A question mark over suitability of N.Z. armaments expo

Yesterday and today, the New Zealand Defence Industry Association Annual Forum is being held in Wellington. It is an annual event where the defence industry from around the world meet in New Zealand to find out what is going on in the New Zealand sector.

I find myself in the middle. On one hand the defence industry have as much of a right to host such an event as any other sector – the petroleum industry does so from time to time as does the farming sector and others. But as with petroleum there are ethical side issues that get raised such as the fact that military grade weapons have one purpose only: war. But also the ambivalence towards war crimes that tends to be demonstrated. Therefore I find that I am sitting on the fence regarding the protests at the armaments expo.

On one hand the protesters are right to be angry at such an expo being held in New Zealand. Some of the participants – this is sponsored by none other than Lockheed Martin, who whilst giving us the C-130, also develop the Trident missile – are part of the U.S. military industrial complex. The defence industry – not so much in New Zealand, but certainly overseas is an industrial sector that wields a massive amount of influence on government policy making. It has a slick and persuasive corporate media machine that has huge financial resources and advertising punch. Sometimes that influence can be corrupting and a politician is found to have agreed to support one project or another, after wining and dining top executives who have then made huge donations. It is wary about the rule of international law as this can result in particular munitions or weapon types being outlawed.

One group that do not get mentioned are important agencies such as Customs, without whom our border control would be toast. These agencies are not so likely to be after weapons systems as they are likely to be after monitoring and data processing technology that makes enforcing the law at the border easier to do. For them this is more likely to be about networking with other such agencies and finding out new techniques as well.

On the other hand I wonder how many of the protesters have thought about how the N.Z. Defence Force acquires its equipment. Do they expect that the Minister of Defence to simply say to a prospective seller “oh, we heard about ________ and want to buy some”, because if so some particularly serious tax payer money wastage is in the offing. Some how, somewhere the industry has to display the latest advances and talk about issues of the day.

I think there is also misunderstanding about defence spending. Some of this I think is deliberate and some of it is simply people not understanding how Defence Force procurement works. The figure $15-20 billion that is being bandied about is *proposed* spending, as in it has not yet been allocated in a budget. The second thing about this figure is that it is spread over 15-20 years, which suggests to me that no annual defence budget increase is planned. It comes out at about $1 billion a year, which is roughly what we spend now.

This is not an endorsement of the expo.

I also need to be honest. There are three circumstances and three circumstances only when I believe there is a case for military action:

  1. You get attacked by a foreign power
  2. The United Nations authorizes it
  3. A conflict spills over into your territory

New Zealand is lucky that compared to many other parts of the world we are in a *relatively* (here is where Helen Clark fell down)bening strategic environment. Not a totally benign one where everyone is singing Kumbaya, but one that compared with the Middle East, Korean Peninsula or a host of other places is fairly peaceful.

However we need to be prepared to help as the United Nations requires. The likelihood of a direct attack on New Zealand is remote, but there is the prospect we may need to shut down – possibly by force – a conflict at some point in the Solomon Islands or if Pacific island neighbours destabilize we might have to intervene and sort out armed factions.

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