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.

Time to compensate nuclear test witnesses


There is something eerily beautiful about the signature of the most sinister, most terrifying invention man has conceived. Watching a mushroom cloud rise after a nuclear weapon has been detonated is one of the most – for all the wrong reasons – shockingly mesmerising sights. Even veterans of nuclear test veterans have been impressed by the clouds.

Numerous New Zealanders in the Royal New Zealand Navy sailed to various test sites around the Pacific to witness tests. Mururoa (French Polynesia) and Christmas Island (British/Indian Ocean)were common destinations. But from those clouds came something truly dreadful. As the fire ball expanded in the sky in atmospheric or above ground tests, as the water of calm aquamarine lagoons exploded in tests at places like Johnston and Kwajalein (U.S. sites), Mururoa (French), and Christmas Island, vast quantities of gamma rays were emitted. Although the servicemen were stationed on ships or observation points some distance from the explosion, they would have felt the heat from the initial flash and seen the flash, particularly if the exploding device was a thermonuclear one with a yield in the megaton range

Many of the New Zealand sailors involved witnessed British testing during Operation Grapple. These were a series of nuclear weapons tests during the early stages of British thermonuclear weapons development. The yields ranged between 24 kilotons and 3 megatons. New Zealand Navy ships acted as weather vessels during the test. They would remain near the tests for a time after the explosion when fallout was occurring.

In the ┬álate1960’s France undertook nuclear weapons testing of devices with yields of up to 2.6 megatons at Fangataufa Atoll (the 2.6 megaton test contaminated the atoll so badly it was not used for 6 years). Then France moved to Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia. New Zealand sailors witnessed nuclear tests conducted in the 1970’s by France at Mururoa Atoll with yields that ranged between 1 ton (thought to be a safety experiment)to 955 kilotons.

To this day I do not believe a single Government in possession of nuclear weapons can truthfully say it has been totally transparent about the effects that nuclear testing has had on those in the armed forces that witnessed the tests. Only the United States, Britain and France can say that they have offered any compensation or otherwise made an effort to acknowledge the significant medical effects being exposed to the levels of radiation that they were, would have had. Certainly not Russia or China, where a lack of Government transparency means only activists and investigative journalists taking significant risks to their well being have tried in vain to expose the testing activities and the fallout consequences for those down wind.

The New Zealand Government has never fully acknowledged the effects of nuclear testing on New Zealanders who sailed to these locations. Nor have successive Labour or National led Governments made an effort to compensate those victims found to be displaying the symptoms of fallout from these explosions. The best chance for New Zealand veterans to get compensation is based on research that was proposed in 2016 by Brunei University to undertake chromosomal research into veterans of the British nuclear weapons testing programme.

The Government says that we appreciate what our veterans have been through.

No. No we don’t. Until these veterans get assessed for illnesses related to their exposure to nuclear testing, those effects acknowledged in full and in public and they receive appropriate compensation, this is a bald faced lie.

Recognizing the Geneva Conventions in war


On what is the most solemn day on the New Zealand calendar in 2017, it is appropriate to pause and reflect on the country that we are. It is appropriate to recall the the atrocities that happened and why international laws were introduced to provide protection for soldiers on the frontline – the mass murder of surrendered combatants; death and the handling of insurgents and insurgenices was the cause of much concern during World War 2. New Zealanders such as but not limited to Nancy Wake were heavily involved in the training and arming of the Free French Resistance. They ran incredible risks and would have been subject to prolonged and brutal torture by the Gestapo if caught.

With the exception of the Featherston Camp incident where 48 Japanese Prisoners of War were massacred in February 1943, New Zealand’s conduct in regards to the Geneva Conventions as they were understood then was exemplary. The reputation as being a feisty bunch was well earned, and respected by friend and foe alike. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel went so far as to describe the New Zealanders as the finest enemy troops his forces fought as evidenced by the likes of Sir Charles Upham, one of only three people to be awarded the Victoria Cross AND Bar for his bravery at Ruweisat Ridge, Egypt in July 1942.

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.

When I pause to give thanks on A.N.Z.A.C. Day 2017, I shall also be giving thanks to the Geneva Conventions, the work of the Defence Force over the years making sure that this most important law covering the treatment personnel in time of war is not forgotten. 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, on Tuesday morning, when I go to the A.N.Z.A.C. Day Dawn Service, along with thousands of others and give thanks and shall remember the many thousands of Defence Force personnel who went overseas and served this country with distinction and bravery. I shall wonder where they are now and what they are doing.

But I shall also remember those many whose lives have been immeasurably improved by the fact that in amongst the theory and conduct of war, someone had the great foresight to write the Geneva Conventions. For without them, so many wars could have been so, so much worse.