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NZ Cautious On Military Contributions Abroad

New Zealand Cautious On Military Contributions Abroad, Australia Bolstering Its Visibility

By Andreas von Warburg – Reporting from the UN, New York.

As New Zealand's troop commitment to Afghanistan is being discussed at the Beehive this week, the country seems very cautious in increasing its military presence abroad, despite neighboring Australia moving to bolster its military visibility all over the world.

Wellington’s Defence Minister Phil Goff has suggested no more troops are needed in the Afghan province of Bayam, west of Kabul, where New Zealand counts 107 military officers – a total of 117 units are stationed in Afghanistan. Late last year, Joint Forces Commander Major General Rhys Jones said New Zealand’s commitment in Afghanistan was under review and could be increased.

In November, New Zealand extended the duration of its troop deployment in Afghanistan for two years until September 2009. “A peaceful Afghanistan, able to provide for its people and prevent itself being used as a terrorist base, is in the interests of the international community,” Prime Minister Helen Clark said in a statement back then.

A stronger Kiwi participation would be welcomed by the European Union, which is expected the deploy a EU-led 195-unit police training mission by early April. "If we perform well I think there will be willingness on the part of the EU, Canada and New Zealand to enlarge the numbers," EU Special Representative Francesc Vendrell said last week commenting on the situation in Afghanistan.

The New Zealand Government’s cautiousness is reflected in its strategy for Timor Leste, where at present there are 170 New Zealand soldiers, and an additional 20 and 35 more on standby, ready to be deployed. An increase, however, is not in Wellington’s plans for now.

“It is unlikely further New Zealand troops are needed on the ground,” Goff said in an interview on Radio New Zealand right after a failed attempt to assassinate Timor Leste President and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jose Ramos-Horta earlier this month. If the situation “were to deteriorate, we could certainly consider a request for further help.”

Following the assassination attempt, Australia sent a contingent of 120 troops as well as 70 extra Australian Federal Police to Dili to help maintain security. The total number of Aussie’s military personnel in East Timor has increased to over one thousand.

“I am told that that is more to reassure the public than because of a situation on the ground," Goff said commenting on Australia’s decision.

Apart from Afghanistan and East Timor, New Zealand’s Defence Forces are also deployed in the Solomon Islands, as part of the multi-national Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). A 43-strong platoon made up primarily of territorial force soldiers from the 5th Wellington West Coast Taranaki and 7th Wellington Hawke's Bay battalions provides security and training. Another 53 Kiwis – civilian and Police advisors – are part of RAMSI.

Currently, Australia counts 169 civilian advisors and 210 Police Force advisors in the Solomons and contributes more than AU$250 annually to the mission.

Last week, Pacific Island countries agreed to play a bigger role in the activities of RAMSI, but it’s still unclear whether Australia and New Zealand will downsize their own contributions in terms of personnel and funding.

A look at New Zealand’s commitment in Lebanon shows that New Zealand Defence Force's year-long commitment to clearing unexploded munitions in Southern Lebanon has come to an end earlier this month. A total of 30 Kiwis were involved in the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre in the country, where they worked to clear unexploded munitions scattered over farmland and village areas after the 30-day war between Israel and Hezbollah that ended in August 2006.

Overall, in terms of its contributions to United Nations-led missions, New Zealand has kept contributions steady but low. As of January 31, a total of 40 kiwis have been contributed to UN peacekeeping operations, almost unchanged compared to the 41 units a year ago.


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