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Ready, Fire, AIM! - in Defence of New Zealand

The role of a defence force is essentially to carry out the will of the country at home and abroad. Without such a force, the country becomes vulnerable to the will of other nations. If it doesn't happen to have caring neighbours then is even riper for abuse or the picking.

What is the will of this country? New Zealand has in place a democratic system of government by the whole population through elected representatives. A leading democratic principle is social equality. A variation of democracy is democratic centralism, which is an organisational system in which policy is decided centrally and is binding on all members. Sound familiar?

Pacifism, which comes from the Latin word pax which means, perhaps ironically, "peace," is the belief that war and violence are morally unjustified and that all disputes should be settled by peaceful means. Do you know of any other countries in the Asia/Pacific region with that as their primary will? No? Neither do I.

I respect the right to want a pacifist way of life, as it certainly sounds idyllic, but I believe it is aeons away from reality and also from the fundamental and traditional Kiwi outlook.

Compare this with isolationism, which is the policy of holding aloof from affairs of other countries or groups. This is what I call "head in sand," and think that it is in this day and age, particularly when combined with pacifism, to put it bluntly, stupid. I don't think many Kiwis are in favour of that.

Isolation is not to be confused with independence. They are poles apart. An independent country is one not depending on outside authority or control, which is self-governing and which does not depend on others for opinions or livelihood. I pretty much believe this is what NZ is, or at least aspires to. "Now you're talking," do I hear you say?

As a background to this there is also world globalisation to deal with, as the advent of such things as air travel, e-business and the internet shrink traditional geographic barriers and embrace and speed up international understanding and trade, if not co-operation.

But there is a problem. NZ may have a democratic system of government in place here but I have come to wonder if it's working very well. I say this because it seems to me that the only way to get government attention these days is to take them to court!

Threatening so to do doesn't seem to work, nor do petitions or marches; such remonstrations are a mixture of hard graft and jolly good fun and although a form of them sometimes makes it to the TV news, they don't seem to bring about a change in government direction, by one iota. Seeing the local Member of Parliament and voicing concerns is another traditional way of being heard, but even this is seen by many as just a drop in the bucket.

Twice in the last six months there have been at least two judicial reviews seeking the High Court to address certain actions taken by the government and thought to be illegal. Such reviews illustrate that the government is at serious loggerheads with what a majority of "people out there" want.

I can't help thinking it is a sad day when citizens have to ask other citizens for money to pay for High Court proceedings against the government to force the proper democratic process.

What on earth is going on here? Is this the new counter to democratic centralism? Most citizens think there is a democracy here and this is reinforced when politicians (and possibly the media?) tell us that everything is okay. It is only when certain groups wake up and realise that their understanding of democracy is different from the government's that things start to get significantly out of whack. Hence resorting to a judicial review.

It's starting to look like NZ gets true democracy only if people have the time, energy and money to take the government to court! How ridiculous. It's made all the more so when one realises that the bottomless government coffers used to counter the judicial review are coffers that have actually come from (ahem) the taxpayer.

The current Save Our Squadrons Campaign seems to me to be a symptom of the break down of true democracy. A reputable poll has shown that the majority of New Zealanders don't actually want to see the RNZAF's air combat force scrapped. That is their will. The government thinks otherwise.

It seems that the public at large accepts what the centralised democracy dishes up, or takes it to court? What other action is there? Especially when a Colmar-Brunton poll shows that three-quarters of the country are behind the SOSC chaps who claim to be non-military, apolitical and definitely not anti-army or anti-navy.

It's especially bizarre if, as the SOS campaigners claim, the government made this remarkable decision without first obtaining a clear mandate from the people of New Zealand.

A risk/benefit analysis of the government's actions will perhaps confirm that it has acted very unwisely and to its own detriment on this vital matter. In such analysis, the risk is high, for two reasons.

Firstly, it will aggravate the already very poor relations between NZ and its nearest and dearest and largest regional security neighbour, Australia, by removing the one thing that is jointly lacking, that is, professional anti-shipping and close air support expertise.

Secondly, there is a risk of failing to achieve what the government wants in the way of a strengthened free trade agreement with America. Scrapping the air combat force won't enhance that prospect one little bit and to think otherwise is missing the point.

Any benefits of the country shooting itself in both feet like this I'm afraid escape me for the moment. If "saving money" is said to be one of them then this can be equally achieved by shutting down WINZ for several days, as that is, comparatively, the level of funding we're talking about. If on the other hand it's to extend pacifist or isolationist ideals for New Zealand, then the country is in more trouble than I thought.

This article features in the latest edition of Pacific Wings Magazine.

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