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Open Debate On Defence Policy Urged

The formulation of defence policy advice is too important and too far–reaching in its implications to be left exclusively to senior defence officials, according to the majority of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee in “Defence Beyond 2000” final report.

In urging wider participation in the defence policy debate, the report is critical of restraints imposed on the free flow of advice within defence itself.

“The restrictions on serving officers below Chief of Staff level commenting publicly on defence matters…are a serious obstacle to a better informed defence debate in New Zealand and even at Chief of Staff level we were disappointed to be told that they are now only permitted to appear before our Committee in the presence of the Chief of Defence Forces,” observed the report.

In its visits to defence bases and camps, Committee members found NZDF personnel at a less senior level “uniquely well qualified” to comment on many matters, especially operational and organisational issues, although the committee acknowledged that allowing them to air their views would need to be managed sensitively.

To promote a wider range of expert advice from outside the Defence establishment, the report recommended an independent forum to advise on defence and other national security matters, perhaps under the aegis of the Public Advisory Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control or in association with a university. It would:

 Provide independent and authoritative opinion so that defence and security policy officials would engage in effective consultation and be subject to peer review.

 Provide independent assessments of defence policy and capability options to the Government and the Select Committee, and publish its views on a regular basis.

 Act as an impartial sounding board, outside the command environment, for contestable views from serving NZDF personnel and other State servants and

 Review major NZDF deployments in terms of their operational effectiveness and contribution to the advancement of New Zealand’s national interests and present these reviews to the Select Committee.

Current arrangements whereby force structure development is driven by each of the three services encouraged military views to become defence and security policy but the Committee majority urged that policy generally be based on civilian input to give the Government clear, non-technical assessment of objectives, capabilities and needs.

A broader perception of defence’s contribution to wider national interests might be achieved only at arm’s length, leading the committee to suggest that the policy co-ordination role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade be enhanced. The new External Relations Ministerial Team should be able to examine resource allocation to development aid and defence.

At the same time, ”military” advice was needed so that the military implications of any policy moves were clearly understood.

The majority noted that non-governmental organisations (NGO) had less influence on defence policy than in other areas of foreign relations where departments were less inhibited by security considerations.

The Committee majoritty also raised questions about interference in the work of the Centre for Strategic Studies (CSS) and the Military Studies Institute (MSI). Witnesses before the committee had suggested that such interference was having the effect of restricting informed and open debate on defence security. The retiring Secretary of Defence, Mr Gerald Hensley, was on record as saying “that the primary role of the Centre (CSS) was with public information and to act as a lobby group, and that this should continue.”

As former State Services Commissioner Mr Don Hunn noted in his review of the Defence Ministry’s policy division: “It is absolutely essential that the policy division should break through its shell of defensiveness and end its isolation.” He said that the Defence Ministry would benefit from sharing its efforts more actively.

The Committee Chairman, Hon Derek Quigley, said the Committee’s inquiry was a good example of breaking out from the tight circle of advice that the Defence establishment confined itself too.

“We were able to tap into a very wide catchment in seeking information to carry out the inquiry and out report reflects this,” he said. “We may not have reached unanimity around the committee table but we were able to base our conclusions on solid information.

“The submissions we received supported our conclusion that the Defence establishment should throw open its doors to as wide a range of expert outside advice that is available.”

The Committee heard oral evidence from 53 people and groups during the course of its hearings. They ranged from people such as the Secretary of Defence and Defence chiefs to the RSA, academics, peace groups and individuals with an interest in defence issues. In addition there were sixteen written submissions.

The inquiry’s terms of reference were:

1. Defence strategy and defence policy goals

2. Areas of defence activity requiring particular emphasis

3. The range and nature of defence capabilities required

4. Structural options, planning and organisation for an appropriate and effective defence establishment

5. Resource needs and options available within defence for redirecting resources to enhance military capabilities.


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