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Over the years I have written two defence oriented websites, criticising the NZ Defence Force.

In the first one I looked at the "all hazards" risk to New Zealand of various threats ranging from earthquakes to invasion and tried to develop a benefit cost ratio (BCR) approach for investing in defence. It found that unless half of the resource was devoted to civil defence there was no justification for a defence force the size we had. The site compared the actual defence assets we had with an alternative and suggested the alternative was better.

That was before the Christchurch earthquakes (from 2011). What became clear from that experience was that the defence force was a drop in the bucket compared to the enormous resources of the civilian population. Without any particular hostile force involved civilian agencies were perfectly capable of supplying the construction machinery, helicopters and logistics chain needed to sustain a devastated city. My second website took a new approach, again based on all hazards. It looked at the depreciation curves of defence assets and recommended both a change of structure (to reduce costs) and a new course in defence planning.

That site was the precursor of the new one. For what has become increasingly apparent to me is this

  1. The defence force actually has very little to offer in civilian emergencies compared to civilian agencies. Indeed it has used this argument to justify things which are wildly too expensive compared to comparable civilian operations. The result is a deadweight cost to the economy that a small nation does not need.
  2. The defence force in a modern setting is more of a super-national policing agency because in an age of asymmetric warfare the enemy will always hide amongst the civilian population or be armed civilians. There is no point training a regiment of light infantry to refight world war two battles. Nobody has fought that way since the Korean War.
  3. Nations that operate a defence force fall into one of three categories: i) serious investors in weaponry and regional power (e.g. Australia and Singapore) ii) national armies of unity whose main function is to prevent rebellion and ceding (Indonesia and until recently China) iii) small nations whose military are essentially police and civil defence, and a sop for unemployment (New Zealand and the Philippines).
  4. Most industrial nations leverage defence into an industrial development policy. Singapore's state owned STengg is a major defence contractor. Australia has managed to boost Austal catamarans into a major international manufacturer to the US Navy. The New Zealand defence force has done extremely poorly in providing this reciprocal benefit to taxpayers and there are a number of opportunities to reduce costs or add value to civilian life which are not being pursued.
  5. New Zealand's defence force is disproportionately expensive for the size of the risk which is due in part to i) self serving decision making by all three arms of the force and ii) a deliberate strategy of propaganda by the defence force to avoid questioning by invoking nationalism iii) reckless disregard for the cost of the impost the defence force makes on the lives of ordinary New Zealanders compared to the benefit particularly by defence staff.
  6. Civilian reviews have been pathetic in their pandering to defence staff and have clearly been either bullied or captured
  7. A yardstick is needed so that taxpayers can see in context the extent of the ripoff.
My background is as an investigative journalist and NGO policy analyst. I began my monitoring of defence and civil defence issues in 1987 while working for the National Business Review as the science and technology reporter. I could not help contrasting the expenditure of $1 billion on the ANZAC frigate programme with the sudden and completely unexpected damage caused by the Edgecumbe earthquake.  That earthquake cost insurers $371 million and it occurred to me that if a hostile air force had inflicted that level of damage without any warning not only would New Zealand be at war we would be fully mobilised in response. It seemed to me then, and still seems to me today, that our expenditure on our military is out of all proportion to the risk.

Peter King