A walking Tui ad?

The election turned out OK as far as I am concerned. My decision to support Labour after years of supporting the Greens seems to have paid off as they are now leading the new government. The Greens were punished for their shift from red to blue at their core and for bringing in neophytes onto their list, but not too much (although I still have serious reservations about their ideological direction and one of their new MPs). Save for ACT the various useless parties disappeared. And the Nats got what they deserved, which was the boot, even if it took that old dog Winston to apply his toe to their posteriors. As for NZ First, time will only tell if they are the fly in the ointment or the straw that stirs the drink.

When it comes to how the new government will be organized, I am very curious to see who will be appointed Minister of Defense. Ron Mark is a likely candidate, and I have no problem with him in that role in spite of his otherwise reactionary views (apologies if the list of Ministers is out and someone else is the new MoD). With the exception of Phil Goff he will be the most informed person to assume that portfolio in the last 18 years, which is good because the NZDF have some major decisions to make when it comes to upgrading and configuring the force.  There are issues of equipment purchases, recruitment and retention, foreign alliance commitments and the overall thrust of NZDF operations that need immediate addressing. He has been critical of the lack of strategic vision on the part of NZDF and MoD leaders, so my hope is that he will push for an overhaul in the strategic thinking underpinning NZDF operations that goes beyond the periodic exercises known as Defense White Papers. And he will have to address the problem of drug abuse within the NZDF, which has been kept largely under wraps but which is large enough to run the real risk of jeopardizing operational security and/or getting someone killed.

However, when it comes to intelligence matters and the general subject of security, I have concerns about the ability of the new government to impose its will on the intelligence community and Police as well as avoid so-called “bureaucratic capture:” the situation where the lack of experience in a subject field by new overseers or managers allows career bureaucrats to shape the former’s views of the subject in ways that serve the entrenched interests of the latter. I do not see anyone in the top tiers of Labour, the Greens or NZFirst who display particular fluency in matters of intelligence and security, and when it comes to direct political oversight of the NZ intelligence community, the lack of expertise is dire.

Or let me put it in this way:

18 thoughts on “A walking Tui ad?

  1. The problem is people with experience in intelligence and security are themselves former members of the career bureaucratic class and will just perpetuate the agenda of the class they formerly (?) belonged to.

    The process of knowledge acquisition and the process of acculturation happen alongside one another and are presented as the same process – indeed the security services, like many other career bureaucracies, are very good at presenting cultural judgements and institutional biases as simply extra pieces of technical information.

    This is true for most large government institutions and indeed most institutions of all kinds. But is especially true of the security institutions for a variety of reasons among them:

    1) They are generally horizontal career silos, it is rare for a security professional to move into another industry or for somebody senior in another industry to move into security. (Not unknown, but rare)
    2) They’re not very large, so knowledge culture and intellectual architecture is personalised
    3) The supposed urgency of the threat they identify as addressing encourages a “secret knight” complex whereby those outside the industry are actively derided.

    So while I won’t say that the figure who has extensive experience in the security services but a political agenda contrary to theirs doesn’t exist, they are vanishingly rare, to the point where it cannot be expected that an incoming Cabinet will contain one.

  2. Erewhon,

    Good points, well taken. However, I think that there are enough independent-minded former intelligence and security officials as well as outsiders (e.g. academics) with expertise in defense, intelligence and security who could provide the PM with good counselor advice when it comes such things. The key is to staff the DPMC with such people. I say this even though I have a fair degree of confidence that Rebecca Kitetridge (Director, NZSIS) and Cheryl Gwynn (IGIS) behave in transparent and honest ways when it comes to discussing the biases, biases and failures of the NZIC. As for the NZDF, well, its record suggests otherwise.

    The broader issue is that the general public and hence politicians do not really care about matters of intelligence and security. Beyond the cheerleading and bandwagoning when it comes to the NZDF and the usual resort to terrorism threats as a justification for supporting expanded state security powers, the public at large and politicians focus on domestic non-security related matters (with the exception of crime, which in reality is as much a social issue as it is a security concern). This is seen in the attitudes of individual politicians and policy agendas of political parties, to say nothing of general thrust of political culture evident, among other things, in the difficulty in recruiting military and intelligence personnel out of the local citizenry. If anything, there is a widespread attitude in parliament and amongst the public of “let the professionals handle it,” which is precisely the attitude that leads to bureaucratic capture on matters of intelligence, defense and security when new governments (or perhaps better said, new ministers) arrive with little experience, background or even knowledge of the subject (the recent appointments of a former school teacher and then a non-practicing medical doctor as MoD come to mind).

