Does New Zealand have a Strategic Culture?

datePosted on 16:28, May 27th, 2010 by Pablo

Given the pacifist tendencies of many KP readers, the question in the title of this post may seem unusual and of little importance. Little attention has been paid by most public media, much less the Left-leaning ones, to the issue of strategic culture both in general and with specific reference to Aotearoa. My interest in the subject has been sparked by my current book project, where I try to analyse the post Cold War security politics of three “peripheral” democracies: Chile, New Zealand and Portugal. Among other things that I have discovered as part of the project, it appears that there be no, or at least different conceptualisations of, a unique kiwi strategic culture. Let me elaborate on both the subject and the specifics of this.

Strategic culture refers to the security perspectives, traditions, institutions and behaviour of a country. Although it has often been confused with it, strategic culture is more than just a military war-fighting tradition. It is more than a diplomatic posture. It encompasses the full array of security concerns, from intelligence-gathering techniques and priorities to trade orientation and diplomatic alliances, that make up the larger framework with which policy-making elites perceive the strategic environment in which they operate.

As an example of one dimension of strategic culture, let us look at the core feature with which it is most often confused: war-fighting tradition. Much has been written about different cultural and national “styles” of warfare, be it, among others, Arab, American, Australian, British, Chinese, German, French, Israeli or Russian.  Some emphasise mass over maneuver, others prefer tactical flexibility to centralisation of command, and still others prefer deception and stealth across ill-defined fronts rather fixed lines of combat in well-demarcated battle spaces. The array of war-fighting styles also extends to unconventional or guerrilla war-fighting—urban guerrilla warfare is not the same as rural insurgency, nor is the ratio of ideological-psychological work to kinetic operations the same in all contexts. Although there is plenty of overlap in all war-fighting styles, each is a unique adaptation, based on terrain, culture, technology, organisational capacity, leadership characteristics and the ethno-religious and national make-up of the fighting forces involved, as well as the ideologies that justify what they are fighting for.

The question thus begs: does NZ have a distinct war-fighting tradition? If so, what are its characteristics? Whatever the answer, that is only part of the picture.

That is because strategic culture involves geopolitical perspectives and geostrategic orientation, institutional morphology and historical practice. Countries with large land masses and multiple borders see things differently than do island states.  Countries with ample resources and robust economies of scale in value-added manufacturing conform their approaches to trade and security differently than resource poor agro-export platforms. Countries with on-going territorial, cultural or political disputes tend to “see” threats differently than those that are not encumbered by such conflicts. Countries governed by authoritarians often perceive things differently than well-established democracies. So do countries with long histories of warfare (internal as well as external) when contrasted against countries with peaceful internal histories and little involvement in foreign wars.

Domestic political dynamics over time, as well as specific histories of military and diplomatic alliances, also impact on the specifics of strategic culture.  The number of variables is larger and more varied than this, but the point should  be clear: strategic culture is a product of national character molded by historical practice, current political dynamics, institutional framework and geopolitical context.

In highly simplified fashion the equation looks like this: strategic culture—> geopolitical orientation—> geostrategic perspective—> threat environment assessment and contingency planning—> security force orientation—> force composition—> force staffing, training and equipment—> force deployment and operations. This includes intelligence and police services as well as the military, because it includes internal and external security roles. The most important thing to note is that strategic culture is the point of departure for all that follows; absent a strategic culture there is little basis for a coherent strategic vision over time , which in turn impacts negatively on all of the other variables arrayed along this particular chain of causality.

Which brings up the point of this post: does NZ have a distinct strategic culture? One of the things that emerged during my discussions with numerous observers during my visit to NZ in February and March was an unspoken consensus that NZ does not have a strategic culture to call its own. This is in part a product of the apparent ad-hoc approach to policy-making I mentioned in a previous post. But it also appears to be rooted in organisational dysfunction and incompetence as well as a dependence on foreign patrons for strategic guidance. Many of the most informed people I spoke with were openly derisive of the competence and vision of the MoD, NZDF and NZSIS leadership, particularly the civilians that ostensibly provide the MoD, NZDF and NZSIS with policy guidance (the name Mark Burton was mentioned more than once as absolute proof  of how ineptitude can still find its way into the upper echelons of security policy-making). Plus, advancement within the security bureaucracies is seen as being tied to toeing both the (incumbent) party line as well as the extant corporate culture, however misinformed or dysfunctional they may be. Thus, even though there are futures forecasting shops in various security agencies, very little is actually forecast that the bosses do not want to hear or read, and most of what is forecast is make-work destined for annual reports rather than designed to serve as a basis for strategic planning over the medium term.

