The recent A.N.Z.A.C. Day commemorations were a time to reflect on those who fell so New Zealand could be free. It was a time to reflect on how far our nation has come and what we stand for. It was also a time to reflect on what shape we want our Defence Force to take in the future and what it should do for New Zealand.
We have many things other nations can only envy. A relatively clean environment, with natural resources sufficient to sustain ourselves is one. A population with considerable freedom, the right to generally be who they wish living a standard of life not many nations can attain is another.
But we also have our threats. As few and far apart they currently are, we live next to some of the nations that are most likely to suffer the socio-economic collapse from which the term “failed state” is derived. Not all nations respect our natural resources as being ours, and several have roving fishing fleets that ignore national maritime limits to fish in our waters when they have no right to be there.
Some of our threats are unfortunately the result of poor decision making in terms of who to support on the world stage. They exist because New Zealand, like other western nations elected to get involved in conflicts that are nothing to do with us, and about which we have little understanding other than what the media tells us.
Militarily there are three situations only when I believe New Zealand should deploy militarily with the intention of using armed force:
- If we are under attack or there is an attack imminent
- If the United Nations asks us to deploy
- If a local situation in the South Pacific arises where conflict between nations or ethnic groups threatens to spill across national borders
The first two are fairly obvious in terms of reasoning. The third one needs a bit more of an explanation.
And then there is Australia. This nation has been our nearest and dearest ally for 100 years and most probably still is today, but in recent wars we have had a respectable disagreement over whether New Zealand should be involved. Whereas Australia supported the U.S. war in Iraq, New Zealand did not on the grounds of international law and doubts about American motives for the war. Make no mistake though: if New Zealand or Australia were subject to military attack, it would be expected that the other would help out as far as they reasonably could.
In terms of A.N.Z.U.S. I believe another problem exists. A.N.Z.U.S. was born out of Cold War geopolitics and a need to keep the U.S.S.R. in check. The U.S.S.R. dissolved into its constituent member states – 16 separate republics – at the end of 1991. Therefore A.N.Z.U.S. in its Cold War state is redundant. And as New Zealand is not a part of it any more it is not so much A.N.Z.U.S. as it is A.U.S.
New Zealand was right to leave A.N.Z.U.S. Although it was meant for our safety, being a member meant we might become a potential military target in a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union, which in the 1980s was a realistic prospect. It also showed us just how shallow our supposed allies really were – when we needed friends the most after France bombed the Rainbow Warrior in July 1985, the silence from the U.S. and Britain was deafening.
The capacity of the New Zealand Defence Force and how it fits into our national security apparatus is best left to another post.