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'Balanced Forces And Balanced Responsibilities'

Speech Notes for the Defence Debate
By Hon Max Bradford
Opposition spokesperson on Defence and Foreign Affairs

'Balanced Forces and Balanced Responsibilities'

Centre of Strategic Studies
Victoria University

9am, 31 May 2001

Labels get in the way of a clear understanding of the things they purport to describe.

So it is with the term "balanced force".

The concept of a "balanced force" is often misunderstood because those dismissing the term believe it to mean a "comprehensive force", where an army, navy or airforce has - or should have - the capability to do everything required in modern warfare.

Defined in this - incorrect - way, the New Zealand Defence Force has never been a "balanced force" of course.

I much prefer the term "force with a balance of capability", where the force structure is relevant to the sphere of interests we have as a country, and the responsibilities we have chosen to accept as a nation.

These 3 things should shape our defence policy:

* what is New Zealand's SPHERE of interest, if not influence; * what INTERESTS we have to protect and enhance; and * New Zealand's RESPONSIBILITIES in our sphere of interest.


The geographical area, or sphere, against which we should test our interests, has to be the Asia-Pacific region.

Some would have us shrink to the South Pacific, as I will demonstrate in a moment.

40 percent of our trade goes into the Asia-Pacific region. Barely 4 percent goes into the Pacific.

North and South Asia will become more, not less, important to us over time, so that is where our economic, foreign and defence focus will inevitably lie.


New Zealand's vital interest therefore is in this wider region, rather than just the Pacific.

Our interests here are wide, particularly in trade, in economic affairs, and in peace and security.

If there is instability or conflict in the region, we cannot trade. Investment will not flow. Countries will not trade amongst themselves, and people will not travel.


New Zealand's principal responsibilities flow from our sphere of interest, and from the moral responsibility to be a good neighbour and global citizen.

Being a good neighbour means helping in times of adversity, and in stopping the adversity in the first place if possible.

The best of neighbours will band together to beat the home invaders, and to enforce law and order in our communities.

Neighbourhood Watch is about sharing a local community burden to achieve individual security. Everybody shares in the collective security of the Watch, and nobody bludges.

Defence policy is a bit like Neighbourhood Watch.

The sphere of New Zealand's interests defines the sort of capability we need to meet any threats, risks and opportunities.

That includes diplomatic capability, as well as defence capability.

The responsibility we accept, and the shared values we support, defines the countries and organisations with which New Zealand must act.

Those responsibilities go well beyond humanitarian relief and peacekeeping.

The harder, more expensive, tasks of preserving peace and security lie with us too, because we have interests to protect well beyond our shores.

We cannot, nor should we, leave that to others. That moral dimension is often forgotten these days.

New Zealand is not so small, nor so poor, that we cannot accept a fair share of the burden of maintaining peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

Until this year, there was bi-partisan agreement on the sphere of New Zealand's interests, and the responsibilities we accepted.

A Fundamental Shift in Direction

There is no doubt the Clark Government is embarking on a radical foreign and defence policy shift.

The Government is hiding this shift from New Zealanders: either that or they do not realise the implications of the decisions they have made in defence policy.

Ironically, the Greens realise it, and are ecstatic as we heard yesterday from K Locke, their defence and foreign affairs spokesperson.

We can get a glimmering of this fundamental shift from the defence objectives set out in their Defence Policy Framework last year.

Consider them:

* to defend New Zealand and to protect its people, land, and territorial waters, EEZ, natural resources and critical infrastructure; * to assist in the maintenance of security in the South Pacific and to provide assistance to our Pacific neighbours; * to meet New Zealand's alliance commitments to Australia by maintaining a close defence partnership in pursuit of common security interests; * to play an appropriate role in the maintenance of security in the Asia-Pacific region, including meeting our obligations as a member of FPDA; * to contribute to global security and peacekeeping through participation in the full range of UN and other appropriate multilateral peace support and humanitarian relief operations.

Contrast this with the defence objectives of successive governments since the 1970's.

* to defend New Zealand against low level threats such as incursions into our EEZ and terrorism; * to contribute to regional security by maintaining our key defence relationships with Australia and FPDA partners; * to be a good international citizen by playing our part in global security efforts, particularly peacekeeping.

Reading the words according to their ordinary meaning, these are two quite different objective frameworks.

The language in the Clark Government's objectives:

* is focussed very much in our waters and in the South Pacific; * is softer, much softer, with respect to accepting defence and security commitments to Australia and the FPDA; * talks only of "an (undefined) appropriate role" in the Asia-Pacific region rather than a definite commitment to "contributing to regional security"; * constrains New Zealand's role in global security efforts to "peace support and humanitarian relief operations", suggesting that such deployments to the Gulf are not to be undertaken; * allows Helen Clark to assert that we "live in an incredibly benign strategic environment".

This framework of objectives is a fundamental shift in defence, if not foreign, policy direction.

It is being read as such by the countries with which we have had an historical security relationship, and whose defence umbrellas we still share to a greater or lesser degree.

I have just returned from a two-week visit to the USA, the UK and Singapore. I have also had extensive discussions in Australia recently.

Stripping aside the diplo-speak, the reaction of these countries has been universally scathing about the Government's cuts in defence capability.

