The new Defence Force white paper

They are famous words in New Zealand political parlance. In 2001 the then Prime Minister Helen Clark stated that New Zealand was in a benign security environment as part of her justification for disbanding the air combat wing of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. That was before 11 September 2001. Although the attack on that sunny New York Tuesday did not change her stand point it was the first in a progression of steps that have made the New Zealand security environment less secure.

A New Zealand Government white paper on defence issues was published last week. In it is an outline for a proposed N.Z.$20 billion expenditure on the New Zealand Defence Force over the next 15-20 years. It looks at the priority issues confronting New Zealand, how the Defence Force is positioned to deal with them and what equipment is likely to need replacing.

In the time since, China’s economy has grown hugely and it now has a truly global resource footprint, needing oil from places such as Sudan and Nigeria; raw minerals from mines scattered across Africa and southeast Asia, agricultural products from places such as New Zealand. Its diverse geography and ethnic range ensure that the socio-economic challenges of maintaining a one party state and still growing the worlds second biggest economy are immense, and becoming mroe critical. So too are the issues New Zealand likewise faces in terms of dealing with China.

15 years later, probably not even the Greens would deny the obvious fact that the world is considerably less safe than it was at the start of the millenium. That is most certainly not to say that the likes of Metiria Turei or James Shaw are likely to advocate for more expenditure on the military, as it goes against core Green Party ideology. And in some respects, they are justified in being suspicious of increased defence spending when New Zealand seems to be increasingly conflicted between the Chinese dragon and the eagle of Uncle Sam.

But whether the Green Party of New Zealand like it or not, we have some unavoidably big expenditures coming in the defence budget and strategy for the next 15-20 years. The Royal New Zealand Navy will need to start looking at replacement frigates for H.M.N.Z.S.’s Te Kaha and Te Mana. The Royal New Zealand Air Force will need to replace its P-3 Orion patrol aircraft and also their C-130J Hercules, a type of plane whose original design is 62 years old. Replacing unit for unit each of these three items alone is going to cost possibly N.Z.$1.5 billion if I had to guess. The New Zealand Army will need to replace or look at upgrading its L.A.V. III armoured vehicles as well.

This is not for joining the U.S. led war, or for anything else. This is simply replacing military hardware that is becoming increasingly expensive to maintain. The hardware identified will only take up about 15-20% of the expenditure identified. The rest will be maintaining existing Defence Force capabilities, basic service and training exercises – all completely essential for the Defence Force to remain functional. This is simply about making sure that New Zealand as a self respecting nation is in a position to look after its strategic interests, whilst being aware that Australia does not have the same empathy for New Zealand under the more recent Governments of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.

So let us acknowledge the Defence Force white paper. It is not wholly surprising in the tenor that it has adopted, and New Zealand has known for years that a change in tune and expenditure priorities would be necessary. That time is now. Let us accept it and get on with the task.

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