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Transformation of a small defence force - Goff

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Defence
Delivery at 3am NZT, 21 April 2006

Speech Notes

Transformation of a small defence force

National Defence University,
Washington DC

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today. It's a pleasure to be back in Washington and to have the privilege of addressing you.

I have been asked to talk about the process of transforming a small defence force to respond to today’s security environment. What I would like to share with you is our experience in New Zealand over the last six years in working to modernise our defence forces so that they are best able to meet contemporary needs. I would also like to outline for you the context within which we have made our decisions.

Providing security for our citizens is a responsibility and a challenge that all countries confront. The responses each country develops differ, depending on perceived threats, alliance obligations, international commitments, history, geography, economic considerations, and international outlook.

As a country with a population less than a third of the size of metropolitan Los Angeles or New York, New Zealand's role and capabilities with respect to international security are naturally different from those of the United States. We recognise the heavy responsibility carried by the US as the world's pre-eminent economic, political and military power.

We share with the US a similar cultural heritage and a common commitment to democracy, human rights and freedom, and the rule of law. We have a common cause in working to achieve a stable, secure and prosperous world.

New Zealand is situated at the bottom of the South Pacific, distant from the world’s trouble spots. A former Prime Minister once described us strategically as a dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica. We threaten no one, and currently face no military threats to our sovereignty. That we are not perceived by any other country as a threat to it gives us an advantage in the role we can play in security and peace keeping missions.

However New Zealand is not immune to the security challenges the rest of the world faces such as terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and the illegal movement of people, drugs and weapons.

Further while we are a small country in a relatively isolated geographic position, as a nation we have never been isolationist or reluctant to play our part in international affairs.

Indeed, we participated in all major conflicts of the twentieth century, most often alongside the United States.

In the First World War, 18,000 New Zealanders were killed and 60,000 wounded. The combined figure represented more than five per cent of our total population, which was less than a million at the time. On a per capita basis, this was among the highest of any country.

The Second World War extracted an equally heavy toll. With a population of only 1.6 million people, New Zealand’s mobilisation peaked at 153,000 in the armed services – over half the male population aged between 18 and 45.

While prepared then and now to fight for our freedom, the losses we sustained and the massive destruction and loss of human life the world incurred in the two wars, created in New Zealand a strong commitment to maintaining peace and using collective international action to prevent aggression and settle disputes.

Since the Second World War we have promoted the role of multilateral institutions in maintaining rules-based systems governing the conduct between nations.

We see such institutions as providing a forum in which small countries like New Zealand can have their voice heard and play an effective role internationally.

Multilateralism has its shortcomings, in particular having to rely on near consensus to act. The UN has time and again confronted the difficulties that are inherent in meeting that requirement.

Multilateralism has the advantage, however, that at its best it maximises the effectiveness of the international community by insuring common ownership of problems and commitment to resolving them.

Multilateralism involves more than just military issues. New Zealand’s commitment to multilateralism is evident in a strong track record on such issues as trade liberalisation through the WTO, environment, disarmament, and non-proliferation.

Since 9/11, New Zealand has participated positively in the global campaign against terrorism. Our cooperation with the US across a range of security policy, non-proliferation, customs, police and intelligence sharing areas has increased. These are not areas we often talk about for obvious reasons but they are very important. They are areas where New Zealand has devoted considerably more resources since 9/11 and areas where our interaction with the US and other close friends has intensified.

We have played an active part in Operation Enduring Freedom, deploying ground, naval, and air assets to Afghanistan and the Gulf region.

The NZSAS – our special forces – have served in three rotations, working alongside their US and other international counterparts in security operations in Afghanistan. In December 2004, along with others they received from President Bush the Presidential Unit Citation recognising their contribution under difficult and hazardous conditions to the military campaign in southern Afghanistan.

Our 120-strong Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan, now in its seventh rotation, was the third established in Afghanistan. Last week we committed our defence forces in Bamyan for a further year; acknowledging the importance of the security and development role they are playing.

The campaign against terrorism seems likely to be a long one, both in Afghanistan and closer to home in Southeast Asia. We remain committed to working with the United States and other like-minded countries to counter this threat.

New Zealand's commitment to collective security has involved it in a wide range of deployments across the world over the last decade. In 1995, we committed around 250 troops to help end the conflict in Bosnia. In 2000/01, New Zealand forces involved in overseas deployments peaked at around 1100 when we had a battalion committed in East Timor for nearly three years.

At present around 220 Defence Force personnel are contributing to operations in Solomon Islands, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, the Middle East, East Timor, Korea, Sudan, and Afghanistan.