Phrases like New Zealand is "drifting into irrelevancy" or "we read this change as New Zealand sliding into non-alignment" were common.

All the people I spoke with acknowledged that New Zealand had the right to make its own decisions on defence.

But they could not understand the rationale, or the logic, of the decisions any more than many people do in New Zealand.

At a time when most countries are running down their land forces, New Zealand is putting more emphasis on the army.

They could not understand why New Zealand is making land forces its primary defence and combat capability, when it is a country surrounded by thousands of kilometres of blue water, and there is no palpable threat to our borders?

If the land forces are to be used for expeditionary purposes, whether for peacekeeping or not, then why has the Government canned the heavy sea-lift vessel, and is not proposing to replace it?

New Zealand is the only country in the world to abandon a combat airforce. Most countries are establishing, enhancing, replacing, or expanding this capability.

There is a widespread perception that New Zealand is withdrawing into an isolationist role. No amount of handwringing or protestation by the Government will remove this strongly held perception abroad.

And any politician knows that perception is reality.

The people I spoke with could not understand how New Zealand will be "more independent" from the Government's defence policy, which Helen Clark asserts is the case.

The army-centric force structure will, in their eyes, make New Zealand more, not less, dependent on other countries' defence forces to provide air power and naval support, even in peacekeeping operations.

No country with a defence capability relevant for today's threat environment would dare run the risk of an unacceptable casualty rate to its land forces without air or naval combat cover.

The implication of the Government's policy, in the view of the defence experts I spoke with is that the army will only be useful in a low threat environment where a civilian policing action is closer to the real peacekeeping need.

Otherwise, New Zealand will have to depend on other countries for air and naval combat cover, making our defence policy less, not more, independent than now.

That is perceived as "bludging" by a country, though small, which is relatively wealthy by their standards.

The question was also raised how New Zealand would be able to satisfy its obligations under the FPDA. The FPDA is essentially an air and naval defence relationship, and does not involve land forces.

The simple answer is the New Zealand can't. By stealth, the Government is withdrawing from the FPDA, and that is proven by the words in the defence policy framework.

Other members of the FPDA see this, and frankly the Government should be honest enough with New Zealanders as well as our FPDA partners to say that that is their real objective.

Without telling New Zealanders the full story, Helen Clark's government has embarked down a path of disengagement if not isolationism, through the defence policy announced 3 weeks ago.

There has been unseemly haste in disbanding the airforce. This has been to the considerable angst of the Australians who wanted the NOWRA agreement kept alive until 2003.

This could have been done at little cost to the New Zealand taxpayer, but Clark was determined to destroy any semblance of this capability well ahead of the next election.

This is out of character with the rest of the defence package.

The changes to the naval capability are so fuzzy, and the decisions on the rest of the air force transport capability so unformed, that one wonders why the haste was necessary over the Skyhawks.

Unless of course the decision was purely ideological, where the memory of the Skyhawks is to be erased from our collective consciousness well before the next election.

The climate created abroad by the Government's defence decisions is having a profound impact on how others see us in a wider sense.

Unlike the past, when the moral crusade over nuclear weapons received grudging respect from others, the decision to walk away from a defence force with balanced capability is being treated with the moral contempt it thoroughly deserves.

Some countries see us as bludging on them; on their defence shield; on their taxpayers.

Perhaps this is why so many New Zealanders feel very uneasy and unhappy about the defence package.

There is a moral dimension to Clark's decision to walk away from playing a proper part in collective defence and security.

New Zealanders will not accept the immorality of not being seen to "pull our weight" in the Asia-Pacific region.

The evidence constantly thrust in the faces of New Zealanders is of greater instability and insecurity in the Asia-Pacific region, and not the "incredibly benign strategic environment" of which the Prime Minister speaks.

Perhaps most disturbing though was the linkage established in the minds of the people I spoke to between defence and the other components of country-to-country relationships.

It has been holy writ in New Zealand not to allow different parts of our relationship with other countries to unduly influence, or poison, other parts.

So, for example, if New Zealand took a view on nuclear powered ship visits it was not expected to affect the quality of our trade relationship with other countries.

Those days are well and truly gone in my view, if the inferences and linkages painted to me are any guide.

John Howard said so after the defence decisions were announced by Helen Clark, when he stated they would have "domestic and international consequences".

Only time will tell how serious this is for the trade, investment and economic concessions we are seeking from our security partners like Australia, the US, and Singapore.

Nothing will be said publicly if there is a retributive response. It is more likely that important trade and investment relationships we want to develop to our advantage will wither on the vine or be placed in a long queue with other non-aligned countries.

Balanced Forces and Balanced Responsibilities

If defence policy is to fit with the sphere of interests and responsibilities I outlined above, then New Zealand's defence force will have to have restore adequate naval and air combat capability.

The Clark Government's cuts in defence capability are shaped to a radically different view of the world, focussed on the South Pacific and on low level peacekeeping where humanitarian and disaster relief has a higher role than defence of the realm or protecting our troops when in harm's way.

The question is whether New Zealanders understand and accept that view.

The balance of capability in our defence force structure must match the balance of responsibilities we accept as a country, given our sphere of vital interests.

Others looking in on us see New Zealand as retreating from collective peace and security efforts in the Asia-Pacific region, and from our commitments made and relied on for 100 years.

Is this where we want to be as a nation?


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