Questions about Defense and Security under the National Government.

One of the striking aspects of the last election was the virtual absence of discussion about National’s approach to defense and security. Now that it is in office, it might be time to ask some questions of National about what it proposes for the defense and security of NZ over the next three years.

The backdrop to any such inquiry must begin with the fact that National by and large accepted Labour’s strategic and policy perspective on the subject. But it is also worth noting, as I mentioned in an earlier post, that National’s foreign policy leadership team have expressed views at odds with their own Party’s stance. This was particularly true for their initial support for the invasion of Iraq and silence on the use of extra-judicial tactics in the prosecution of the war on terrorism. So the questions must begin with the following general inquiry: what will be different about National’s approach to national security and defense when compared with its predecessor?

More specific questions can centre on its approach to domestic security versus external defense policy. For example, National supported passage of the Terrorism Suppression Act, a truly horrendous piece of Labour-promoted legislation that even the Solicitor-General said was a legal dog’s breakfast that was virtually impossible to apply. Given that the TSA dramatically infringes on the right to dissent and allows for the expansion of the State’s powers of covert surveillance and detention of “terrorist” suspects, why did National feel the need to support it? Will it attempt to modify the TSA while in office, or will it let things stand? How, exactly, does National propose to deal with the subject of domestic “terrorist” threats, especially if the present thrust of the TSA is challenged in court or criticised by the Law Commission?

With regard to external defense, several questions arise. What will be National’s approach to international military deployments? Will it continue the peacekeeping thrust of current deployments or will it re-orient them towards more combat or combat-support roles? This question is especially important given that the NZ government will be (or may already have been) asked to increase its contribution to the ISAF coalition in Afghanistan, which is increasingly under siege by a resurgent Taleban. Beyond that, will National be more prone to support UN-mandated peacekeeping missions in conflicts zones outside of the South Pacific? Will it be more prone to support US, UK and/or Australian military operations, including combat operations? Will it seek to expand the range of its defense partnerships in Asia, such as with the PRC (perhaps as a complement to the FTA between the two countries)?

Then there are issues of weapons procurement. In my view, the procurement process over the last ten years has been fraught with ill-considered decisions. The Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) purchase, in particular, stands out as a particularly worrisome expense that appears to have been authorised more for political than strategic reasons. But problems with the Multi Role Vessel(s), along with the purchase of the expensive Javelin anti-tank munition (when cheaper and similarly effective platforms were available) leave open the question as to how weapons procurement policy is managed, and whether it will change under the new government.

That brings up the issue of the relationship between the Ministry of Defense (MOD) and the NZDF. Although nominally in charge of policy-making, lack of expertise in the subject area often has left Ministers of Defense at the mercy of their uniformed counterparts in the NZDF when it comes to making defense policy. Similarly, the PM, as Minister of Intelligence, must be able to scrutinise and oversee the intelligence apparatus rather than rely exclusively on its supposedly good word when it comes to threat assessment. The Zaoui case clearly showed what happens when the NZSIS makes threat assessments that serve its own interests but not national security, and yet Helen Clark defended the agency and its then-director in spite of overwhelming evidence that both were playing loose with the facts. Is John Key more capable of reigning in the rogue tendencies of that agency? Will he act to regain some measure of control over its activities or will he give it more rope?

It is generally accepted that the equation for formulating national defense and security policy goes something like this: threat assessment leads to strategic perspective. Strategic perspective leads to force configuration in light of the threat environment (both near and afar). Force configuration leads to mission definition, which in turn determines tactical requirements, deployed force composition and weapons acquisition. Force requirements drive the thrust of recruiting and professional military training as well as weapons acquisition. That occurs within the context of alliance structures and diplomatic networks, on the one hand, and domestic political factors on the other hand, all of which influence the discrete thrust of national security policy. This is just a sketch of the process, to be sure, but it outlines the way in which defense and security should be approached in a modern democracy. Note that intelligence collection and analysis determines threat assessment. Threats are both continuous and fluid, which requires that intelligence agencies be both accurate and honest when making assessments. Otherwise intelligence becomes the tail that wags the defense and security apparatus dog.

