Research Link: the 42 Group Global Strategic Report Q1-2/2020.

I have been fortunate enough to receive regular reports from the 42 Group, a defence and security-focused collection of youngish people whose purpose is to provide independent strategic analysis to policy makers and the NZ public. Their work is very good.

I asked the person who sends me their reports if it was Ok to republish the latest report here. He agreed, so here it is.

14 thoughts on “Research Link: the 42 Group Global Strategic Report Q1-2/2020.

  1. Not bad analysis and very comprehensive, perhaps too much so. Some 95 percent irrelevant to NZ defence policy. Some of the recommendations are based on incorrect assertions (insistence on bleeding edge technology, for example. NZ doesn’t. If they mean fit for purpose on the modern battlefield, why not say so).
    As a policy document it’s too long and thus won’t be read by decision makers.
    Much to agree with but I leave with question ‘what’s the point’? More useful would be explicit critique of current policy, which is implicit in the document but hidden.
    I could go on.

  2. Thanks Jim.

    My impression is that the 42 Group offers these as think pieces for those interested in matters of defence and security (hence the length). They do offer recommendations but I am not sure that the main intention is to influence policy as much as it is to get readers, including policy-makers, to consider a variety of options, etc.

    I think that it is good to have this initiative, especially if it is from a younger group of strategic thinkers. They do these reports on their own time, away from their “day jobs” and perhaps academic obligations, so as an initiative I think they are worth supporting.

  3. As a fellow young strategic thinker I jumped on this, however I find myself pretty disappointed. About half an hour in I realised the red 4 in the 42 group name was probably a heavy Leftist signal.

    The document seems very scattershot and a bit heavy on areas that are of low importance to NZ. Some stuff I agree on, some seems a bit naive to me (e.g. I think we shouldn’t rely so much on US gear but trying for self reliance is a fool’s errand).

    It gives me old-soviet vibes, which is a pretty weird thing to even see in this day and age. I guess that dream has never died for some people though.

  4. I guess this is pretty good for what it is and better than usually generated by NZ “intellectuals” btu still it is all pretty baisc stuff that could not be of much enlightenment to a strategic expert like yourself, Pablo?

  5. Related – do you think the readership of this blog includes the sort of decision makers who are the intended consumers of this report? Or is it more that we might know someone who knows someone who knows someone, etc etc?

  6. 42 Group agree with Jim Rolfe that we went into a way too much detail in this report (its always easier when under time constraints to write 8 waffly pages than 2 succinct ones). In response to Jim’s other comments I’d note that we have previously produced reports that were shorter and more direct in their criticism of NZ (and Australian) defence policy – and we have made these available to decision makers. This was our second biannual global report, however, and inevitably related to developments that mostly occurred further afield. We’d have to agree to disagree about the relevance of these to NZ defence policy – but acknowledge that this is just our view. We also didn’t mean to assert that New Zealand insists on bleeding edge technology – and I apologise if we gave that impression. NZ does, however, tend to take its lead in at least some such cases from Australia, which has more of a tendency to chase the bleeding edge, hence our caution. All that said, Jim’s (rather gentle) criticism of the document’s length and applicability is undoubtedly valid – and we thank him and other commenters here for taking the time to consider and give feedback on it.

  7. In response to James Green’s comments above I’d say that, while we at 42Group definitely lean left, the red 4 has another meaning altogether. We’re sorry to have disappointed – and would sincerely like to know what developments we omitted that should have been included in a report on global developments over the Jan 2020 – June 2020 period? We are not huge fans of the Soviet Union, so we’ll have to work on our writing style to reduce those old-soviet vibes in future. Possibly they’re a result of me trying to bring together material from several authors. We do sincerely appreciate James’ feedback but would have to question one of his points (that aiming to achieve some degree of self-reliance is a fools’ errand). We do suggest in our report that New Zealand retain its existing alliances, and seek to strengthen its regional ones. We also suggest that it prepare for – and structure its defence capabilities around – the possibility of having to defend itself alone. To describe this as a fools’ errand implies that NZ has a choice about whether such a situation might eventuate in the future (or perhaps an assumption that NZ should automatically surrender if it does). We would argue that the former is simply not true, and that an assumption of assistance being provided in times of need is increasingly a source of significant strategic risk. Better to have enough of a defensive capability to deter attack and to convince a potential assailant to reach an accommodation with us. Still, we do thank James for taking the time to engage with the report.

  8. @James, I only read a few sections, the Venezuela joke of a coup attempt was the one that gave me the most “old lefty” vibes.

    As for self reliance I mean in equipment. It is simply untenable to develop any but a tiny proportion of the defence equipment that we should have. Our nation simply does not have the economic depth or specialisation to do so, even if we wanted to.

