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Completing The Defence Capability Jigsaw

Completing The Defence Capability Jigsaw

Australian Prime Minister John Howard yesterday announced a 2600-strong boost in troop numbers for the Australian Army to meet their regional security and defence challenges over the next two decades. Their challenges are also New Zealand's and our contribution to Australia's lead in what has become a security jigsaw puzzle of peace and freedom in the Pacific and South East Asia Region must transcend single party defence politics.

The relative size of New Zealand's Defence Force to Australia's has traditionally mirrored our populations. New Zealand has a fundamentally different economy to Australia but recruitment and retention issues for defence personnel are similar. Our interests in regional security are inextricably linked with Australia.

New Zealand must pull its weight - it is important that we remain relevant in security terms.

Although it is tempting to discuss troop numbers, it is more important to consider the harmonisation of our capabilities with that of the Australian Defence Force. In fields well beyond security, New Zealand is seen as a value-added provider and this thinking needs to be applied to our security forces. When considering the make-up of our defence force we must give priority to the capabilities that we can bring to the table and how well our forces integrate with the Australian lead being provided in the region.

Prime Minister Howard said that Australia "faces ongoing, and in my opinion increasing, instances of destabilised and failing states in our own region" and "I believe in the next 10 to 20 years, Australia will face a number of situations the equivalent of, or potentially more challenging than, the Solomon Islands and East Timor."

Unlike New Zealand's dated assessment, Australia's strategic analysis has revealed that increased capability is necessary to be able to ensure regional security. New Zealand has a part to play. We may be small but the pieces we contribute to completing the jigsaw puzzle are crucial in bringing peace and freedom to the Pacific region and these could be security capabilities that we have not historically emphasized.

It is time for the Minister of Defence to pause, consider carefully the Australian assessment, the shape of their existing and future capability and complement this by engaging New Zealand security policy in a more coherent way with our long-standing and closest ally.


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