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PM's Statement On Defence Policy Framework

19 June 2000


STATEMENT BY THE PRIME MINISTER

DEFENCE POLICY FRAMEWORK

Today the Government's Defence Policy Framework is being issued with two supporting documents:

 A paper prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade which surveys New Zealand's external interests and comments on implications for defence policy and priorities; and,

 A supporting strategic assessment prepared by the External Assessments Bureau


In the Speech from the Throne, at the Opening of Parliament on 21 December the Government said:


"New Zealand's defence capabilities at the moment represent a confused view of the roles our armed forces are likely to be called upon to perform."


We undertook then to examine existing defence capital expenditure plans, taking into account the recommendations of Parliament's Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee. The objective was to ensure "a more coherent and realistic view of our needs and the roles we can most effectively perform."

This Defence Policy Framework covers the Government's goals and priorities for defence. It provides a framework for future decisions about military capabilities, resources and funding. It points to the government's defence spending priorities.

The supporting papers from Foreign Affairs and the External Assessments Bureau have been taken into account in the formulation of the defence policy framework. They are departmental assessments and not statements of government policy.

This policy statement establishes New Zealand's key defence interests as:-


 the defence of New Zealand and our exclusive economic zone

 maintaining a close defence relationship with Australia;

 fulfilling our obligations and responsibilities in the South Pacific, playing a constructive role in security dialogue in the Asia Pacific, and supporting United Nations and other appropriate peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations


The Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committee's examination of New Zealand's defence strategy and forces provided the opportunity for wide public participation in defence policy development. The Committee's report is the foundation document for this government statement.

Last year, the Parliamentary debate which preceded the New Zealand Defence Force's deployment to East Timor in September revealed unanimous support for using the New Zealand Defence Force, alongside the Australian Defence Force, to secure and maintain peace in East Timor. The Government is conscious, however, that the army was deployed in East Timor, as it was in Bosnia, with less than adequate equipment. The key task before us now is to ensure that we have a well equipped force which is able to respond quickly and effectively when called upon in future.

This government has inherited a legacy of problems and under funding in defence.

The previous government asserted its support for the defence forces but cut defence spending substantially in the early nineties and underestimated what was needed simply to retain existing capabilities.

Our defence force now faces considerable obsolescence of its equipment against a background of rapidly increasing costs of military technology and equipment. Choices will have to be made over time about what is affordable, and what isn't. This paper does not address the future of the air combat force or the issue of the future configuration of the navy. Neither issue is pressing at this time.

This framework statement sets out broad priorities. From those will flow investment in force elements which are appropriately trained and equipped for the most likely tasks the Defence Force will face. At the moment our defence spending is spread thinly. Spending new money where we think it is most needed will inevitably bring us down on the side of depth rather than breadth. Equally inevitably, that means that, over time, the continuing value of some existing capabilities will be reassessed.

In a long list of things to do, the most pressing are to address the mobility and communications requirements of the army and to provide an enhanced sea and air lift capacity to facilitate its deployment. In our island environment we also have to maintain effective maritime surveillance capabilities in the navy and airforce. We will be looking at different options for doing that.

The defence policy framework charts the way ahead. Work is now proceeding on issues such as:-


 What broad shape and structure should the NZDF be moving towards for the tasks it will be given?

 Have our sealift requirements changed in light of our recent experiences in the South Pacific? Is a modified Charles Upham now the best option for meeting those requirements or should another kind of vessel be considered?

 Are the proposals presently being considered by the Defence Force for upgrading the maritime surveillance aircraft appropriate to our needs and interests or not? I must stress that the government regards this as an entirely open question. It is on the list of issues to be considered in the near future only because a tender offer for a sophisticated system initiated by the previous government is due to expire in late August.


The government expects to be in a position soon to take decisions about new radios; armoured vehicles, and light operational vehicles for the army.

The defence decisions we make now about force structure and about operational issues are important for the future. We intend to get them right. By following this policy framework we know that New Zealand will continue to have a high quality Defence Force which keeps abreast of operational and technological developments, is affordable, and can be sustained over the longer term.
………………………..


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