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.

S.A.S. must come clean on Afghanistan

Rumbling back into life after a few months silence is one of the thornier issues in terms of New Zealand foreign affairs that I think the Defence Force and the Minister would love to shut down. I am talking about the alleged atrocities involving the N.Z.S.A.S.mistreating Afghan civilians during or shortly after a fire fight.I am talking about atrocities that threaten to bring huge disrepute onto the Defence Force if found to be true.

So it might be an election campaign period. That means nothing in the context of the events in Bamiyan province, except that the the politicians who oversee the Defence Force on New Zealand’s behalf are suddenly under greater scrutiny as they try to show that their Government should be re-elected. I am looking at – in particular – former Minister of Defence/current Minister of Foreign Affairs Gerry Brownlee and his former boss former Prime Minister John Key (despite not being in politics any more)and his current boss Prime Minister Bill English.

The renewed rumblings include former Prime Minister Helen Clark saying that the Defence Force must explain the treatment of those Afghan civilians. Ms Clark, who was Prime Minister at the time of this particular incident says she was not informed of in any way the nature of the actual events, and says that the S.A.S. have questions to answer.

But there is also the case of six Afghan civilians allegedly (says Nicky Hager’s book “Hit and Run”, released to the public earlier this year)killed in a New Zealand S.A.S. raid. Mr Key, the then Minister of Defence Jonathan Coleman were urged to conduct an inquiry into the raid which also saw heavy damage inflicted on two villages as a result of intelligence gathered by the N.Z.S.A.S.

So it bugs me in no uncertain terms that the exemplary name of the New Zealand Force is being shat on by its senior officers and the Government by their refusal to order the inquiry that will either vindicate the Defence Force or apportion blame. New Zealanders need to know and New Zealand credibility is on the line. The New Zealand Defence Force is well regarded around the world and its professionalism is held in high regard in New Zealand as an employer and referee for those that are moving into other roles.

Of course I give thanks like other New Zealanders to the Defence Force for their great and essential work. Like many other families, we had losses in World War 2. I also give thanks for the existence of teh Geneva Conventions and the New Zealand signature on it as well as our ratification. Sacrificial lives the innocent civilians who died in the incident involving the New Zealand Defence might be to Mr Brownlee and Mr English. To a lot of other people including myself, if the allegations are true, they were people who simply did not need to die and whose deaths are big black stains on the New Zealand Defence Force. Stains that the Defence Force could have avoided.

Stains that the Defence Force SHOULD have avoided.

So, let us hear the truth. I do not want to fund an inquiry if I can avoid it. That means that either something so serious that we need to formally establish the course of events, ascertain wrong doing and ultimately assign blame if there is any found.I would far rather that the Defence Force told New Zealanders what happened in those events rather than it be forced out in an inquiry where the Defence Force is made to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.

National votes down NZ First bill; Comes up with near identical policy anyway

This article is about the tale of two parties, one bill and a stunning piece of hypocrisy.

The purpose of the Bill of Parliament was to combat youth crime by establishing a training camp programme inside the Defence Force by amending the Defence Act, 1990, and the Education Act, 1989. It would also enable participants who graduate from it to enter the Defence Force.

It was the brain child of a New Zealand First List Member of Parliament, former soldier and teacher Darroch Ball. Mr Ball’s anger in Parliament when the Bill he had sponsored was defeated was as understandable as it was palpable. Here was a Bill of Parliament that had been worked out, costed and drawn from the ballot. It might not have been what New Zealanders wanted, but all credit had to go to Mr Ball, who is ex-military himself and was a teacher prior to joining New Zealand First and going to Parliament, for at least making an honest effort to address a serious and growing problem.

His anger was understandable because when listening to the National M.P.’s speaking against it, it became obvious that not only had none of them bothered to read the Bill, they also had not a clue what they were talking about. It was palpable because a party that did not want to admit it had been upstaged, was sabotaging the chance for some good to become of it.

As for the cause of the Bill…

I am talking about a problem that I have blogged about several times over the last several months, about which there has been a surge of across the nation. I am talking about a problem that has become increasingly violent with the use of guns and knives – a situation where I am concerned, and I am sure Mr Ball is too, that will sooner or later cost a life.