The same accusation has been made of the plethora of security agencies that have emerged since 9/11, which may be in part why the National government has made the decision to convert the External Assessments Bureau into a National Assessments Bureau with oversight authority over the whole lot. But the latter does not indicate a move to develop a defined strategic culture. It is just an attempt to impose some form of managerial rationality on the intelligence-security combine in order to overcome areas of duplication, overlap and turf battles.

There was also the view expressed that when it comes to security, NZ has traditionally looked to Australia, the US and the UK (in the current order) for strategic guidance rather than develop a distinctive strategic culture of its own. This is believed to be a result of NZ dependence on these countries (and others, such as France) for military equipment and training and intelligence flows. But NZ has a distinctive approach to things like nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and peace-keeping, so surely that is reflected in a unique perspective on the external security environment and the role that NZ should play in it. Here again, my supposition that NZ has a distinct way of viewing things from a security perspective was contradicted or dismissed by the knowledgeable interlocutors with whom I spoke. Yet I remain unconvinced that their skepticism is fully warranted. Surely there is an appreciation of the need for a uniquely Kiwi approach to strategic affairs?

Which leaves me with my opening question. I know that Chile and Portugal have distinct strategic cultures that informs the way in which they engage the post-Cold War world on security matters. These distinctive strategic cultures give them coherency and predictability when construing threats, organising their security forces and engaging in security planning. Can we say the same thing for NZ?

25 Responses to “Does New Zealand have a Strategic Culture?”

  1. Phil Sage on May 27th, 2010 at 20:06

    No. Not until we resolve the dysfunction at the heart of the argument over direction. The pacifist left would prefer to exist in blissful benign strategic ignorance at the bottom of the Pacific. National recognise there are no votes in challenging citizens to consider something very much at the margin of their lives.

    New Zealanders can afford to have childish attitudes because there are grown ups looking after the world. We have dined out for decades on the sacrifices of soldiers over fifty years ago. The armed services now do a magnificent job on their limited deployments with limited funding and a disinterested populace.

    The countries with a strategic policy have something closer to fundamental threats to concern them.

    I disagree with your assumption that government has demonstrated competent planning and appreciation.
    “threat assessments—> security force orientation—> force composition—> force staffing, training and equipment—> force deployment and operations. ”

    That would be why counter insurgency doctrine has had to be reformulated in such a hurry in the US. And they are the best prepared and most competent planners.

    You raise excellent questions though

  2. NZ Bloggers Union on May 27th, 2010 at 20:13
  3. Hugh on May 27th, 2010 at 20:48

    If there is a pressure to tow the party line, doesn’t that party line effectively constitute a strategic culture? Your points about incompetence of individuals don’t so much point to a lack of a culture as an inappropriate/short-sighted/unhelpful culture.

    Regarding the big picture, have you read Malcolm McKinnon’s ‘Independence and Foreign Policy’?

  4. Pablo on May 27th, 2010 at 20:58

    Hugh: Yes, I have read the McKinon book and in fact have a refereed journal article coming out in June on NZ post Cold War foreign policy that alludes to his main tenets. “Toeing the party line” is an aspect of bureaucratic or corporate culture, and thus a component of strategic culture, but the latter is not reducible to the former–to the contrary, strategic culture should be able to stand above diachronic partisanship even while being influenced by it over time.

    PhilS: I tend to agree with much of what you said, but I am still a bit loathe to admit that there is no distinctive strategic culture in NZ simply because, as the McKinnon book that Hugh cites points out (as well as plenty of others), NZ has always tried to assert a measure of independence and autonomy in foreign affairs. The question remains, though, has this quest for foreign policy independence and autonomy seeped into the security community, crossed over into the wider policy elite, and thereby congealed into something that constitutes an identifiable national strategic culture.