There is much more to this picture, and needless to say many other questions need to be asked. But for the moment consider this bottom line: Does National have a coherent defense and security policy based on a comprehensive geostrategic perspective, does it differ from Labour’s, and does it have the managerial skills and acumen to implement it?

15 thoughts on “Questions about Defense and Security under the National Government.

  1. To get distracted for a moment by the TSA piece… :)

    My memory of the fallout of the decision to not prosecute the individuals arrested in the October 15 raids under the TSA was that National was very very keen to “fix” the TSA so that terrorism charges would have been possible (and presumably would have been successful). Judith Collins’ defence of SIG’s use of a really dubious informant and really dubious information gathering tactics is in the same vein.

    My feeling is that National will be at least as bad as Labour (and they were awful!) when it comes to sacrificing rights and privacy and dissent in an attempt to take part in the war on terror.

    Is there any reason I should hope for better? (Please give me hope! :)

  2. On National’s voting for the TSA – I suspect they were forced into voting for the poorly written TSA because they did not wish to appear weak in an election year. Sometimes you vote for something purely to avoid a rod for your back – much like National’s sudden support for the repeal of Section 59.

    On the other hand, I don’t see them in a rush to repeal it, despite the debacle of the Urewera raids.

  3. MacDoctor: Point well taken. But is that proof of political cowardice or opportunism rather than evidence of a sincere belief by National that we have dangerous “terrorists” in our midst, or that National has a clue as to how to balance democratic values and security concerns when confronting it?

  4. On National’s voting for the TSA – I suspect they were forced into voting for the poorly written TSA because they did not wish to appear weak in an election year. Sometimes you vote for something purely to avoid a rod for your back – much like National’s sudden support for the repeal of Section 59.

    It wasn’t an election year, National never opposed it:

    3rd reading Terrorism Suppression Act – October 2003 – For: everyone except the Greens
    2nd reading Counter-Terrorism Bill – October 2003 – For: everyone except the Greens
    1st reading Counter-Terrorism Bill – April 2003 – For: everyone except the Greens

  5. Interesting post. Finally somebody informed about defence on the blogs. I found the way you framed the debate reflecting the Rumsfeldian view of the world. (and it tickles me to accuse you of that but it is a serious point :) ). Only looking at defence in terms of threats.

    Petreaus has clearly developed armed forces doctrine and operations to the point where it forms part of US foreign policy options. The Bush backed surge has meant the military are being used for nation building. Far more sophisticated and demanding than high tech shock and awe.

    I agree with your equipment assessments. The LAV heart was in the right place but the wrong decision was taken.

    It is extremely difficult to view Timor, Sinai, Afghanistan as any threat to NZ interests yet that is where our soldiers are serving. I dont accept the analysis that says we contribute troops there to compensate for our non nuclear policy. Labour’s defence policy was written and executed by pacifist idealist who wish the world was different to what it is.

    New Zealand belongs firmly in the Petraeus world. Our limited armed forces will serve where they can assist National building and being a good “global citizen”. We can take a free ride on Australian and American defence expenditure or we can take a longer view and recognise that having a stronger peace keeping focused military will assist far more constructively with a peaceful world than trying to mimic the weapons that a powerful democracy like US or UK will fund.

    This view is also far more in sympathy with NZ international military contributions prior to 1984.

    It is worth arguing that a lightly but effectively armed military with strong engineering medical and educational support would do far more for New Zealand short, medium and long term foreign policy objectives than frigates or strike planes. $500m not paid to Russia under ETS would fund a large number of medics, engineers and teachers in support of the Petraeus doctrine.

    I do not believe that National or defence forces have thought any of that through coherently but that view needs to be raised somewhere.

