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?