  5. Richard A on May 27th, 2010 at 21:15

    When I saw the title of this entry I immediately thought ‘no’.
    Having a strategic culture would imply not only cohesive long-term planning, but also some kind of clearly defined threat or problem to plan against. Neither of which is really present in NZ. I’m often reminded of a quote from ‘The Hobbit’ ‘Dragons were comfortably faroff and there fore imaginary’.

    But I guess this is understandable. If you look at a hemisphere map centred on Wellington its almost entirely, with the exception of Australia & Antarctica, ocean. Its easy for some one to make the mistake of thinking that because direct invasion is an unlikely event world events will not affect us and can therefore be ignored. Not to seem like an alarmist, but I have been following events on the Korean Peninsular with some interest given the War that NZ is a party too was never formally ended.

    Does NZ have a dominant Strategy? Wheather we recognise it or not, yes we do. Firstly, NZ never fights home games. If we were to wait for a threat to come to us then we will not have the resources to meet it. Secondly, NZ fights in concert with Allies. With the exception of one ham fisted campaign to conquer Samoa at the outset of the First World War, NZ has always fought in Coalitions. First the British Empire, then Commonwealth, then UN {Korea}, Then ANZUS and nowadays we talk about ABCA. The names change but the members remain the same.

    NZ miltary contributions tend to be army expeditionary forces based around infantry. Ironic really given we are an Island Nation, But I guess we have aways had the assurance of maritime supremacarcy from teh RN and later the USN. Also, I would guess its a way of making a noticable contribution without spending as much money on equipment as maybe the case with airforce or maritime contributions.

    Does NZ have a ‘way of war’. Again I would say yes. The NZDF is consistantly, both currently and historically, characterised as being very good at fire and maneouver, having alot of good junior leader {with a decentralised command style} very good at aggressive patroling of no mans land and an informal approach to training and doctrine {leading to good innovation}.
    However, its not all necessarily good. Historically Expeditionary Forces have been raised in a hurry {ie 18months} which often leads to poor high level leadership and command failings in the first few years. Also, we tend ‘intergrate our logistical systems with those of our allies’ ie steal their stuff.

    Thats my 2c anyway, I’m sure others can add more/tell me I’m completely wrong/full of shite/point out all my typos! :)

    Have you read ‘Born to Lead’ edited by Glynn Harper & Joel Hayward? Its a good read if you are interested in NZ Command/war of war. Also, ‘Myth & Reality’ by Glen Mc…{i forget!} is interesting.

  6. Hugh on May 27th, 2010 at 21:53

    Fair enough Pablo. It’s a while since I read it but it seems to me that what McKinnon called ‘Guam Nationalism’ ammounts to a strategic culture, or at least some pretty major components of it. Of course Guam Nationalism was never accepted throughout the policy-making structure and is pretty much dead in the water outside a very narrow and largely non-renewing slice of the policy-making elite.

    But I think it’s tempting to see the short-sightedness and conflicting opinions, to say nothing of variously levels of personal incompetence, within the NZ security elite and conflate it with a lack of strategic culture. But I guess what I feel is missing is a comparative element. Certainly all the phenomena you’ve drawn attention to exist, but I would need to see they were notably weak in comparison to almost every other country.

    Perhaps the question is, is even having a strategic culture the norm, or is New Zealand somewhat unique, and if so, is this a bad thing?

  7. SPC on May 28th, 2010 at 01:21

    Any distinctivness is set by the bi-partisan acceptance that we have, and should retain, an independent foreign policy position (and often continously expressed in support for UN led multi-lateralism and in using our voice in the interest of others).

    That must have had some impact on our strategic culture, certainly in terms of where we choose to participate militarily and in what way.

    That has been, if anything, confirmed by our inclusion in the nuclear non-proliferation gathering hosted by the Americans.

    However, that paradoxically restores an American aspect to our co-operation with the Australians, to the extent that we agree with them about military capability and inter-operability, foreign deployment in a multi-lateral cause, or in identifying common security threats.

