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The Future Of Defence

The Future Of Defence

Wednesday, October 3 2001 Owen Jennings Speeches -- Foreign Affairs & Defence

There has been no other more damaging policy change inflicted by the Clark coalition government than the attempts to take New Zealand down the road of military non-alignment.

The most primary and crucial role of any government is to protect its territory and its people. It's not an outdated, old fashioned notion. New Zealand is not immune from the need to actively defend itself. The shocking and savage events of three weeks ago were a grim reminder of that. We do not live in a so-called benign environment.

The Labour/Alliance government has imposed a radical policy change. It turns upside down our foreign affairs and defence policies of the last 100 years. The changes have been made with minimal public debate, no attempt to achieve a political consensus and with no understanding of the medium term consequences. Getting such decisions wrong may well lead to young New Zealanders paying in blood.

For Helen Clark these moves involve many years of Labour party back room debate. This isolationist ideology influenced David Lange's gauche handling of the United States over nuclear weapons - moves that cost this country dearly in many different ways.

It was not just the policy but the manner of its execution that led to understandable resentment.

As a farming leader progressing trade talks at that time I experienced the quiet, firm closing of doors. It is essential that a centre right government makes rebuilding our relationship with the United States an urgent priority. New Zealand, a small isolated country dependent on the vast expanse of ocean between us and our neighbours and markets, needs to have a strong understanding with the acknowledged leader of the western world.

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The ACT party will make building a new relationship with the United States, through restoring ANZUS, a top priority. Collective defence with Australia alone is not viable.

If Australia sees itself as too small and vulnerable and needing to be in a close alliance with the United States then how much more we need to face the practical reality of forging a firm relationship.

A New Zealand defence force that cannot work with the United States is a liability to Australia - not an asset - something the Australians have made abundantly clear.

New Zealand does not have the financial resources to operate in an independent, isolationist manner. Military technology costs grow at twice the rate of other technologies. Collective defence is the sensible option for this country. It is like minded nations supporting each other, protecting a common heritage of democratic freedom and taking their full and proper share of that responsibility.

Collective defence creates the potential for sensible co-operation, synergies in purchasing, training and exercising and complimentarity in equipment.

The last decade or so has seen a decline in our defence capability. National lacked the foresight to build a long-term strategy and manage a programme of continuous upgrading. The tentative moves to rebuild in 1998 came too late and carried lower priority. National did not have the courage to rebuild ANZUS preferring to take an easy but unsatisfactory option of relying on the ANZAC relationship. The task of rebuilding is not impossible but will take at least 10 years to accomplish.

The first step is to have Parliament acknowledge what the world quietly accepts - that the United States Navy has no nuclear weapons on its ships. Having dealt with the obvious we can begin detailed process to see how the two countries can work together in a practical, meaningful manner fully sharing military intelligence and planning to train and serve together. Only then can New Zealanders relax and enjoy a coherent and strong defence capability.

The claim that we have no enemies in our territory is nonsense. The bold pronouncement that we have no threats to our security interests is the sort of vain deceit that older New Zealanders will link to Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Europe in his pathetic attempts to claim 'peace with honour'.

Collective defence is based on the notion that our security interests are far wider than our immediate coastal waters. New Zealand has an interest in the security of Australia, Southeast Asia, the mid and south Pacific including Antarctic.

We have fellow New Zealanders and direct obligations from the Ross Dependency in the South to the Tokelauans in the north, the Cooks and Nuieans, Samoa and many others.

We are strongly allied with like minded nations including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia and a host of small Pacific nations. We are united in our stand against the common enemies of communism and fascism.

We are united against any military menace that threatens democracy and stability wherever it arises.

ACT believes strongly we must play our part in that defence even if it is only relative to our size. Our allies understand and accept our limitations. They do expect us to punch up to our weight.

We live at a time when there is unrest and armed struggle in many places in the Pacific. There is a growing awareness of China's aggressive foreign policy initiatives wooing Pacific leaders and increasing their sphere of influence as close as Fiji.

Our allies see us as taking a lead in some of these problems.

We are seen as the country of the south Pacific with a primary responsibility in such matters. Our selfish 'head in the sand' attitude however puts lives at risk unnecessarily.

South East Asia remains a troubled war zone. Indonesian unrest is unlikely to cease for many years and will most likely spill over into Irian Jaya just a few kilometres from the Australian mainland. The China/Taiwan problem remains unresolved while the Indians and Chinese now exercise threateningly in each other's waters.

Our economic zone is the 4 th largest in the world. Fishing is an important industry requiring constant surveillance. We have the longest shipping and air routes of any country in the world across huge, uninhabited areas. No one else will protect these for us.

For an island nation a navy has to be a priority. Equally to cover that massive ocean area an airforce is vital.

Military strategists believe Chinese and Indian submarines are passing through the Tasman or to the east of New Zealand to reach each other's waters. The Straits of Malacca and the Timor Sea have become too crowded for submarines. We are being deluded into thinking that New Zealand is outside the ambit of military activity.

The Coalition government has sought to divert our attention away from such crucial debate by fostering our role in peacekeeping. Peacekeeping is a misnomer. It is mostly peacemaking.