I want to turn now to our defence policy goals, what we are doing in the New Zealand Defence Force to meet today’s security environment, and how we are planning for the future.

New Zealand's defence interests extend into the Asia-Pacific region, among the most dynamic in the world, and increasingly the engine of growth in the world economy.

We recognise the key US role in the security and stability of that region and the contribution it makes to ensuring that regional tensions, whether on the Korean peninsula, across the Taiwan Straits, or in South Asia, are managed without recourse to force.

The US does not do that alone. We both have a range of valued bilateral defence relationships, and beyond that, in both APEC and the ASEAN Regional Forum. We work together to achieve good security outcomes for the region. New Zealand contributes to the UN Command Military Armistice Commission in Korea, and is a member of the Five Power Defence Arrangement with the UK, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Our strategic perspective is that while New Zealand at present is not threatened militarily by another state, we face non-traditional security threats in areas such as biosecurity, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, trans-national crime and terrorism. We have other concerns about the destabilisation of our region from the availability of black market military weapons, natural disasters, and state fragility and failure in the Pacific and beyond.

When the current Labour-led government came to power in 1999, the Defence Force was unsure of its primary purpose. Its equipment was outdated and its forward planning confused. It was unable to provide the government with the range of capability options required to meet today’s security threats. A coordinated approach to re-organisation and re-building was needed.

The direction we wanted to go was clear. Priority needed to be given to investing in force elements that were trained, equipped, and maintained at appropriate levels of combat viability and readiness to be deployed at home and internationally.

New Zealand needed to focus its resources in specific areas in which we could achieve excellence and add value to international efforts rather than try to do everything but spread our resources thinly.

As a small state, maintaining state-of-the-art technological capabilities in some areas such as air combat was likely to be very expensive and detract from capabilities we needed in other areas. In our strategic situation a fast jet capability offered the government little or no policy utility. Our A4 Skyhawks were coming to the end of their life. They had never been used in combat and the cost of replacing them with F-16s, new but relatively old technologically, could not be a priority when compared with other areas in high demand such as air transport, surveillance and rotary wing capabilities.

The shift towards a narrower, but more focused, range of military capabilities is a reality for many small and medium-sized nations, including some NATO members.

In the New Zealand context this shift has been backed by significant investment in new and upgraded capabilities. In 2002, the government approved the Defence Long Term Development Plan and committed more than $3 billion over ten years to update and replace a range of obsolescent equipment.

Initially we focused our attention on the Army. It is the Army that has had the greatest utility for us in the past and this is likely to remain so in the immediate future.

The purchase of 105 new light armoured vehicles (the Stryker platform but with a more sophisticated gun turret); new light operational vehicles, Pinzgauers, including armoured, non-armoured and special operations variants; and a new tactical mobile communications systems has underpinned the Army’s shift to a motorised cavalry configuration. It is based on modular concepts, allowing it to deliver more firepower, more quickly, in a greater range of situations.

For the Air Force, the purchase and conversion of two B-757s into freighter configuration, the life-extension of our C-130 Hercules fleet, and new state-of-the-art medium utility helicopters will significantly enhance both our strategic and tactical airlift capabilities, and support the Army.

We have also begun the mission systems upgrade of our re-winged P-3 Orion fleet. This will ensure that we have a sophisticated maritime and land surveillance capacity out into the future.

We have also made major investments in improving the surveillance and operational capabilities of the Navy. A new 9000-tonne multi-role vessel will be able to transport a fully equipped infantry company, its light armoured and operational vehicles and support helicopters, as well as providing other capabilities like surface patrol, logistic support for land operations, and disaster relief.

Six other ships being procured under the same project will significantly improve our maritime resource and border protection capabilities. The two 85m offshore patrol vessels that are part of this package will have the reach and performance specifications to work in the Pacific and the Southern Ocean. They will also have an important maritime counter-terrorism role and deliver real capability in the constabulary-type roles small-nation navies are increasingly being asked to perform.

A key component of our new defence policy was the creation in 1999 of a Joint Force Headquarters. A joint approach to structure and operations is now more important than ever because in today’s world the traditional distinctions between land, air and maritime operations have become less relevant. I note that a joint approach is also a key objective of your force transformation policy.

In addition to this new spending on equipment, we have committed to a 10-year, $4.6 billion capability-rebuilding programme.

Known as the Defence Sustainability Initiative, the priorities for this new funding will be increasing personnel levels by between 12 and 15 percent, bringing new equipment into service, re-building infrastructure, and increasing reserve stocks.