    In that last aspect, in the area of intelligence gathering, we have the longest and most loyal component of our strategic culture – self identification as being a continuing part of some Anglo-Saxon colonial network.

  8. Quentin on May 28th, 2010 at 07:32

    This is a question I have been asking myself in recent years and I have often said New Zealand politicians lack maturity. They lack the politic-speak of a foreign policy that sets a strategic vision and direction in place. For so long we have been focusing on domestic issues -tax and tax and GST. Did I mention tax? I sense we will need a foreign policy focus in the 2011 elections. The global pace of change and recession are national security issues. What countries can we help, trade with, plan to hold accountable and be responsible and etc? We are well respected in most countries.

    AS for the new look EAB as National Assessments Bureau (NAB) I am happy with the oversight – however we need a Foreign Policy National Security Advisor with authority and that’s what’s really missing. I have this morning downloaded the new US, Obama Administration National Security Strategy 2010. Now this is an important statement in which I believe we should have a similar document.

    Do we have a Strategic Culture? No sorry we don’t and that worries me a bit.

  9. Tom Semmens on May 28th, 2010 at 10:13

    The New Zealand way of war has to my mind traditionally been influenced by three factors. First, the utter implausibility of any serious military threat to our homeland (isolation), secondly our small population base (which in turn requires us to a certain extent to be a client state), and thirdly the requirement to support an expeditionary force undertaking high intensity warfare in distant places. That automatically has meant conscription on the back of tiny peace time armed forces, and hence the quintessential New Zealand military tradition – the nation at arms in times of emergency. The problem in the post-Hiroshima age is that while first two assumptions of (to borrow the Soviet phrase) our “permanent operating factors” are still valid, the third is not – a conumdrum our political leaders have been able to ignore due to the first two assumptions still operating.

    When you ask the question is there a unique kiwi strategic culture you have to first ask yourself what are the unique dominating characteristics of our strategic environment, then ask yourself if our strategic culture reflects that. I would argue the three dominating unique characteristics outlined above (isolation, small population, total lack of any sort of credible military threat to our homeland) DO inform “…our security perspectives, traditions, institutions and behaviour… (as)… a country…”

    In other words, the fact we don’t have a discernable strategic culture is, ipso facto, a unique strategic culture in its own right.

  10. Hugh on May 28th, 2010 at 11:22

    @Tom, I really doubt that our small population size influences our political status. There are plenty of countries that are roughly the same size that have managed to chart stances that, whatever you might say about their wisdom, are obviously not unduly influenced by any other state. Ireland springs to mind – would you call Ireland ‘to some extent a client state’, and if so, of who?

    Really I think we need to move beyond population as a metric in all but a limited number of cases. 90% of the time when people talk about New Zealand’s small population affecting us they are actually talking about production of wealth, not population, and assuming the latter feeds uniformly into the former. Which is pretty untrue.

    @Quentin, I personally think the focus on tax is entirely defensible. The tax rate plays a major influence on the day-to-day quality of life of the average New Zealander. Changing foreign policy stances don’t.

  11. Tom Semmens on May 28th, 2010 at 13:44

    @Tom, I really doubt that our small population size influences our political status. There are plenty of countries that are roughly the same size that have managed to chart stances that, whatever you might say about their wisdom, are obviously not unduly influenced by any other state. Ireland springs to mind – would you call Ireland ‘to some extent a client state’, and if so, of who?

    The Irish were occupied by the English for 500 years, that pretty much ticks most of the “unduly influenced” boxes on my historical check sheet, unless you consider the Irish didn’t exist before 1922. Ditto for the client state thing, despite whatever De Valera and co would have you believe.

    The Irish relationship with whoever the most vigorous occupant of Britain happens to be (Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, English…) would pretty much totally encapsulate the Irish strategic culture, the Irish way of war, everything.

    Besides that, my post made the point that population was just one of THREE MUTUALLY INTERACTING factors.

  12. Pablo on May 28th, 2010 at 13:52

    I am much enjoying this discussion. Ah the joys of a reasoned debate!