    My hope is that the Labour-led government will give serious consideration to the political oversight staffing requirements needed to exercise the serious responsibilities inherent in that role, and that it arrive in office armed with a strategically coherent blueprint that addresses NZ intelligence, defense and security requirements and priorities in light of the context of the times.

  3. I think the idea that only people with military experience should be Minister of Defense is equally likely to lead to bureaucratic capture. In the international context, we can find many examples of very successful defense ministers/secretaries who had no, or minimal, defense service experience themselves. And conversely one need look no further than the last ten years to see multiple American defense and security secretaries with extremely impressive defense service records, but American security policy has been a shambles, as I know I don’t need to tell you.

    Fred Jones, probably New Zealand’s most successful defense minister, had the monumental task of seeing the New Zealand defense forces through their largest ever deployment during World War 2, and he had zero military experience. More recently Mark Mitchell, Bill English’s defense minister, had screeds of relevant defense experience, including working in Iraq as a security contractor – this did not contribute to a well formed defense policy, again, as I’m sure you know.

    So to me the question is not so much “what is his/her industry experience” as “what is his/her policy preference”.

    Personally I think it is not necessary for ministers to have technical knowledge (MoDs don’t need to be former military, MoHs don’t need to be medical doctors, MoEs don’t need to be teachers, etc etc). Technical knowledge is necessary, but it can be provided by advisors. A decent politician will know when to seek technical information, but will also know that their mandate is ultimately a political one, not a technical one.

    (Finally, as something of an aside, if there were a requirement that ministers had technical knowledge, it would effectively disenfranchise some parties from certain ministries; the Greens never recruit people from the security industry or institutions to serve as elected politicians, largely because their policy is viewed with veiled hostility by the security community. This does not, however, mean that a Green politician would make a poor MoD; in fact in my opinion, it’s quite the converse).

  4. Erewhon:

    Again, your points are valid and I have no real argument with them (other than to say that the failures of US strategic policy are more broadly political than the fault of any one SECDEF).

    In a small country, though, individuals have disproportionate weight on policy making (should they take an interest) or are easy prey for bureaucratic capture since they do not have access to a broader community of counter-vailing visions with expertise. This is particularly true for the intellilgence community, which is not your usual bureaucracy given what it does. Between the highly intrusive nature of its activities and its propensity towards politization if not outright manipulation (as was seen under both the 5th Labour and Key governments), those in political oversight/management can ill-afford to be novices in the field whether or not they have political agendas they wish to pursue via vis or through the NZIC.

    Here is the conundrum. I agree that getting good advisors in place is essential. When I look across the front benches of parliament, much less when I look towards the back, I see no one who is versed in intelligence matters (and that includes Ron Mark). So bringing in independent outsiders as advisors seems a good way to go, and even though the community is small I can think of a few people who fit the bill.

    I would not have used the example of Mark Mitchell, because experience in a for-profit PMC (a so-called “little army”) is not equivalent to running the “big Army” known as the defense forces of a sovereign state. But had he had more time in the job, he might have surprised me and pushed a coherent policy agenda that served the nation well.

    Interestingly, I saw Teresa May’s PR statment about her phone caall with jacinda Ardern. The bulk if it spoke about their joint commitment to fighting terorrism and advancing their intelligence relations via the 5 Eyes partnership. So if Ardern did not have a feel for what will become a central aspect of her job before that call, she does now.

  5. Well yeah, I am not saying US policy has been a shambles because of military professionals. I’m just saying it doesn’t seem to be better with professionals in place.

    With Mitchell, I am not trying to defend him, I think he is a political nonentity and thoroughly mediocre person, even only if compared to other National party politicians. But experience as a PMC is a level of security experience, perhaps not as good as professional military, but greater than nothing, which is the default.

    So anyway, I think we can agree that the focus should not be on whether the ministers have personal experience, but on who they choose to advise them, and how they listen to their advisors. So by that token, the Tui billboard may well be wrong – Ardern might well be a perfectly satisfactory intelligence minister. And she might not, but if she doesn’t, it’s not because of her lack of personal security experience.

  6. I cannot compete with the level of discourse above (nor do I wish to) but I can say with a degree of certainty that Jacinda Ardern – as Minister for the SIS and related agencies – will be no pushover. Her warm and sunny exterior belies an inner core of steel not unlike her predecessor and mentor, Helen Clark.

    She will seek advice from appropriate personnel including her new deputy PM and Foreign Affairs minister, Winston Peters who no doubt has acquired plenty of knowledge and experience of security agencies during a lifetime of parliamentary service. (smile)

  7. No problem Anne.

    I deleted the duplicate post and your comment advising me of it.

