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Coalition Defence Stance Found Wanting - Prebble

Coalition Defence Stance Found Wanting - Richard Prebble

In the space of a few days the coalition's foreign policy and defence position has been proved to be wanting. As I write, a navy frigate has sailed to the Solomons, the very vessel that Labour and the Alliance say we do not need.

The Prime Minister has recently returned from a three-hour meeting of left wing leaders in Berlin, her fourth overseas trip since being elected. No doubt she was closely questioned about the coup in Fiji and those involved. Did she admit that none of her previous trips included the Pacific, that her government was caught by surprise and she knows few of those involved? Indeed coup leader George Speight thought Jenny Craig was the New Zealand PM!

Labour's proposed defence review has been dropped. Now it is to be a policy paper. Helen Clark's announcement that New Zealand will put its defence priority on army peacekeeping looks absurd and dangerous.

To say that New Zealand is all of a sudden going to become a ready reactionary peace keeping force based on the army is nonsense. In fact, the navy and the airforce have always provided support to the army or have been the predominant New Zealand contribution in almost all operations. For example, the navy and the airforce were the predominant personnel involved in:

 Cambodia in 1992 – mine clearance and naval personnel to monitor coasts and rivers  Bougainville – involved a balance of air, navy and army  Somalia – three Andover aircraft  Gulf War – two C130 Hercules. Later on, a frigate patrol.  Rwanda – Hercules and 36 air personnel  Kosovo – C130 Hercules  East Timor – has involved both army, two C130 Hercules and helicopters, a frigate and a navy tanker. Events in the Pacific have reminded us that our near neighbours do not look either peaceful or stable.

In Samoa they have had the political assassination of a Minister. In Tonga there has been agitation against the power of the monarchy, and worries of an economic meltdown. It is not long ago that in the French dependencies there was violent political agitation.

In these types of crises, it is the navy and the airforce who are the first key part of New Zealand’s active foreign policy response.

The coalition government's foreign policy has relied on international pressure. It's New Zealand's 'membership' of the 'Western Alliance' that we have called on for assistance.

The calls by the Alliance for a non-aligned, fundamentally anti-American, anti-Australian, ‘go it alone’ foreign policy line is being shown to be unsustainable.

In the Solomons, New Zealand's foreign minister Phil Goff does appear to be responding to events. His problem is that he is acting in an ad-hoc way and not within a coherent framework which should include both trade and defence.

He is also clearly relying on assistance and advise from the Commonwealth Secretary General, his predecessor, Don McKinnon. Phil Goff would do well to follow further Don McKinnon's practise and visit the Pacific every year, to make the Pacific his priority. It was Don McKinnon’s support from the Pacific that got him the Commonwealth’s top job.

Studying how Don McKinnon helped resolve the Bougainville crisis would help this government write its defence policy and put together a credible foreign policy.

While unarmed peacekeepers were ashore, cruising off Bougainville was a heavily armed frigate. New Zealand did not act alone, but in close co-operation with Australia.

New Zealand needs a balanced defence force. The lesson of the antics of our neighbours in the year 2000 is that foreign affairs and defence priorities start in our own neighbourhood, we need a balanced defence capability, and we need the closest co-operation of our traditional allies: Australia, UK and the USA.

Before taking any more trips the Prime Minister needs to put forward a coherent defence and foreign policy. To create a sound defence and foreign policy, the government needs to articulate clearly what its goals are. Once the coalition has a coherent set of policy objectives they can settle on the measures needed to achieve these objectives.

It is hard to see how a trip to Berlin fits into any coherent foreign policy, or how making army peacekeeping the defence priority meets our security requirements.


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