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The NZDF And UN Peacekeeping In The 21st Century

David Miller Online. Into The Mire? The NZDF And UN Peacekeeping In The 21st Century.

One of the decisions to arise from Helen Clark’s recent visit to East Timor is that the government is to look at extending the New Zealand deployment in the former Portuguese colony until after elections there in November. Coinciding with talk of a government review of pay for Kiwi troops stationed there, an extension of the deployment to November would mean the rotation of no less than four NZDF battalion groups. Such an extension raises questions over the strain being placed on the NZDF to carry out such a role and the military and financial resources New Zealand has to call upon when it commits to such an operation. The third rotation, due to leave in May will be made up of territorial soldiers and this will signify the first time this has happened since the Vietnam War. This is part of what the NZDF is calling a total force concept and is necessary due to the small size of our regular force.

However beneath the obvious questions of sufficient manpower and resource strength, a more serious issue lingers that is often overlooked when East Timor is discussed.
Conflict is moving away from a situation where two states or blocs of states range their armed forces against each other over a clearly defined line of sovereignty, as was the case in Operation Desert Storm. In the 21st Century warfare has become characterised by a state or geographical area imploding in on itself, as its national groups, split by language, religion or national identity turn on each other in a fight for what each side sees as their homeland. In such a war there is no superpower to act as a deterrent to such hostilities, there are no clear lines of demarcation between the sides, civilians are often mixed with combatants making it difficult to distinguish between them and the weapons of war are often crude but deadly, the gun, a knife, or a club. In such a war the fighting between the factions is undertaken with intense bitterness and hatred, which is why civilians are often not spared.

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This type of conflict, known as intra- state, has reared itself in Bosnia, Somalia, throughout Africa, the Caucasus region and East Timor, and to which the United Nations has been forced to deal with on an increasing scale since 1989. Unfortunately the United Nations has not changed to adapt to such a conflict. Despite recognition that intra- state conflict has become prevalent, there remains a lack of consensus among the permanent members of the Security Council on how to deal with it and more importantly a lack of will to commit their forces and resources. In such conflicts methods of remote control such as economic sanctions, weapons embargoes, even air strikes are of limited effect in curbing them, but unfortunately such policies are the more preferred as to limit casualties. As there is no clear dividing lines between the combatants then a large and sustained commitment on the ground is required, which must be deployed long term due to the potential for renewed violence and stability of the area of conflict.

This is a frightening scenario but it is one that the UN and its member states, such as New Zealand must face if they are to embark on peacekeeping operations. Not only has the East Timor operation has produced the first combat death of a New Zealand soldier since Vietnam, but it also highlights that once personnel are committed to a peacekeeping operations in the 21st Century it will not be easy to extract them, even after their intended time there is complete. The potential for violence in East Timor has diminished due to the deployment of the multinational force, but it has not completely subsided. Such a continued threat of violence is the principle reason why the New Zealand government feels it cannot remove the NZDF from East Timor, despite the original timeframe upon it and why the danger facing the New Zealand soldiers is growing.

The politicians often state that they seek a balanced defence policy for this country. When it comes to peacekeeping this is very much the case. On the one hand, New Zealand continues to base its defence arrangements around a policy of collective security and therefore the co-operation and expectations of other countries must be taken into consideration to ensure our wide range of interests are protected. Also on this side of the coin there is the fact that New Zealand has prided itself on playing an active role within the United Nations since its inception in 1947 and strives to uphold the conventions and principles of the UN Charter. In striving for this New Zealand has committed its military personnel to several UN peacekeeping operations throughout international body’s first 50 years. This is the reason why New Zealand cannot back away from active involvement in UN peacekeeping operations despite the growing dangers these present.

However along with the political debates over equipment procurement and budgets, New Zealand must also debate how long are we prepared to have our troops on active duty and at what point do we declare that continued commitment cannot be sustained. This now must become the fundamental point, for as East Timor is proving extracting personnel from situations of intra state conflict will not prove easy. Nevertheless this remains a point that is overlooked. This country does not have a large military reserve and budget, and if New Zealand wishes to commit to the UN peacekeeping operations in the 21st Century then it is this point must be the significant factor and a determinant in all other decisions and policy. If the government fails to take this into consideration then our forces will remain inadequately equipped and undermanned with the possibility of being deployed to potentially dangerous situations.

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