A key driver behind the type of capabilities we are investing in is our alliance relationship with Australia and, closely linked to that, our responsibilities in the South Pacific.

The small island states of the Pacific make up our immediate neighbourhood and have close ties with New Zealand. Along with Australia, we are committed to ensuring that this region is secure and prosperous, and that the people there are able to enjoy the benefits of living in well-governed, democratic societies.

Preventing conflict and restoring peace has become an important focal point of our engagement in the Pacific.

The New Zealand Defence Force has played an important role in restoring peace to the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville after a civil war that cost 20,000 lives, and in East Timor where we contributed to helping that country to achieve self determination and reconstruction.

More recently, in Solomon Islands, New Zealand Defence Force personnel and police have worked alongside their counterparts from Australia and the Pacific in pulling that country back from the brink of civil war and anarchy.

The Regional Assistance Mission in Solomon Islands has been a good role model for regional cooperation and measured intervention in fragile states. The US State Department has acknowledged that the mission has been an excellent example of what Condoleezza Rice has described as transformational democracy.

Achieving this and President Bush's freedom and democracy agenda is however far from straightforward. Intervening to help a country function properly does not by itself change the culture of governance or popular behaviour. The riots that have followed the result of the successfully conducted elections there last week show how far we have to go before we achieve that change in culture.

Looking ahead there remains a sense of vulnerability in the region, particularly in Melanesia, to a range of cumulative pressures. These include population growth, governance failures, fragile economies and ethnic tensions. These threats in other parts of the world have created an environment conducive to exploitation from external sources.

Given that such threats are frequently too big for small Pacific states to handle on their own, it is vital that Australia and New Zealand continue to provide leadership and support in shaping a regional response.

I want to conclude my presentation this afternoon by discussing the relationship between New Zealand and the United States.

This longstanding relationship is based on common values and shared experiences. New Zealand, like the United States, is a nation that stands for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Both of us are among a relatively small number of countries that have been consistent over the last century in the advocacy and practice of these principles.

Equally, the defence relationship between our two countries has a long history.

For those of you who are students of military history, in 1917 the US Army attached observers to the New Zealand Division on the Western Front as part of preparations for your country’s entry into the First World War.

The Second World War added considerable depth and breadth to the defence relationship. US and New Zealand troops fought alongside each other in the European theatre and in the Pacific, in the Solomons archipelago.

The Pacific campaigns saw the basing of large numbers of US troops, particularly from the Marines, in New Zealand. The enduring people to people links formed during this time were encapsulated by the 1400 Kiwi women who married US servicemen.

In the case of my own family, this tradition has continued with my sister the proud mother of four young Americans in the US Defence Forces – two West Point graduates, a third entering the academy this year, and the fourth in the ROTC. This gives me a certain vested interest in US Defence policy!

Since the Second World War, New Zealand soldiers have served alongside American soldiers in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf, Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo, and in Afghanistan where we continue to do so.

We cooperate closely through the Proliferation Security Initiative, including in the recent Pacific Protector exercise held in Australia early this month. The exercise involved like-minded countries, including the United States and New Zealand, working together to develop and test procedures to detect and interdict weapons of mass destruction.

But it is understandable that as sovereign and independent nations our interests do not always coincide.

The nuclear issue is one such area. New Zealand's decision in the 1980s to be nuclear free is at odds with US views. We acknowledge that this has caused the United States Administration concern.

New Zealanders are committed to their country remaining free of nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Nonetheless, I believe it serves neither of our interests to let this disagreement prevent cooperation between our two countries across the widest range of fronts, including on security matters.

We accept and do not seek to circumvent the Presidential Directive that followed New Zealand's adoption of its nuclear free status in 1985 and which imposes constraints on some aspects of our defence relationship.

However that should not obstruct co-operative activities relevant to present day security challenges which are mutually beneficial.

New Zealand looks for a forward-looking and positive defence relationship with the United States that enhances our ability to work together in support of our common international and regional security interests.

In conclusion, I have sought to show that like the US, New Zealand is also committed to re-shaping its Defence Force to respond to a wider range of threats. However, as military technology pushes some capabilities beyond the reach of smaller nations, those nations must look to where they can add value.

The value of the investments we have made in new and upgraded military capabilities, and our willingness to use them in pursuit of international security, is evident in a range of deployments from Solomon Islands to Afghanistan, and from Bosnia to the Arabian Sea.

And in all of these missions New Zealand forces are operating with friends and allies, including Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

I want to thank the National Defence University for the invitation to speak to you this afternoon.

ENDS

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