Antarctica’s geopolitical storm: With New Zealand in the eye


New Zealand is a critical jump off point for nations sending supplies, personnel to Antarctic research facilities. Christchurch International Airport hosts the New Zealand and American Antarctic operations. It is an ideal location as one of the closest airports in the Southern Hemisphere able to land Antarctic bound aircraft with the American McMurdo base near to the New Zealand Scott Base, named after British explorer Robert Falcon Scott, who died in an ill fated expedition to beat Norwegian explorer Roald Amunsden to the South Pole in 1912.

With oil and mineral resources on the wane in some parts of the world, nations are starting to eye up Antarctica. Exploration has not yet shown what minerals or energy sources exist down there, but the untapped reserves are thought to be considerable. With the potential for a minerals race in which nations try to find a way around the legal and physical hurdles, a very real thing, it the last geographic bastion free from economic development may be in jeopardy.

Nations such as China are becoming interested in what exists down there. China has no claim to the ice and no national presence in the way that New Zealand or the United States have, but that has not stopped significant interest being expressed.

New Zealand’s Ross Sea Dependency is about to have its sovereignty tested. With more international interest in the area, the potential for finding ships that have no good reason to be in those waters is going to increase. With that comes the potential for conflict. Thousands of kilometres away from civilization and in some of the coldest, most hostile waters in the world Royal New Zealand Navy frigates might find themselves confronting ships from bigger, more aggressive powers who have not the same regard as we do for the rule of international law.

How would we react? Would we escort them out of the area? Arrest them? Open fire?

The Ross Sea has a range of important marine species in its waters, some of which are in serious decline elsewhere. Opening up Antarctica would potentially threaten them.

But there also exists the potential for a major environmental disaster. Aside from many nations not having the same regard for the Antarctic environment that New Zealand does, many are also less prepared for dealing with the stark environmental challenges of doing anything at all down there. If, for example there was a major oil or fuel leak from a ship or rig or other facility somewhere, it could be days before any ships could reach it, days before anyone could know the actual nature and extent of the emergency, during which time, the ability to control the damage would have significantly decreased.

We might be a small, peaceful nation trying to make our way responsibly in this world, and well done for doing so, but we need to have an honest conversation about our role in looking after Antarctica. One that needs to happen sooner rather than later.

Greens need to learn the art of compromise to survive


The time has come for the Green Party have a reality check on reconciling the expectations of its grass roots with the cold hard reality of holding ministerial power. This will anger many in the Green Party. And has.

However knowledge of the art of compromise is necessary in politics for a party to be seen as one that can work with other parties. All parties in an M.M.P. environment know that the days of having an absolute majority even if it has come very close to happening, on a couple of occasions – and might yet do so – appear to be gone. With the departure of that absolute majority, goes the ability to make policy as one sees fit without having to find allies who will assist in policies in which they share common ground becoming real.

Golriz Ghahraman, Green spokesperson for Foreign Affairs is one such case. Perhaps, having been a refugee fleeing a country that was tipped on its head by the fall of the Shah, she wants nothing to do with American foreign policy or the United States at large. However she must understand two things:

  1. New Zealand, like every other self respecting country will have a defence force
  2. For practical reasons among others, the vast majority of our Defence Force equipment will come from Europe or the United States – the LAVIII’s armoured vehicles being a notable exception (coming from Canada)

The Poseidon aircraft – whilst we should have probably replaced the P-3K Orion’s plane for plane – were an informed choice. The decision was also an acknowledgement that the planes need to be replaced as soon as possible, and certainly before one crashes. They are too old for further upgrades and are based on an original air frame designed in the 1950’s.

Ms Ghahraman also needs to understand as do a lot of others on the left that when the Government announced plans for $15-20 billion of expenditure, this was not a lump sum expense, but actually presenting expenditure plans for the next 15-20 years, noting New Zealand typically spends about N.Z.$1 billion on defence per annum. The Orion replacements were the first of a series of major expenditure announcements that will be coming out over the next several years.

Eugenie Sage, Associate Minister for the Environment is another. Ms Sage found out first hand recently that even core ideals sometimes have to be compromised on for the greater good of the country. Whilst the Nongfu water bottling decision was one that might seem like a betrayal of the party principles, and certainly stoked anger, the reality is that Ms Sage and her fellow Ministers were constrained by the Overseas Investment Act which forbade any environmental consideration in granting permission.

However Ms Sage still has a great chance to to make a distinctly Green mark on the environmental policy of this Government. New Zealand has a burgeoning e-waste problem demanding a solution. No national policy specific to e-waste reduction exists and 72,000 tons of it is generated each year, including 600 kilogrammes of waste gold and 600 tons of copper with a valuable on the market of millions of dollars. If the grant given to a company to develop a recycling scheme for said waste minerals – among others – if fruitful the means to doing so may be closer to reality than people think.

