to reveal to outsiders).

    That is because the strategy in Afghanistan needs to be two-pronged, each strand run in parallel: One prong is the military counter-offensive against the Taleban. As most revolutionary socialists understand, intractable retrogrades need to be removed from the equation before the political solution can be found. This ISAF effort in Afghanistan could, if successful, be revolutionary for Afghans, let there be no doubt about that. Whether the outcome is socialist is less important than that the domestic sources of oppression be liquidated. Even if that leaves residual vestiges of primordial irrationality (religion and tribalism), it is a step forward. The NZSAS has a role to play on this front, which is to remove the armed strength of the primordial oppressors. They may be fulfilling that role already, and if so, that should be welcomed.

    But for a better Afghan future (said in modernist terms) to happen, there needs to be a comprehensive UN led nation-building effort in the country, and that goes far beyond the ISAF mission. The beginnings of that project are already in place, but there is need for greater international commitment to the cause. NZ can play a greate role there as well.

    To which I say again: where are the Russians in this? Surely they are not so weak that they cannot afford to look beyond their immediate borders to see what the withdrawal of ISAF and return of the Taliban mean for Central Asia as a whole, and by proximinal implication, themselves?

    Enough for now. Thanks for the discussion.

  26. Rich on January 15th, 2009 at 12:03

    It’s colonialism, pure and simple.

    The Afghans would no doubt be better off with a liberal democratic government. So indeed would many states in the developing world. But it’s for them to make their own way, not for the West to impose its values by military force.

    New Zealand’s defence policy should be based primarily on the defence of these islands, not supporting the colonial adventures of the US.

  27. Anita on January 16th, 2009 at 09:42

    I heard this this morning and thought of this post. Interesting to hear the UK demanding Europe pull its weight, I’m guessing there will be very similar rhetoric from other voices directed at the rest of the world very soon.

  28. Rich on January 16th, 2009 at 10:10

    “demanding”? I’m not sure what the UK’s collateral is for that demand?

    The UK needs the rest of Europe economically a lot more than Europe needs them. Foreign military intervention is somewhat unpopular in Western Europe – several governments lost power as a result of their deployment of troops into Iraq, for instance. European nations’ security would probably be better served if NATO reverted to it’s old “tripwire” role of defending the territorial integrity of its members, which it was pretty good at.

    IMHO, of course.

  29. CS30 on January 17th, 2009 at 12:43

    All very interesting but the reality is very different when it comes to sustainability of any further forces deployed into the region. If you are in any doubt, find a service-man or woman and ask them how many deployments they have done to some of these retched places New Zealanders are deployed to.

    Already the Army is at its very limit with the current deployments it supports. And frankly there is nothing that could be done in the short term to change this bar withdrawing from the mess that we know as East Timor.

    Lets briefly consider the merits of that though. 10 years later and there has been almost no progress in that country despite the millions New Zealand has poured into it via numerous deployments and monetary aide, let alone the billions poured in by others. And lets not get started on the staggering amount of money Timor has earned from oil and gas but still refuses to do anything with except bank !

    My point is this – regardless of your opinion on the suitability and role of deploying the LAV, or for that matter the SAS again, it is simply not sustainable in any measure unless something else gives. And for those who believe a Defence budgetary increase in this current fiscal environment is realistic, you are misguided. There are far greater priorities here in New Zealand even if the money was available.

    Anyway, aside from the fact the it takes a considerable number of years to grow additional units that are capable of undertaking missions abroad, let me repeat myself, the money is just not going to be available.

    Finally, it all sounds very noble to call for an increased commitment to somewehre like Afghanistan, but to do so from the quite comfort of your computer when it is someone else that will actually have to undertake that difficult task, well there is a word that sums people like that up quite well. I will leave it to your imagination. If I come across as being disdainful of arm chair warriors – I make no apologies.

    Leave calls for increasing operational commitments to people who know what they are talking about.

  30. Pablo on January 17th, 2009 at 15:55

    CS30: You are best advised to read the entire post and commentary before you start casting personal aspersions. Your concerns have already been noted at length in the thread.

  31. […] in this dangerous game. I have already posted here on the subject (see the Archive, especially here and here), and in recent days have tried to explicate further in the dedicated comments threads in […]

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