Political Objectives

What is the political role of the Defence Force anyway?
New Zealand Governor-General (and former chief of defence) Sir Jerry Mateparae with Prime Minister John Key
Source Wikipedia

Political risks

It is agreed military capability underwrites sovereignty. Without military capability sovereignty is easily challenged. That said the question is "challenged by whom?". There are a number of potential practical challengers. These include:
  • Revolutionaries seeking to overthrow New Zealand Government sovereignty by violent means
  • Commercial raiders seeking to exploit the State's inability to enforce its own sovereignty
  • Hostile nations which seek to replace New Zealand sovereignty on our territories (including remote territories) with their own by force.
  • Nominally friendly nations seeking to impose their own sovereignty on New Zealand territory due to New Zealand's inability to enforce its own sovereignty (Ross Sea)
  • Nominally friendly nations embroiling New Zealand in their own ideological (Afghanistan, Vietnam)  or commercial (Timor-Leste) conflicts with otherwise friendly nations
In addition to potential sovereignty challengers there are also political moral challenges:
  • The right of New Zealand to participate in UN forums not having the means to provide practical assistance
  • Being seen as hiding behind Australia's skirts (though this has never stopped Ireland with respect to Britain)
  • Not contributing to military actions in favour of rules-based international relations (eg piracy and terrorism suppression)
  • Allowing neighbouring islanders to suffer from armed groups or natural disasters without offering timely aid
  • Allowing bullying to flourish in the South Pacific and high seas
  • Not assisting those in need of rescue on the high seas
  • Not assisting New Zealanders affected by risks

Political Opportunities

There are also political opportunities. These include:
  • The ability to achieve diplomatic advantage through providing emergency aid or constructive actions in foreign territories
  • The ability to achieve diplomatic advantage through protective actions in foreign territories
  • The ability to achieve diplomatic advantage through supporting allies in foreign territories (corollorary is risk to sovereignty)
  • The ability to obtain trade concessions in return for military purchases ( very limited by our small size)
  • The ability to obtain technological advantage by supporting indigenous technology
  • The ability to generate national solidarity and pride through military celebrations

Geopolitical Context

picture: building a soap factory in Vanuatu (Teara)

The Oceania region is the only region of the world which is economically stagnant, if not reversing. Nations in the Pacific are struggling to remain economically viable simply because they are too small to retain the intellectual infrastructure needed for a modern commercial nation state. The result is young people leave their homelands to seek their fortunes elsewhere leaving behind less motivated people to find what markets they can and live on the remittances of their families.

In addition island cultures have traditionally been extremely hierarchical. The lack of scope for social mobility and the scope for abuse by those whose fortunes are inherited rather than earned further incentivises young islanders to leave. Unfortunately this environment makes bribery by foreign interests relatively simple and this is a potential security risk in the medium to long term.

From a geopolitical point of view New Zealand's immediate sphere of interest is the South Pacific. In the South Pacific we need to be able to respond to failed states and political instability. But we also have an interest in preventing the situation getting this dire. To this end assisting islands to develop economically is in our security interests and as an incidental adjunct to normal security activities assisting remote islands with infrastructure development would be a sensible use of security personnel.

We also have interests in the stability of South East Asia and especially Indonesia, and the Philippines simply because they sit astride our major trade routes. In these situations we are, however, a small player which can only expect to contribute to existing alliances. Our historical links to Singapore and Malaysia are obvious points of engagement but we can offer the ability to provide security and stability in unstable locales simply because we do not make credible imperialists.

The defence of Australia is a traditional rallying point for those whose military analysis is limited to teary-eyed speeches about the Anzac spirit. While there is no doubt that in the unlikely event Australia was attacked we would back her the fact is Australia is the most powerful force in South East Asia. Indonesia can't invade Australia without air superiority (any more than Germany could invade Britain in 1940) and Indonesia is so far short of achieving that it is not worth talking about. On the other hand to stand where Australia stands when Australia starts behaving like a junior imperialist is frankly embarrassing.  New Zealand must be seen to be independent of Australia if it is to avoid being seen as Australia's geopolitical poodle. For this reason New Zealand Forces must be distinct from Australian ones.

Local Industry

Almost every country in the world uses its military budget to stimulate local industry. As we have seen New Zealand industry has notable capability in:

  • fashion and outdoor equipment
  • boat-building and superstructure making
  • vehicle modification
  • aircraft maintenance

The defence force should therefore offer more opportunities to these industries where they tie in with its requirements. In particular there is no need for our forces to wear uniforms designed in the 1970s. They should be updated at least every five years.


The final force design must be capable of meeting these challenges and opportunities in the most politically and economically effective manner.
The force is a means to achieving these ends.  The means should not be in a position to dictate the ends by failing to provide needed capability.
 As can be seen only the challenge of hostile nations requires a high technology military response. In all other cases the challenger will be criminal and armed with technology available to criminals.
In most cases we are unlikely to face a hostile nation. We should therefore be routinely able to deal with the low level threat but be able to escalate if need be.