    I should note that although I believe that developing a national strategic culture is preferable to not having one, strategic cultures may be flawed and therefore need reform/reorientation. This can be an institutional matter or a matter of strategic perception.

    For example, after WW2 the US strategic culture was dominated by the belief in the superiority of air power and the primacy of the offense over the defense. It had its theoretical origins in Gulio Douhet and Billy Mitchell’s writings on the role of air warfare, and appeared to get its practical confirmation in the war, with the nuclear attacks on Japan serving as an exclamation mark. Even though the Korean conflict and Vietnam were stark reminders of the limits of air power, the ongoing importance of land forces and the advantages of a well constructed and deployed defense, the air power advocates continued to rule the roost in US strategic planning circles until the 2003 Iraq invasion.

    An abject belief in the powers of technology compounded their sense of assurance. In fact, it was civilian air power strategists who coined the phrase “shock and awe,” (which had nothing to do with large, fast armoured formations mounting blitzkreig-like assaults across wide fronts) as a “brand” for the engagement of a multi-level air strike campaign using piloted and guided platforms that were mostly stand-off in nature.

    We now know that air power is overrated when the adversary counters in irregular fashion, especially in urban combat zones. The element of human will, so downplayed by the “shock and awe” chickenhawks, has clearly been shown to be an essential component of victory, especially in protracted conflicts.

    As a result, the US strategic culture has undergone a major reorientation whereby a SOLIC (special operations and low intensity conflict) orientation shares pride of place with conventional warfare specialties.

    The point being that having a distinct strategic culture may lend coherency and predictability to national strategic planning, but it by no means assures that the dominant paradigms operative in that culture remain viable over time. That is why honest self-assessment, reappraisal and introduction of new blood and fresh ideas is essential to keeping that culture apace of evolving security requirements in a changing geostrategic context. Whether NZ has a distinctive strategic culture or not, it is clear that with respect to the last sentence, it has a far way to go.

  13. Hugh on May 28th, 2010 at 14:37

    @Tom: I was talking about contemporary Ireland. Obviously they were once an integrated part of the British Empire, so rather more than a client state, but if population was a determinant, they would still be one, since their population has remained small – although I’m unclear whether you feel it’s an absolute or relative scale that population should be measured on.

  14. Phil Sage on May 28th, 2010 at 20:47

    Pablo – It is airpower and technology that would hold North Korea and China at bay. Strategic culture is about ensuring you are on the winning side in the next war.

    Counter insurgency is important but not as an alternative to technology and airpower. Actually I would argue that it is the evolution of unmanned drones that has made the difference. Complete unchallenged control of local airspace and the ability to reinforce with firepower are important contributors to Counter insurgency success. The unseen watching drone must have a hugely sapping impact on insurgent morale.

  15. Pablo on May 28th, 2010 at 20:59

    PhilS: Indeed, you are right, especially about the impact of UAVs (and just wait until the micro-UAVs are deployed at street level as part of infantry patrols).

    But although air power can deter and initially defeat the enemy, it is not capable of guaranteeing the outcome over time, especially in the face of the “withdraw and return” tactics used by guerrillas. That s where boots on the ground and willpower come in, which in turn are a product of a strategic culture attuned to the need for public support for a foreign military venture (as well as the support of the locals affected by it). That is where the “shock and awe” strategic culture failed.

  16. Stuart Mackey on May 29th, 2010 at 00:58

    I think that NZ does have a strategic culture, but it is one that is primarily informed by practical domestic considerations of the day, and is not often driven by foreign realities unless those realities are actually noticed by the public and effect the popular vote, which seems to be seldom. Of course, an uninformed public is a public that is susceptible to making poor choices when it comes to political parties desiring election.
    Needless to say this has led to a variable ‘strategic culture’, it all depends on what is flavour of the decade, or generation, as to what you will get.

    As to defence competence, one thing I have found with defence personnel, current and former, is a surprising amount of institutional arrogance about our capacities beyond unit command. For illustration I have this excerpt from a conversation I had with Stuart Slade, a defence analyst, from Forecast International.