    I hope that you are right. Erewhon makes a good case for why I should not worry. Bringing Winston in will perhaps add some depth but then again, we are talking about someone who from time to time, based on his own agenda, has leaked senstive info to the press. I also hope that you are right about that “soft on the outside/hard on the inside” characterization of Ms. Ardern. Because I have briefly met both her and Helen Clark, and from that impression as well as their public personae, Ms. Arden is no Helen Clark.

    You are always welcome to comment here and please do not worry about competing with anyone. It is the pompous fools who blather on about things they do not know about that get caned over here (and I fully embrace those who say that I am a pompous twit as well , with the caveat that I only talk about things that I have a fair idea about).

  8. Imagine if a political party that had a detailed security and intelligence policy, or even foreign policy for that matter. You know, something other than just: “Do what we’ve always done”, or “Do what the brass and spymasters suggest be done”.

    NZ should be doing much more with our watery continent of Oceania. We should be out there developing it in an aggressive, but sustainable manner, as an alternative to China, Taiwan, and Cuba. We should set up a great Pasifika university in South Auckland and offer a significant number of scholarships to foreign Polynesians, Melanesians, and Micronesians. We are surrounded by poorer countries and colonial possessions (Australia and vast nothingness excluded), we could be doing a lot to build up a vast store of soft power that could be used on things NZ wants from countries bigger than us.

    NZ is a small country, by helping and becoming a champion of small countries I think we will be able to get further than we have so far by bowing to the suzerains.

  9. Jacinda Ardern is the daughter of a police officer and a professional politician whose work history includes time spent working with Department of Prime Minister and the Cabinet under Helen Clark. She understands the workings of the New Zealand state, she is well versed in the ways of the SIS and GCSB, and she may acquit herself “well” as minister in charge of those institutions. Which is to say that she will allow them a free hand, because that is what New Zealand governments do, regardless of whether they be from the right, left or centre of politics.

    Pablo might prefer that the security institutions as a whole – in particular the military, the SIS and GCSB – should be brought under the rule of law and subject to critical political oversight, but that is not going to happen, for the reason which Pablo himself has stated, namely that “the general public and hence politicians do not really care about matters of intelligence and security”. The majority of New Zealanders, and virtually all New Zealand politicians, fail to see why the state security apparatus should be subject to the rule of law. That attitude (in Pablo’s words “let the professionals handle it”) reflects New Zealand’s colonial mentality. European New Zealanders have been happy to allow the British sovereign, the British Imperial Army, and British-based institutions of state handle the business of government and security on their behalf, and have not paid any great heed to principles of political responsibility and rule of law which typically engage the citizens of independent nations with a democratic tradition. Pablo, having been raised, educated and trained under a republic in which rule of law is necessarily paramount (even if not always observed) will struggle to accept that in a colonial monarchist state such as New Zealand arbitrary institutional powers can take precedence over the rule of law. That is the obstacle over which he will stumble as he attempts to advance the argument for bringing the state security apparatus under political control.

    However there is another side to the New Zealand psyche. Pablo alludes to “the difficulty in recruiting military and intelligence personnel out of the local citizenry” and it is evident that the security apparatus relies on migrants from Britain, South Africa and Canada to fill its professional ranks and to inform and collaborate. Thus the state security apparatus becomes increasingly foreign in its perspectives and alien in its attachments. Once New Zealanders decide to take responsibility for their own destiny as a people they will be in a position to “really care about matters of intelligence and security”.

    “Erewhon” makes some good points including the following:
    “… it is rare for a security professional to move into another industry or for somebody senior in another industry to move into security.”
    To be more specific, in the post-war era the SIS was staffed by police officers who had moved over from the uniformed branch and by senior military officers. On the whole, the police didn’t much like the political aspect of their work, and the military were not very good at it, so the SIS came to be seen as somewhat inept. In contrast, the military intelligence service of the war years had made a point of enlisting academics, creative writers and critical thinkers of all sorts with generally more favorable outcomes. But that very open approach to recruitment worked only so long as the perceived external threat to the nation outweighed its internal political or social divisions, and so the spirit of openness could not survive the end of war against the Axis powers. The closest the system has been able to come to employing critical thinkers in the post-war era has been to recruit at senior and entrant levels among the members of the legal profession, which in essence explains how the SIS came to forge its close relationship with the Chapman Tripp law firm. So the security intelligence apparatus is now run by a trio of feminist/Marxist lawyers, but that does not even indicate, let alone prove, institutional respect for the rule of law, and neither is there any evidence of the critical thinking or intellectual dissidence which gave strength and rigor to the New Zealand military intelligence service of an earlier generation. Gwyn, Kitteridge and Jagose are highly educated feminist, Marxist apparatchiks – no more and no less. They have sworn allegiance not to a system of fundamental organic law, as would be the case in a constitutional republic, but to a person, Queen Elizabeth, who herself exercises no control and takes no responsibility for the actions of those under her authority. The head of state, no less than the citizenry and the politicians, is happy to “let the professionals handle it”, which means that the professional triumvirate of Gwyn, Kitteridge and Jagose wield unbridled, irresponsible power. No one should need to ask where that will end.