  6. An interesting post and comments.

    I have some sympathies with Phil Sage’s views.

    The procurement policy is a scandal and the lack of comment on the recent Audit Office report is little short of appalling. Our media re missing in action in this regard.

    There is a need to develop a more coherent and longer term view on these issues, which should be essentially bi-partisan as the 3 year electoral cycle is extremely harmful in these areas.

    For example I see our policy re Fiji as effectively opening the door wide for China to secure amajor presence in the Pacific should it wish to.

    On the US and nation building, in the medium to long term I would suggest that using the armed forces is not the appropriate mechanism for effective nation building. The surge may be a short term palliative, but alternatives are needed for the longer term.

  7. Actually Phil, the perspective is not “Rumsfeldian” but realist. Rumsfeld bought into the “effects-based,” fourth generation warfare line, whereas I tend to be of the view that so long as humans are involved in the mix the issue boils down to the element of will and professional fighting abilities. But that is off topic.

    To respond to your point differently, Rumsfeld’s position is that strategic perspective determines threat assessment, not the other way around. Thus, under a realist view whereby threat assessment determines strategic perspective, Iraq would not have been considered an imminent threat to US national security and would not have been attacked in 2003, especially while the fight against AQ and the Taleban (one a global, the other a regional conflict) was going on.

    For Rumsfeld and other neocons, the strategic imperative of reasserting the US fighting reputation in the Middle East after 9/11, resulting in the imposition of a pro-US secular regime as the host of a land-based US military platform with which to confront Iran, Syria and Islamicist irregulars, drove the presentation of Hussein’s Iraq as a dire threat to US national security. That strategic perspective was also informed by a petro-centric strategic view of the world in which a large permanent US military presence in Iraq would have a positive impact on world oil prices and supply.

    Although NZ has no immediate military threats on its horizon, its strategic perspective must focus on regional instability and attendant issues in and outside of its primary AOR. I agree that NZ is best served by a lean, mean “boutique” defense force that does some things extremely well (special operations, combat medical and engineering, armed peacekeeping, focused maritime patrol and SAR) rather than try to do a bit of everything in the full spectrum of military operations.

    Do you think Wayne Mapp and his National cohort have thought this through?

  8. So how would structure the Defence Force.

    Your comments imply some re-structure.

    To support and deliver Special Ops, Combat medical and peacekeeping implies some form of aerial support, say helicopter gunshipss to deliver and recover, plus provide close ground support

  9. I believe the decision to abandon the tactical air wing was an error. NZ does not need F-16s but it does need both close air support as well as a larger transport and patrol capability. The need for close air support stems from the fact that, in my opinion, deploying NZ ground troops as peacekeepers or in combat without an autonomous air cover capability leaves them vulnerable to the command decisions of foreign partners, at the expense of Kiwi lives. Having an autonomous close air support capability well integrated with ground force operations not only will help save Kiwi lives. It will also demonstrate that NZ has the will and capability to conduct “blue helmet” or coalition military operations in a robust and tactically independent manner.

    Be it rotary or fixed wing, there are a number of CAS platforms that are suitable for the job and not overly expensive–especially when compared with the abandoned F-16 purchase. One only has to look at the USAF “boneyard” at Davis Mothan air force base in Tucson, AZ to see a full inventory of surplus modern aircraft that would suffice for this type of role–and that does not even begin to include non-US made aircraft.

  10. Paul – I did not explain my position well enough. Powell & James Baker in 91 convinced Bush the elder that 100 hours and no nation building was sufficient. If the 91 war had been conducted today the US forces would have gone all the way to Baghdad and removed Saddam Hussein. The US threat assessment and more critically its defensive strategy has changed over the last 8 years.

    You and so many people have been so caught up in anti bush rhetoric that you have not noticed the complete change in approach.