Mining, as Regional Development Minister Shane Jones acknowledges, has been a significant part of the back bone of the West Coast economy. Whether it was gold mining or more recently coal mining, since European settlement there has long been a mining presence on the West Coast. The potential for small scale locally owned and operated alluvial gold mining operations does exist. It had been shot down by the Labour led Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark, under whose watch resource consent was shot down for several applications to set up small dredging operations taking gold from rivers.

Defence white paper a sign of changing times: Part II


Yesterday I mentioned the changing national security environment that New Zealand finds itself in. The national security environment, which just like like the economic, political and social and physical environments which it finds itself increasingly integrated with, evolves in response to a range of inputs. To ensure New Zealand is secure the New Zealand Defence Force must evolve with the environment in which it finds itself operating.

That means being appropriately equipped for the challenges that may arise in that environment. New Zealand has an army, navy and air force. It spends about 1% of its G.D.P. per annum on defence, which is consistent with the last 20 years. Governments have tended to put big purchases until they are absolutely needed, which has led to some equipment now being too old to upgrade any further and more and more prone to failure – cases in point, the aging P-3K Orions and C-130J Hercules aircraft whose proneness to equipment failure requiring emergency services to be on standby are increasing along side the annual maintenance costs.

Whilst the Defence Force has the primary role of protecting New Zealand from attack, it also has a number of other roles:

  1. Disaster relief
  2. Search and Rescue
  3. Assisting authorities in civil emergencies

This is why Minister of Defence Ron Mark has in the last week announced replacements for the P-3K Orions. 4 P-8 Poseidon aircraft based on the much newer 737-800 airframe are to be purchased at a cost of $2 billion. These will be used for maritime patrol, surveillance as well as search and rescue. New Zealand has a large maritime zone to patrol that our small navy will not be able to cover on its own.

I expect in the next year or so that an announcement will be made on the replacement aircraft for the C-130J Hercules, which is based on a 1954 airframe. Front runner and personal favourite is the A400M from Airbus, which has extra carrying capacity, can operate from short runways and on Antarctic ice. Likely cost is around $2 billion.

The Royal New Zealand Navy will in the next decade need to seriously overhaul its two A.N.Z.A.C. class frigates or replace them. H.M.N.Z.S.’s Te Mana and Te Kaha were part of a plan to build three frigates in the 1990’s to replace the outgoing Leander Class ships. Whilst unlikely to be used in fully fledged combat situation, both have participated in United Nations maritime enforcement operations against pirates as well as Ross Sea patrols. Perhaps the major argument against new frigates is the cost – $470 million a piece for the two frigates, which I found questionable whilst knowing cheaper ships with similar capabilities existed then.

The New Zealand Army has 105 L.A.V. III vehicles of Canadian manufacture. The purchase of so many was questionable at the time – and still is today when one considers that only a fraction of them have been used in deployment. The cost at the time was $665 million, and replaced M-113 A.P.C.’s even though the latter still performed the functions expected of them. New Zealand should be open to considering whether we need all of them and whether they still fit our operational requirements.

In light of the instability in the south Pacific with nearly lawless situations existing in Papua New Guinea, the Solomons and tensions involving world powers such as China, the ability to deploy N.Z.D.F. assets in the South Pacific should be New Zealand’s biggest external priority.

Whatever happens New Zealand needs to maintain the ability to operate with Australian Defence Force assets, as those of our longest and most immediate ally. Whilst there are differences in terms of priorities, Australia understands that the protection of the south Pacific is a major security as well as the place where peace time operations such as disaster relief and surveillance are likely to be performed.

There will always be a need for a Defence Force, contrary to what some on the left think. Our military is also not just a fighting force as I have mentioned above. It performs a variety of peace time roles as well and we owe it to our servicemen and women to make sure the armed forces they serve us so well in are appropriately equipped for the future.

Defence white paper a sign of changing times: Part I


In this two part series I look at the new Defence White Paper which sets out the threats and opportunities New Zealand faces and how the Defence Force contributes to dealing with them. In this part, I examine the context of the White Paper.

During the Cold War, a defence white paper would have focussed on the threat of nuclear war posed by Russia and China. The threat posted to South Pacific islands would have been largely based on whether the former U.S.S.R. or China could gain a foothold there using Indonesia as a proxy (Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor in 1975 and the failure to condemn it still ranks as one of New Zealand’s biggest foreign policy fails).

Following the withdrawal from the A.N.Z.U.S. alliance, and the French bombing of the Rainbow Warrior a rapid reassessment of who our real allies are would have been undertaken. Australia were still our best ally, the British were friendly, whilst the United States and France were very much on the outer in terms of military co-operation. In terms of the South Pacific nations, respect for New Zealand soared.