It is extremely dangerous and requires a level of military training, preparedness and resourcing that even the best defence forces in the world fully respect.

It involves coming between two usually well-armed, often irrational, fanatical forces. It involves fighting on their ground in unknown conditions.

We learnt more of the dangers of peacekeeping with the death of Private Manning in East Timor. His death can be attributed to high level failure, not an unavoidable accident. History will show that New Zealand soldiers were ill equipped, ill prepared, poorly trained and ill advised by their own government in this so called peacekeeping role.

For example, Private Manning was part of a company that had not had live firing practise for two years. In any event there are significant risks in peacekeeping that the public has not been warned about. The inevitable casualties will turn the public against peacekeeping.

The difficult problem Helen Clark faces in East Timor is the age-old problem of peacekeeping - how and when to disengage. We tend to get stranded unable to extricate ourselves. Earlier missions of 20 years ago are still not finalised.

Peacekeeping does not create high quality soldiering. The concept of having a peacekeeping force that is a sometime army rather than an army that is peacekeeping occasionally is unacceptable.

With no air combat ability, scant naval protection and no modern surveillance we are sliding quickly into being an untrustworthy, irresponsible, bludger.

We stand to lose, too, the many less tangible benefits of a fully equipped defence force. We are a country vulnerable to major climatic and other natural disasters.

Properly equipped forces are vital to rescue and rehabilitation needs. The discipline and leadership training plays an important role in the maturity of our nation. Skills and technical development in the forces contribute very positively to the community.

Can we rectify the situation and return dignity and respect to the nation by taking our share of collective security? ACT believes we must.

There is a need to reduce the bitter rivalry in our forces. It is counter productive and unnecessary. It is symptomatic of forces that lack leadership and a focused direction . Of a greater moment and much more serious in nature is the politicisation of the army. The somewhat bizarre antics of the present Government who, in opposition, cut a deal on new equipment for the army as a quid pro quo for accepting a peacekeeping role are to be abhorred.

The LAVlll deal, as it is now structured is extremely expensive and ill-advised. Instead of purchasing over 100 top shelf models we could have had the same capability at a much lesser expense, an upgrade of our tracked vehicles and even a model that would have fitted inside our Hercules transporters. Wheeled vehicles have little application in Asia and the Pacific. They are a good vehicle for peacekeepers but on their own, have limited value where we need to focus our defence efforts.

The circumstances surrounding recent purchasing decisions are a gross abuse of good process. They have undermined vital confidences that the public should have in their defence forces. The responsibility for this debacle lies with the Minister of Defence.

He refuses to conduct a proper, full enquiry that this unprecedented situations deserves.

The issue of independent deployment of our forces with a sealift capability remains unresolved. The saga over the Charles Upham is unfortunate. Not only is it an indictment on Government decision making and defence management but it dishonours one of our great soldiers and citizens. We must concentrate on new, more flexible ships that have troop and aircraft carrying capacity.

The Inquiry into Defence beyond 2000 received very strong advice from a range of highly credible submitters that retaining an air combat force was vital.

The Director of the Institute for International Affairs, Bryce Harland said, "to keep our relations with Asian and Pacific countries we need to demonstrate our concern for regional security and take part in collective efforts to maintain it.

What we stand to lose if we don't is the respect, sympathy and goodwill of our most valuable friends. Our economy would suffer along with the living standards of every New Zealander". A recent poll of New Zealanders confirms that 73% want to see us have an air combat capacity. ACT heartily agrees.

ACT would provide for an air combat force of at least 16 strike jets relying on leasing and training in Australia initially.

The F16 deal was attractive financially as Derek Quigley found out when the government gave him all the information. However they needed some weapon and technical upgrading to bring them up to the capability of the later version of the F16. There are other options as well that need investigation.

ACT would provide for an early upgrade of the Orions with state of the art surveillance equipment. There are few countries in the world that have a greater need for a well equipped surveillance capacity. The question of replacement for the frigates poses the biggest funding challenge to a government determined to take responsibility for defending the country adequately. As has been stated the answer lies in researching a more multi-purpose vessel that suits our particular needs.

This sounds like a lot of capital expenditure. ACT has done its sums. We know we can provide for the proper defence of this country without having to exceed the average spending levels of the last ten years. Depending on a final decision on naval craft at no time will defence spending have to exceed 1.6% of GDP so we can meet our obligations to New Zealanders and our allies. That compares with Australia's 1.9%, Singapore's 5% and Ireland's 1.9%.

The net amount of taxation spent on defence currently is about $1 billion. We spend over 13 times that on welfare. An extra two weeks of welfare spending on defence would give us a good quality defence force.

ACT intends maintaining a high profile on defence issues. We know that many New Zealanders have been shocked by the isolationist ideology coming between them and the responsibility to defend the nation. Defence will be one of the key issues that influences voters in just over a years time.

We need to be able to hold our heads high again knowing we are playing our part in the collective defence of the nation and our region, acting responsibly as a good international citizen.

For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at act@parliament.govt.nz.

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