    I called the shock and awe Rumsfeldian but more accurately it should be Rumsfeld/Powell/Baker. To view the US strategy to achieve security purely through war fighting. I believe that applied while Rumsfeld was Sec Def. Do not forget that James Baker recommended that US disengage from Iraq rather than surge. Fortunately President Bush believed in the Petraeus doctrine.

    That doctrine recognises the need to win the first battle which is of firepower, but follows with the recognition that providing security to civilians in troubled areas will help to make them peaceful. In the long term the Bush doctrine is aiming to eliminate dictatorship and bring security and stability. That will provide security and stability for the US by removing the oppression which causes instability.

    The real reason Bush and Blair went into Iraq was that recognition of the need to attain long term security at home by providing long term security and stability everywhere. One cannot be achieved without the other in this world. 911 showed that. I am not interested in arguing whether that is right or wrong. About 99.8% of what has been written about the Iraq war would oppose that view but quantity does not make it right. I would accept the assessment that oil security was part of the equation but it is certainly not the only reason.

    With the benefit of hindsight we can see the US error post invasion caused by the Rumsfeldian approach. It was easy to win the military battle but the correct approach to nation building was not taken until Petraeus was empowered through the surge.

    Take that assessment as being the basis for understanding where new Zealand should start. The A4 Skyhawks were never used in poerations. It is completely unrealistic to expect that F16’s would be any different. They simply would not be compatible in communications, tactics or useful in a fighting war. US & UK assets will win any fighting war. The New Zealand contribution should focus on people on the ground. That plays to our historic strengths.

    The decision to abandon the tactical air wing was the right decision for the wrong reasons. Defence capital expenditure is limited. Available funds should be spent on heavy air transport and helicopters to transport troops and material as well as to provide some close air support. The F 16 is simply not value for money. New Zealand forces must rely on strike air support from US and UK.

    Using monies saved from tactical air wing to increase the size of the effective army establishment and be prepared to use them in the post fighting war phase will do far more to raise New Zealand’s blue helmet profile than a few big boys toys based in New Zealand.

  11. Phil: The real reason Bush and Blair went into Iraq was that recognition of the need to attain long term security at home by providing long term security and stability everywhere. One cannot be achieved without the other in this world. 911 showed that.

    Two quite distinct questions (that you probably don’t want to answer):

    1. What role did Iraq play in the September 11 attacks?

    2. How has the US-led invasion of Iraq mitigated against future such attacks against the US?

    I think you’re trying to link 9/11 to the Iraq invasion to support the idea that `anti-Bush rhetoric’ is only rhetoric, when in fact there is an ongoing critique of the strategic decisions he and his administration have made.

    However, for what it’s worth, I agree with you to an extent: having made the mistake of invading Iraq post-9/11, the US now has an obligation to leave it better off than they found it. So far, whether they have or not depends on who you ask, as does the question of whether their continued actions will improve or worsen the situation.


  12. Lew
    1. none whatsoever. The purpose of the change in policy was to go after threats at source rather than to wait for them to go to the US.

    2. The US military have the initiative and the momentum. They have provided an Arab country with the opportunity to pursue democracy and repaid the debt owed to Afghanistan from the eighties when it was used in a proxy war to defeat the Russians.

    Examine the counter factual. What if Iraq had not been invaded. Al Qaeda focus would have been attacking US “occupation” forces in Afghanistan. US forces would have been forced to withdraw as the British and the Russians before them. Afghanistan would have been another humiliating Vietnam and a further success for Al Qaeda. Saddam and his sons would have defeated the sanctions regime with Chirac’s assistance. Invading Iraq achieved 2 things. It freed an educated and sophisticated people and it distracted attention from Afghanistan. A terrible price was paid by the people of Iraq due to Al Qaeda attacks. But Pablo and the Rumsfeldian approach paid insufficient attention to the requirement to Nation build and the likelihood of Al Qadea counter attacking in Iraq after their military defeat in Afghanistan.

    I do not pretend to have predicted all this or understood it from the start but it has become clear over time.