33 years later the Chinese threat still exists, as much from military installations being established under the guise of military activity. Concerns over the influence of their telecommunications companies exists, with Huawei being subject to trading restrictions in the U.S. over whether their devices can steal information. Relations with Russia remain cordial – New Zealand does not feature so highly in Russia’s foreign policy estimates, which is reflected in our trading arrangements with Moscow.. The relations with France have largely healed without either side forgetting what happened in July 1985.

It is the South Pacific where things have changed the most. The Solomon Islands, which in 2003 was considered a failed state by the Government’s of New Zealand and Australia, was the subject of a combined mission to restore the rule of law. Whilst this has been successful and was wound up in 2017, there is a risk other nations such as Papua New Guinea may require such assistance in the future. A combination of corruption in the Government, weak economies, internal instability – some islands are virtually lawless make ideal situations for organized crime and possibly the facilitation of terrorist elements in the worst case scenario

Whilst New Zealand has identified potential risks in the Middle East, it is acknowledged that our influence is limited. Other than be an advocate for the rule of law there is not a lot New Zealand can really do. The real movement , a change of focus in foreign policy, has been to make the Pacific a top priority. This seeks to acknowledge the considerable risks of further destabilization, the influence of big power politics which have not in the past been very well received and New Zealand traditional role as a peace keeper, proponent of international law and human freedoms.

Now a third element – the environment – has been added. This acknowledges that many of New Zealand’s South Pacific neighbours have¬† a day-to-day struggle with the sea. Salinisation of the land means crops are failing. Parts of some very low lying nations such as Kiribati and Tuvalu are inundated twice daily with the tidal regime and flood completely in storms or even tropical depressions. Unless this is addressed, some of these places may be uninhabitable in a couple of decades, or become ungovernable, again creating a security risk.

New Zealand tough to invade say Swedish analysts


The other day a report came out. It was by Swedish analysts who had analysed the difficulty of invading countries. As it turns out, New Zealand is one of the hardest. But are we?

While it is true that New Zealand poses little military threat to other countries, our still relatively clean environment, well developed infrastructure and good communications would make us an attractive target for resource hungry nations. We have mineral resources untapped that are attracting the interest of significant mining operators and have large oil and gas reserves. And with the Ross Ocean prone to preying trawlers operating without permission in the Ross Dependency, there are significant marine resources at stake as well. All this needs to protected.

So to do our little island neighbours, who are too small to protect themselves. Whether it is a policing operation such as the joint RAMSI mission in the Solomon Islands in 2005, a disaster relief operation, or a military operation against militant infiltration from elsewhere, few if any of these nations are able to look after themselves.

The catch for an potential invader is not so much in our military, which is barely able to perform the basic training we expect it to undertake, let alone mount any prolonged large scale operation Рin war or peacetime Рoutside of New Zealand.  Indeed perhaps the largest military deployment in the last two decades was providing security for the Christchurch C.B.D. red zone during the relief and recovery efforts post-earthquake.

I cannot remember hearing of the 2 light infantry battalions in the army for example ever being at full strength. The Royal New Zealand Airforce is looking to replace very old transport planes and surveillance aircraft that were both first manufactured in the late 1950’s. The Defence Force is planning to spend $15-20 billion over the next 15-20 years overhauling its equipment – an expenditure that has caught flak from people on the left unable or unwilling to understand you cannot run a Defence Force, just like anything else, unless you invest in it.

Our strength lies in our geography. We are 2100km at least from Australia, our closest geographic neighbour. Logistically supporting an invasion of another country so far from supply bases across potentially very stormy seas would be problematic for just about any nation.

And, let us be honest here. Unless is a United Nations sanctioned military operation – as far fetched as that sounds – are New Zealanders actually likely to support the use of our military for anything other than disaster relief or protecting our immediate assets? Most New Zealanders including myself for example did not support the army being in Afghanistan when the alleged fire fight took place several years ago. Nor have we particularly smiled upon the Iraq operation, as with good reason, many believing that it was an extension of the war that started with the U.S. led invasion in 2003.

A lot of the terrorism around the world exists for simple reasons:

  1. Alleged injustices being perpetrated by foreign powers of a grave nature and a reluctance among the perpetrators to address it, causing anger and stoking ill will
  2. Religious fanatics – groups such as Islamic State trying to wage holy war or jihad
  3. Deliberate destabilization of Governments or societies in order to achieve some sort of dominance leading to armed conflict with a loose – if even existent – respect for international legal norms

Since New Zealand does not generally support these types of activities, either by other governments or entities, it has managed to stay safe when few nations in the west have managed to escape militant strikes – Spain in 2004; Britain in 2005 and 2017; France in 2015; various attacks in Germany and smaller incidents in Australia, Belgium, Sweden, United States and so on. New Zealand needs to remain careful and continue screening people before we let them settle here.