    The problems with Canterbury were systemic, not isolated. Basically nobody knew what questions to ask and nobody had the gumption to ask which questions to ask (bad New Zealand trait here that keeps biting the NZDF in the ass – they will not go to other people for help when they are stuck. Australians have a lesser version of the same syndrome). Essentially, Canterbury is a militarized version of the commercial ferry Ben-My-Chree. She was a relatively short fat ship optimized for short-haul ferry duties in the relatively calm and placid waters of the Irish Sea. Nobody ever thought to ask wht that made a suitable basis for a long-duration military surveillance and transport mission in the wild waters of the South Pacific”

    Now I know that the reason for the above was because Navy thought it knew it all there was to know about this sort of craft and would not admit it got it wrong. They get this sort of thing wrong because while our forces inherited the form of the British Forces, we did not get the institutional knowledge built up over centuries beyond the level that we have actually worked at most of the time, that is to say unit level.

    A lot of it seems to be that we rest upon the laurels of our efforts in the world wars without recognizing the perspective we had as part of the Empire, or the logistical and administrative benefits of our membership of the Empire. This is a problem acerbated by the breakup of our part in ANZUS with respect to training, too many people are not seeing how things should work beyond unit command and how that should effect the command and utilization of our units.

    We also get the double whammy that the general public has little knowledge or perspective of the world beyond the South Pacific. For example:How many people know about, or understand the consequences, for strategic balance of China’s Aircraft carrier programme, let alone why the Chinese are getting into the carrier game? If China, a nuclear armed dictatorship, is also our number two trading partner, how does this effect our governments propensity for public moral indignation when the Chinese commit some humanitarian atrocity?

    This all flows through into government decision making, and I cannot but think that advice to government on these matters is not well thought out advice, because the people who are tendering the advice don’t know enough and don’t know it, and the government has no great reason, or enough knowledge, to demand a higher standard.

  17. Pablo on May 29th, 2010 at 01:45

    As usual Stuart, straight to the point, this time with an illustration. But let us not confuse procurement ineptitude (I could add a few thoughts about the LAVs here), and instead think about the overall strategic vision put into practice set against the historical record. It is there, I fear, that the strategy elite in NZ fails to uphold the hard-won gains of its predecessors, however subservient the latter may have been.

    Or put another way. What, exactly, have Willy Apiata and his comrades been fighting for in terms of the distinctive NZ strategic interest?

  18. Stuart Mackey on May 29th, 2010 at 23:35

    As usual Stuart, straight to the point, this time with an illustration. But let us not confuse procurement ineptitude (I could add a few thoughts about the LAVs here), and instead think about the overall strategic vision put into practice set against the historical record. It is there, I fear, that the strategy elite in NZ fails to uphold the hard-won gains of its predecessors, however subservient the latter may have been.

    Blerggh, never post at one in the morning. I was driving at that procurement ineptitude is also illustrative of a wider ineptitude born of an unfounded expertise and public ignorance and apathy. We do not see enough of the world to make informed choices and so we inevitably lack in strategic vision. But see below, for there are some exceptions that are so glaring (if one moves in the right circles) that even we cannot miss their significance and act on it.

    Or put another way. What, exactly, have Willy Apiata and his comrades been fighting for in terms of the distinctive NZ strategic interest?

    Put it that way, there are some things I have heard that I would not put on a public forum, other than to say it was probably worth it and it involves the modern version of the “Great Game”. The SAS documentary may give you some clues. That of course is the exception to the rule, as demonstrated by Wayne Mapp