    Whatever the pacifist left might say is meaningless. They do not want to understand the price that must be paid for liberty and democracy. I am simply not arrogant enough to believe that Iraqis are unwilling or unable to want democracy. The soveriegnty of Iraq was imposed on 3 major ethno – religious groups. It is not meaningful.

    In my view the Bush doctrine is a moral imperative. A policeman should not ignore a beating across the street and the West should not ignore dictatorships.

  13. Phil: Examine the counter factual.

    I love counterfactuals, you can have them mean whatever you want ’em to mean. Yours is fairly plausible, but I have a few alternate realities for you to consider.

    What if Iraq had not been invaded. Al Qaeda focus would have been attacking US “occupation” forces in Afghanistan. US forces would have been forced to withdraw as the British and the Russians before them.

    I don’t see how the Iraq invasion positively impacted upon Afghanistan. It has required the US and allies to fight a war on two fronts and diluted the legitimacy of the NATO mandate there and indeed of the entire War on Terror (such legitimacy as it had, in any case). Militarily speaking, Iraq serves a logistical role, but that benefit is outweighed by the massive drain on personnel, materiel, cash and PR that Iraq has represented. But the invasion also mobilised other islamist and opportunist groups against the allies – groups in Iraq who would have been unable to operate in Afghanistan because of the sectarian and tribal issues that presents. However – and this is the thing about counterfactuals – things might be different if Hussein were still in power.

    A terrible price was paid by the people of Iraq due to Al Qaeda attacks.

    … which came about only because of the invasion. And then there’s the invasion itself, and actions by non-al Qaeda groups such as those operating out of Iran, and local warlords. As I said: whether or not Iraq is better now than it was is a matter of who you ask. Democracy can in time heal many wounds, and if the security problems can be solved, things may look up. But whether the US and neophyte Iraqi establishment can make this happen is far from certain, and seems to boil down to a matter of faith.

    I am simply not arrogant enough to believe that Iraqis are unwilling or unable to want democracy. The soveriegnty of Iraq was imposed on 3 major ethno – religious groups. It is not meaningful.

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. Is it that one can’t expect to stably and legitimately rule such a diverse group by any means other than democracy? If so, I agree entirely. This is a historic fault common to almost all of the Middle East, and is the source of all manner of trouble, especially also in Afghanistan.

    A policeman should not ignore a beating across the street and the West should not ignore dictatorships.

    I don’t see why `The West’ (whoever that is) should appoint itself the world’s policeman. But supposing for a moment that it should, upon what basis does one decide which dictatorships to support (with aid, trade, arms and training) and which to demolish? This was a fundamental question of US foreign policy in the 20th Century, and historically it seems to have been best explained by the answer to the question `cui bono?’.


  14. Lew – Going into Afghanistan also split the Islamist forces. They focused on Iraq and chose NW pakistan as their safe haven.

    The market democracies (West) need a current Muslim democratic victory against Islamism if they are to gain long term domestic security. Afghanistan is simply too hard, Iraq is a much simpler option. The people had been secularised but are well educated. That is the first step in empowering muslims to control their own destiny. It is a shame that the unpopularity of Bush has meant the Bush doctrine is unlikely to be followed. Petraeus is doing his best to follow up on the promise.

    Long term domestic security is the simple cui bono. Turkey achieved stability after the Ottoman empire failed through Ataturk. It wants desperately to modernise and join the EU.

    We are talking about overcoming 1000 years of history.

    What gives the West the justifcation? well it represents a democratically elected and governed group of people who negotiate among themselves through law rather than force. That is all anyone on this world can ask. Is it flawed, certainly, but it is better than despots and self appointed elites ruling through force and oppression.

    Back to the point of this thread which is NZ defence policy. The themes I outline above continue to suggest why New Zealand should structure its forces in a way to maximise stability (troops) education, health and prosperity (engineering infrastructure) among war torn areas where it can be tasked to go. That is our price for living under the umbrella of peace that America & the UK provides.

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