And so we might say that the claim by New Zealand First that other parties steal their ideas has truth in it – and not for the first time either. Both National and Labour are guilty as charged of doing it. I recall how a N.Z.F. member came up with free health care for under 13’s in 2014, talked to the spokeswoman for health M.P. Barbara Stewart, whose office then went to work on the costings. They found that it would not make any significant change to the party’s proposed health spending only to have National announce equivalent policy just days before they did.

All because the New Zealand First Bill was not dreamt up by National first. Nothing else.

What Rex Tillerson wants

United States Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is a man on a mission. Sent by United States President Donald Trump to soothe troubled waters and placate the people that Mr Trump has offended, Mr Tillerson is likely to be coming to New Zealand to do the following:

  1. Ask for more troops in the Middle East
  2. Defend the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord despite the Accord being unofficially about quite a bit more than just the climate
  3. Talk about negotiating a new trade deal
  4. Talk about the U.S.-New Zealand relationship

Mr Tillerson’s mission will be difficult. There cannot be any doubt that the very vast majority of New Zealanders – myself included – want nothing to do with the war in the Middle East. Yes it is sad and Iraq and Syria are in an unholy mess, but if one looks at the history of the region, who the key players are and what they have done, it is hard to have much sympathy for the American agenda, no matter who is in office.

It gets harder still with the American withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and the international community vowing to push forward without the United States. When even China and to a lesser extent India also come on board and make commitments, it is a sign that there is a major problem. Mr Tillerson is going to have a difficult job trying to sell the American position to New Zealand and New Zealanders when we see so many environmental issues starting to become problems here as well.

If there was going to be a kinder subject for Mr Tillerson to talk about, trade with New Zealand would be it. Far from supporting the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement as many people thought a wealthy person like Mr Trump would, one of the first things he said upon announcing his candidacy in 2015 is that America would withdraw from the T.P.P.A. For that, in spite of so many other policies of his being anathema to New Zealand, this one was probably welcomed by many.

Finally, Mr Tillerson and his counterpart New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Gerry Brownlee will want to look at the overall relationship between the two countries. How far it has come since the cold days of the 1980’s when America, furious with our anti-nuclear nationalism, denounced New Zealand? How far it has come from Prime Minister Helen Clark refusing to have anything to do with the war on Iraq that started in 2003? A long, long way is the answer. But the real one now is, whilst Donald Trump is at the helm, how much further are New Zealanders prepared to watch this relationship advance?

Find out over the next couple of days.

Trump intelligence policies should concern New Zealand

Like many other people I am loosely following the allegations and counter allegations of alleged mishandling of classified information by United States President Donald Trump. As the investigation into whether Mr Trump and his inner circle did more than just pass on information too secret for the allies and nations friendly to the United States, progresses, so too does the development of concerns about what all this may mean for New Zealand.

Over the last several months I have become more concerned with how Mr Trump handles highly classified intelligence. My concerns stem from the revelation that Mr Trump has given Russia, a primary rival of the United States data that it considered to be too sensitive for its nearest allies to have access to. Aside from raising obvious questions about the security of classified data, if Mr Trump has been found to have done this, is there anything else that he or people in powerful could have done to potentially compromise our relations.

Prime Minister Bill English has no problems and is not apparently concerned by the issues that the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security has raised. This is despite her very legitimate concerns that New Zealand is at risk of being drawn into illegal activities promoted by the United States Government, including the use of water boarding and other tortuous practices. Mr Trump has alluded to potentially reopening the secret centres where such practices were carried out on prisoners.

New Zealand has a reputation for respecting international law. Over the years – though less so recently – New Zealand has been remembered for calling out other nations when they fallen afoul of international statutes that they signed up to. That reputation puts us in good stead with the United Nations, with other nations around the world and is frequently cited as a reason for many refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants coming out to New Zealand. All of these people see New Zealand as a stable, transparent and responsible country with an accountable Government. This is a reputation that would be undermined if we endorsed the types of changes that Mr Trump is thought to want to instigate.

For New Zealand to remain safe from terrorism and yet still free, we need to continue to uphold the rule of law like we have done in the past. We need to be seen as a positive example for the small Pacific Island nations of what they can aspire to be more like, instead of adopting the totalitarian excesses of China, who strives to project its influence further abroad, or the United States with its hypocritical politicians that say one thing and do something completely different.