    http://tvnz.co.nz/q-and-a-news/q-wayne-mapp-interviewed-guyon-espiner-3396367

    WAYNE Well we don’t see China as a military threat, in fact the great growth in the Pacific region generally has been the impact of China’s economic growth, and everyone’s benefited out of that, especially New Zealand over the last 12 months, but also Australia, so it’s a kind of an old fashioned way to look at state to state conflict. It’s really ensuring that countries can work and co-operate trying and ensure the security of their own region.
    GUYON It’s a big thing though isn’t it Dr Mapp be we are so close in terms of Australia and New Zealand and potentially are close in military terms, yet you’re saying their approach to China is in essence old fashioned in a military sense, and we don’t share their belief that China is a potential risk?
    WAYNE You’ve also got to remember that Australia is a middle level power, and middle level powers within the Asia Pacific region have a certain level of military capability, they’ve kind of gotta step up along with everyone else, and that’s one of the key reasons for Australia to make their decisions. If they didn’t make their decisions they would not be able to sustain their positioning and thus their influence within the region, and New Zealand perfectly understands that. Obviously Australia’s our closest defence partner and we intend always to have fully interoperable capabilities. It’s in the interests of both countries obviously that the Asia Pacific actually live up to its name and that is being pacific.

    This is the kind of reasoning that I would expect from a highschool student, that grand strategy is reduced to the level of high school ‘dick waving’, if you will excuse the term. NZ’s interests, that is to say where we get our income from, are mostly global and not from the south pacific bar Australia, yet here Mapp ignores the very nature of China and why the Aussies are doing what they are doing. It is one thing not to offend a major trading partner in a media interview, but quite another, it seems, to assume a policy or world view that ignores their existence or nature for the sake of not causing offence for fear of the consequences.
    It is this sort of thing that makes me think that our strategic vision is circumstantial and dependent on the flavour of the decade rather than informed principle.

  19. Pablo on May 30th, 2010 at 13:55

    Stuart:

    I agree that the NZSAS are deployed in pursuit of a larger strategic vision, but is that vision a product of a distinctive NZ strategic culture or one that has been imparted by a larger partner and accepted by the NZ security policy elite?

    You probably know my view of the current MoD, which is why, among other things, I fear that the latter may be the case. The quoted remarks you cite illustrate the extent of the problem.

  20. James on July 18th, 2010 at 17:18

    Hi, not sure if you still check these comments put i stumbled accross your article while doing research for an honours paper on new zealand strategic culture and had a few points.

    While your discussion of the topic is interesting, particularly the discussion with senior figures in security circles, I’m affraid that your conception of strategic culture is very much lacking. An ad-hoc approach to policy is not a symptomatic of New Zealand not having a strategic culture. Strategic culture exists at a level above policy decision. It is a system of idea and preferences that shape how events in the ‘objective’ enviroment are interpreted and reacted to. Strategic culture gives context to events that would otherwise be meaningless.

    I think your article is perhaps discussing if New Zealand has a grand strategy rather than a strategic culture. In my own research which covers the 1960s and 2000s, search for a New Zealand strategic culture and the possibility of long and short term change in it, I have found amble evidence of an enduring set of preconceptions that shape New Zealand’s security perceptions. They are based around the need to be an active participant in regional events, based on the use of the army overseas. New Zealand also seeks to ensure stability in its region, be it through collective security and forward defence of through UN mandated or approved peacekeeping operations.

    Most importantly strategic culture in New Zealand is not linked to the incumbant ‘party line’. There is remarkable stability to New Zealand’s strategic culture between the 1960s Holyoake government and the 2000s Clarke government. The current government will make virtually no difference to New Zealand strategic culture and this will be reflected in the White Paper tto be published at the end of the year which will see no dramatic changes to New Zealand security policy.

  21. Pablo on July 18th, 2010 at 17:54

    James:

    I am glad that Vic has at least one student who thinks about these things. But I am afraid that we will have to agree to disagree because I think that you are the person who is wrong. I am not confusing grand strategy (which clearly has changed over time) with strategic culture (which has been largely absent for at least the last 25 years and very likely before). The latter refers to an ongoing “society” of civilian and military planners who shape a strategic vision that informs the formulation of grand strategy over time. In NZ that simply does not appear to be the case. The 1960s vision of NZ’s international role is patently not that of the 1980s or the 2000s. Rather than the continuity you describe, my own research points to numerous instances of ad hoc, poorly thought out and often reactive responses to the international environment that are in large part based on a lack not only of elite consensus on NZ international role, but a lack of strategically-minded talent amongst them (you can see some of my thoughts on this in the current issue of Political Science Quarterly (Summer 2010). The sole area in which there is strategic consensus at present is Trade. Beyond that, to include issues of non-proliferation, nuclear energy, human rights and environmental protection, there is no overriding strategic vision, much less culture, that unites NZ’s economic and political elites.