  10. Yes all those fanatical Marxists with their unswerving devotion to the personal power of Queen Elizabeth are a real problem aren’t they.

  11. And Pablo, I am not so much saying you shouldn’t worry, so much as that you should worry about who ministers’ personal philosophies, rather than their credentials.

    I will take somebody with no personal experience with intelligence agencies who believes they should be tamed over somebody with an extensive professional intelligence background who believes they should be given free reign. Or to put it another way, I prefer a good agenda ineffectively implemented, than a bad agenda effectively implemented.

  12. I am sorry to have provoked a sarcastic response from Erewhon, who is clearly an intelligent person and therefore capable of discerning that the structure of the New Zealand state, and the role of its Head, is both subtle and complex. So we are not talking about “fanatical Marxists” (Cheryl Gwyn, for example is shrewd, measured and astute) with “unswerving devotion to the personal power of Queen Elizabeth” (I doubt that, among the 120 members of the new parliament who pledge solemn allegiance to Queen Elizabeth you will find more than a handful who are unswervingly devoted to her, and the same could be said of the members of the military, judiciary, police force, senior government officials and all new citizens who are bound in allegiance to her). Perhaps Erewhon genuinely fails to understand the way in which the system works, why the New Zealand monarchy persists in its present form, and how important it is for the regime to have a person, and that one particular person, rather than a constitutional document, as the legal foundation of the state. Sarcasm, in these circumstances at least, does nothing to aid the understanding.

  13. “I have briefly met both her and Helen Clark, and from that impression as well as their public personae, Ms. Arden is no Helen Clark.”

    That is true Pablo.They are worlds apart both in their demeanour and their modus operandi, but that is at least in part due to their respective generational backgrounds. But if you had been able to follow her management of the coalition negotiations with NZ First on the one hand and the Greens on the other – plus the way she has handled the transition of power and the distribution of the portfolios- I think you would be more than a little impressed. She will eventually equal Helen Clark in stature and – barring some unforeseen event – I believe she will remain Prime Minister for a good number of years to come.

    Btw,I know them both reasonably well.

  14. Thanks Anne,

    Between your remarks and those of Erewhon, I feel somewhat less distressed by the prospect. I look forward to finding out who her national security advisors are.

  15. ” Erewhon, who is clearly an intelligent person”

    Remind me to hit you up for a reference next time I’m putting together my CV.

    “Sarcasm, in these circumstances at least, does nothing to aid the understanding.”

    Just to be clear, I’m not engaging with you with the goal of educating myself about the structure of the NZ state.

  16. I would be astonished if Jacinda Ardern was to launch an inquiry into the Tirgiran valley incident or rein in the security intelligence apparatus and make it subject to the rule of law. In fact I can confidently predict that she will do neither, and will do little if anything to alleviate the concerns of those like Pablo who want to rescue the New Zealand state from the swamp of war crimes and abuses of power into which it has sunk over a long and disgraceful period of moral decline. The question remains whether Ardern will deliver the things that she has actually promised which have no direct connection to security matters, for example, the elimination of child poverty in this country. That is also a hard ask for any Prime Minister, because the problem of child poverty cannot be addressed in isolation from the problem of working class deprivation in general. The only way to lift children out of poverty without also lifting their parents would be to remove working class children into institutional custody en masse. So, practically speaking, Ardern must restore the fortunes of the working class as a whole if she is to solve the problem of child poverty. We will have to wait and see how she performs on that count. One thing is for sure: this country does not need, and cannot afford, another Helen Clark, so I hope and pray that Pablo is correct when he writes “Ms. Arden is no Helen Clark”.

  17. If there was a justified fear that the security services were out of control under the National government, what can we make of the events of the past week?
    I suggest that the security services are out of control no longer. On the contrary, they are firmly in control – of the Labour-led government, the political system, and the nation as a whole.

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