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A Green Paper on New Zealand Defence Strategy

Choice or Chance?

A Green Paper on New Zealand Defence Strategy

Successive New Zealand governments have discouraged both public debate and public consultation about defence strategy. The result is an absence of any defence strategy, lower defence spending and an increasing specialization in high-risk ground forces.

Six senior defence staff (three former Chiefs of Defence Staff, two former Secretaries of Defence and a former Deputy Chief of Defence Staff) with wide experience of both policy and defence procurement issues have joined together to publish a Green Paper setting out key defence issues with the aim of encouraging such a debate.

A summary setting out some of the key points contained in the paper and a copy of the Green Paper are attached.

The authors of the Green Paper are

Richard Bolt
Gerald Hensley
Ewan Jamieson
Robin Klitscher
Denis McLean
Somerford Teagle


Choice or Chance?

A Green Paper on New Zealand Defence Strategy

Over the last 10 years the Defence budget - as a share of GDP - has been halved. Broad political consensus on strategic foundations for national security planning has been lost. Decisions are being made arbitrarily, according to predisposition and without reference to a regional strategy.

The implications are serious. For example the emphasis on ground forces means a risk of higher New Zealand casualties in any future conflict. Other countries with comparable levels of wealth increasingly prefer to meet the costs of conflict in new technology rather than in lives.

The questions are simple. Do we think we are immune from all future trouble? Or do we agree with our friends and neighbours in the region that the future is not certain, and that we ought to insure accordingly? Do we make considered choices, or do we leave it to chance? We seem to be relying on chance. New Zealanders should be enabled to weigh the risks and make their own choices.

This Green Paper proposes that we should tailor our defence to the strategic realities of the Asia-Pacific region which will determine our future. The risks are not that we might be invaded, but that our interests elsewhere could be damaged in ways we cannot predict. To guard against this, and to help secure the region as a whole, we need sea-air capabilities and land forces able to inter-act with and augment the forces of our friends to achieve security collectively. Only then shall we have made an effective contribution to our own security; to safeguarding our links with the world; and to coping with the future's surprises.

But successive governments have whittled away New Zealand's ability to contribute to collective security. Decisions have been made without public debate or consultation, and without an agreed, coherent strategy. We now have neither a strategy for defence nor balance in our forces.

In halving the proportion of national income spent on defence in the last decade we have reduced New Zealand's options in any future security crisis largely to the provision of ground forces focused mainly on peacekeeping. In conflict, land troops are likely to be at the greatest risk in the greatest numbers. Do New Zealanders really accept this approach?

The lack of clear strategy and a falling share of government spending have also encouraged extreme inter-service rivalry. Attempts to side-step customary processes have been widely reported.

At 1% of GDP, we are now spending less than any other country in the Asia-Pacific region on defence. This means we are asking others in the region to pay a higher price and take a greater responsibility for our own security, particularly our closest friend and only formal ally, Australia.

This has had an impact on how New Zealand is perceived in Australia, the United States and, increasingly, East Asia. Australian restrictions on the entitlements of New Zealand migrants and the Bush Administration's decision to give Australia a higher priority in free trade negotiations suggest that such changes in attitude have consequences.

Funding equivalent to just five days welfare spending would return New Zealand's armed forces to international credibility over time. That would take us to approximately 1.5% of GDP - which is less than the economy sustained quite capably for many years. This level would still be less than our regional friends choose to spend on defence, but it would be enough to fund a balance of forces that is credible with friends and allies, and also to give New Zealand governments wider and less risky options when facing sudden crises.

The F16 deal offered by the US government, for example, would have cost New Zealand just over $36 million a year in capital for ten years. The cost of setting up Kiwibank, or a fraction of the cost of bailing out Air New Zealand, would have allowed the nation to retain the high-technology industrial skills and assets inherent in having an air combat force.

New Zealand is currently in the position of householders who have halved their spending on insurance but still believe they are covered for the same level of risk. That belief will be exposed at the cost of lives and prestige in any serious and unforeseen conflict.

This approach was taken by New Zealand in the 1930s when we ran down our armed forces in the hope the League of Nations would protect us. Australia spent twice as much per capita in the years before World War Two and suffered only half the casualties per head of population as New Zealand. There can be no excuse for making the same mistake twice.


Denis McLean (04) 973 2415

Robin Klitscher (04) 476 9838

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