    But as I said at the onset, disagreements notwithstanding I appreciate your interest in the subject and wish you will with your research. Who knows, perhaps you will be part of a new generation of strategic planners and can contribute to creating a NZ strategic culture that is as consistent and robust as you claim it to be.

  22. Quentin on July 18th, 2010 at 18:49

    This is an interesting comparison-Grand Strategy versus Strategic Culture -QUOTE: …the latter refers to an ongoing “society” of civilian and military planners who shape a strategic vision that informs the formulation of grand strategy over time. In NZ that simply does not appear to be the case…UNQUOTE. I think this is quite true of NZ right now. Am not 100% sure if there has been either in the last 30 years as you say. I am nervous about NZ’s role in future because of the “ad hoc” approach. One example is that as a strategic vision – would be to see a national security priority on NZ assets- not allowing foreign investors buying farms here is a national security issue. In other words forming a framework for a grand strategy that emboldens strategic vision.

    Is this right?

  23. Pablo on July 18th, 2010 at 20:34

    I find it interesting that the issue of strategic culture came up today. My administrator’s reader tells me that there has been a half dozen reads today of this nearly 2 month old post. David, does this have anything to do with Strat 505 at Vic?

    Quentin: Your posts were initially sent to the spam filter, so I have approved the latest version. One of the aspects of a coherent strategic vision–itself a product of a strategic culture–is that it looks beyond the near term towards medium and long term futures forecasting. In that light, what matters when it comes to Chinese investment in NZ farming and infrastructure is not (just) the short term benefits that can be accrued by both sides, but the longer term implications of having China control, or being able to leverage, NZ strategic assets. Given the PRCs ambitions in the South Pacific and its use of checkbook diplomacy and colonisation via immigration (often under clauses that require Chinese management of and labour in foreign investment projects), the broader strategic question is what it’s longer term objectives are vis a vis NZ in the context of the larger geopolitical picture in the Western Pacific Rim and beyond.

  24. Quentin on July 19th, 2010 at 06:10

    Thanks Pablo,

    I thought I had understood what was being discussed But needed clarity for my own learning. I am looking to do my Masters next year on Grand Strategy etc.

    Who are our “society” of strategic thinkers that helps grand strategy? if there are none, that’s a somewhat dangerous position, politically at least?

  25. Pablo on July 19th, 2010 at 13:26

    Quentin: Good luck pursuing that degree. NZ needs more strategic thinkers and the degree can be a springboard for work in the intelligence or defense communities as well as the risk assessment components of other public agencies and private enterprise.

    Unfortunately, gathering from the conversations I have had and my own documentary research on NZ foreign and security policy, NZ does not have a distinctive strategic culture in part because it does not have a “society” of strategic thinkers. It appears that, be it in the NZDF, SIS, MoD, EAB, etc. career advancement is made not by forward or out of the box thinking but by engaging in short term bureaucratic incrementalism or opportunism. One of the most alarming things I heard is that even upper rank military officers and civilian defense personnel have little conception of the bigger picture in which they operate, instead preferring to respond and react to the immediate political opportunity structure rather than a coherent long term plan or perspective.

    The one area where there has been coherence in foreign policy (which is the policy area that I can speak too) is on the matter of trade. But there to, within a general strategy of attempting to secure as wide an array of trade agreements as possible, NZ does not demonstrate a discerning approach that recognises the dangers of asymmetric trade or the differences between bi-lateral, mini-lateral and multi-lateral trade agreements with partners of varying sizes and economies of scale, much less the “after-entry” issues that ensue on both sides of the ledger (think of the Fonterra melanin milk scandal in the PRC as an example of a NZ firm entering a lucrative market without fully understanding the quality control problems inherent in its supply chain). So even where there is a NZ “strategy,” there is no robust vision guiding it, and that is because there is no strategic culture in which such a vision can be formulated and implemented as policy directives over time.

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