    Independence in foreign policy and defence is a worthy goal, but the way to go about that is by sourcing equipment from countries that are more aligned with our thinking and less likely to use their power to twist our arm. That means the US, China, Israel, and Russia are out. We should be sourcing equipment from European countries and places like Japan (the Kawasaki P-1 would have been a much better replacement for the Orions in my opinion).

    The “interoperability” argument is one I don’t buy at all and I’m happy to see you seem to agree. We definitely need partnerships with other countries, especially other than the US as they become increasingly more mercurial (I suspect the US wont actually get much better at treating other democracies like allies even under someone like Biden, the geostrategic space just isn’t aligning that way). I think our best bet is in developing a cooperation framework with other small democratic nations and then building on that.

    As for area of focus, while I certainly like to spend a lot of time on the most exciting stuff, like the whole interlinked mess that is the Middle East, I don’t think that’s where a NZ focused document should spend much time on. Our primary areas of military focus should be the Pacific Islands (incl Australia and West Papua) and Antarctica; secondary areas would be Southeast Asia, East Asia, Western South America (Chile, Peru, Ecuador) and potentially South Asia too (albeit I don’t see there is much we can do there). Beyond this I see little to no role for NZ in any meaningful military capacity, with the possible exception of anti-piracy patrols off Somalia.

    West Papua should be an area of major focus, as well as Indonesia generally. It’s an overlooked area that has a lot of potential for causing problems in the future, e.g. the Saudi influenced extremification of Islam there. Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan. These countries all merit the focus of NZ military planners. All the Pacific Island states should go with saying really but especially Tonga/Fiji. These aren’t “sexy” conflict hotspots and information is harder to come by but they are far more important to NZ.

    I liked that you mentioned air defences, I think we are too weak on this area. Even though I’m a big fan of submarines I can’t say I agree with the idea of taking on an Australian one, it would be of limited use with the huge transit times. Better to just let Australia handle that kettle of fish.

    Well I sure wrote more than I thought I would just now, better wrap up. I found stuff to like but a lot of stuff I didn’t, but overall from a group of youngish minds I was expect some more radical thinking [radical doesn’t mean extreme, I label myself a radical centrist for example] and instead I got the impression of old thinking, old ideas whose time has passed. I would urge you to be less constrained in how you approach NZ military policy reform. You are still thinking inside the box.

    You are at least doing something though and that’s more than me so I can’t complain too much.

  9. Thanks for the follow up James. I know the feeling (of writing more words than you intend to) all too well. There is far more in what you are saying that I agree with than that I don’t, so I won’t dwell on points of disagreement. It would probably be better (and more enjoyable) to discuss those over a beer or a cup of coffee some time. The idea behind the biannual global reports was to look at wider global conflicts and to try and infer any lessons that might be worth taking on board for NZ, but you may well be right that (if we are to keep this project going – which is a bit up in the air at the moment) we should look to produce something that focuses on laying out a regionally focused way forward. You’re probably right about the submarine too :-). Just as background, our project started when I read NZ’s 2018 Defence Capability plan, which was heavy on interoperability and described NZ buying two new frigates, the Poseidons and following Australia down the Triton path. Discussing it with friends in the garden bar of the Southern Cross, we decided to play devil’s advocate – because it seemed to us that these very large investments weren’t the best use of NZ’s money at that time. We don’t assume we’re right about everything though – and I for one welcome the opportunity to discuss with people who like to think about this stuff, regardless of whether we agree. All the best. J

  10. James, drop us a line if you’d like to discuss some outside the box ideas. Sounds most interesting.

  11. Do these guys have a Twitter account by any chance?

    This needs to beware that the 6 RNZAF P3K2’s are almost time expired aka almost out of Total Aircraft design fatigue hrs and Lockheed has said to the RNZAF once you hit that, we can’t guarantee how long you can running your P3’s for. It could be 12mths or 10yrs and the same also goes for your C130 fleet as well.

    Comparing our P3’s to the USAF B52 is like saying the Pope is a misguided Anglican? Because USAF has a huge number of B52’s in service and more in the Boneyard for spares, where as the RNZAF has 6 P3’s in service and one of them is a 2nd hand one the RAAF when the RNZAF realise that 5 P3’s wasn’t going to cut it long term given the hrs the then current ones were chewing up. Thank god Ronnie pushed through the P8’s (which btw wasn’t my prefer choice, as I would’ve gone for the Japanese P1) as the RNZAF P3’s were becoming like my late grandfathers chainsaw. Yep it still works, but it’s bloody dangerous to operate it if you don’t know what you are doing.

    Overall not bad, but as most have said it’s a tad too long. I could probably pick a few more holes in it over the coming Nth’ern Australian Wet Season when I get sick of build my model ships and I get the shits listening to my summer of cricket on the wireless.

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