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Goff Speech: Military Force in the Modern World

The Nature and Use of New Zealand Military Force in the Modern World

Phil Goff Speech to 2006 graduating class of the New Zealand Defence Force Command and Staff College, Trentham, Upper Hutt


Colonel Rob Mackie, General Jerry Mateparae, course members, and guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I want to begin by congratulating graduates on your achievements at the college, and also to challenge you to consider how you might apply what you have learnt in the seven months you have spent here.

When I spoke with you early in October, we discussed New Zealand's strategic situation, the international situation, and how our defence policy is shaped by these factors.

You have had some challenging questions put to you. What roles, for example, do defence forces need to play in today's complex security environment? How can we help bring peace and security to another sovereign country without taking over responsibility for its problems and coming to be blamed for those problems? What should the position of the military be in relation to political authority within a modern society?

We discussed earlier the changing nature of national security as it moves away from direct confrontations between nations' armed forces towards the complex issues of border security, resource protection, and policing. That is why I welcome the opportunity to have on this course officers from customs and fisheries.

New Zealand in the 21st century has not faced a conventional military threat. We and the international community are however confronted by the problems of terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, trans-national crime, natural disasters, a possible global pandemic, and the consequences of state fragility in our region and beyond. Meeting these challenges involves not just our armed forces, but all of our security agencies working together and working internationally.

We are very pleased to have had on the course representatives from Australia, China, Fiji, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Korea, and Thailand. The challenges we are discussing are equally relevant to your countries.

It has not been an easy year for our region or internationally.

The events of the last 48 hours in Fiji are of grave concern.

The military commander states he plans to defend democracy by overthrowing it. He has done the very thing that he has repeatedly condemned George Speight for doing in 2000.

Commodore Bainimarama has treated with contempt the mandate given to the Qarase Government through a free and democratic choice by the electorate barely seven months ago. He justifies his actions as being for the good of the country. His real motivation however appears to be the more personal agenda of protecting himself from accountability for his role in the death in custody of soldiers involved in the mutiny in 2000. But for his position of military commander, he could face charges for this as well as his more recent seditious behaviour.

Power does flow from the barrel of a gun, as Mao said.

But military rule does not ensure effective governance. It undermines absolutely the concept of the rule of law. It risks entrenching dictatorial, unjust and unaccountable authority. It overrides the decision made by Fijian people democratically and constitutionally in their recent election. It diminishes confidence by the international community in Fiji and will damage the country socially, politically and economically, as earlier coups have done in the past.

New Zealand is utterly opposed to these actions, in Fiji and elsewhere.

Those with military authority who believe they can do a better job in running the country should take off their uniforms, and present themselves as candidates at election time and allow the people to make their judgement about what vision of the future they prefer.

The suggestion has been made for Australia and New Zealand to intervene militarily to stop the coup.

Our judgement however is that external intervention could result in considerable bloodshed and succeed only in worsening the situation. We rejected that option in 1987 and 2000 for the same reason. We are also aware that the internal domestic causes underlying Fiji's coups and instability cannot be resolved by outside action. In the end, people in Fiji themselves must determine whether they will accept Commodore Bainimarama's actions and how the underlying issues should be resolved.

We have across the Pacific seen other serious instability, including in areas where regional intervention had appeared to establish security and stability and set countries like the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste on a course for a better future.

The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands has been an excellent example of regional cooperation. The intervention by RAMSI on the invitation of the Solomon Islands government drew the country back from the brink of state failure and anarchy.

However, following a successful election in 2005, political rivalry, criminal intent and ethnocentrism saw destruction of Chinese owned commercial premises in Honiara which saw outsiders again called in to assist.

RAMSI's future is threatened by resentment from the new government over its role in decision making and upholding the rule of law in the Solomons. And in particular Australia's influence in that. The vast majority of the population, however, support a continuation of RAMSI's role.

In Timor Leste, we celebrated with its people the attainment of democracy and self-determination in 2002 after 25 years of struggle, and an apparently successful United Nations led transition to independence.

Yet in April 2006, divisions between politicians, communities and the police and defence forces saw a renewal of burnings and killings and thousands of people displaced from their homes. This again required external intervention to restore calm.

Interventions in both countries to avoid chaos and violence were necessary.

But defence and police force interventions while achieving stability do not by themselves establish political cultures which accept the rule of law, and respect authority deriving from democratic process.

Establishing that culture, developing leadership capacity and putting in place sustainable economic and social development are longer term processes.

Stability and progress are mutually dependent. Neither can be achieved without the other.

We see the same challenges on a larger scale in Iraq and Afghanistan, with additional complications and wider international implications.

New Zealand chose not to be part of the invasion of Iraq because we felt that there were still other options which should be pursued. We also believed that establishing a new government and solving Iraq's problems would be a difficult and complex task. With sectarianism, insurgency and criminal activity taking more and more lives, the US coalition and the world are struggling with how to find a way forward.

In Afghanistan, the decision to intervene was made and mandated multilaterally. There was little other option to stopping the Taliban government from allowing Afghanistan to continue to be used for launching international terrorist attacks.

New Zealand has been and will continue to be a significant contributor of defence force, police and development assistance in Afghanistan, in particular through our PRT in Bamyan.

The outcome in Afghanistan cannot yet be taken for granted. Increased violence in the South, the corrupting effect of narcotics, warlordism, and the slow pace of development all constitute ongoing threats.

But a greater degree of unity of purpose from the international community, offers a better prospect of moving forward.

Closer to home, our Defence Force personnel have just returned from Tonga after intervening at the Government's request, after much of Nuku'alofa's CBD was burned to the ground.

Our intervention was low key, mindful of winning the confidence of local people and effective. We hope that the environment now exists for a peaceful reform process and transition to democracy to take place.

These are all serious issues and I am sorry to weigh down the celebration of the end of your course and this social occasion with such matters.

However one of the purposes of the Command and Staff College course was to challenge you to think about these sort of issues.

Your participation in the course is a reflection of your leadership skills and potential, and the regard in which you are held within your defence force.

The learning you have all acquired on this course and the friendships you have made will serve you well in your future careers. I encourage you to remember your time on the course and to carry some of the big ideas, the strategic thinking, with you into your future roles.

Congratulations on successfully completing Command and Staff College 2006 and thank you once again for the opportunity to be here and to speak to you tonight.


ends

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