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.

A.N.Z.A.C. Day not a glorification of war


On Wednesday morning, thousands of people all over New Zealand gathered in the pre-dawn darkness to attend the Dawn Service, acknowledging the sacrifices made by the New Zealand Defence Force. They gathered to remember those that had gone to war and never came home, those that fought and came home bearing both physical and mental scars. They came to say thanks.

But they did not come to glorify war.

Across all of the ceremonies I have been to in Christchurch, not one struck me as vaguely promoting war or militarism. Not one failed to mention the horrendous loss of life and the effects on society that are felt from having lost so many people.

So, whilst we see plenty of coverage about our soldiers going away in the two world wars and fighting on foreign battlefields, I do not believe that there has been any effort to downplay the losses. This is irrespective of whether they happened on the sun baked slopes of Gallipoli, in the muddy hell of Passchendaele, the Somme, Verdun, Cambrai. It is irrespective of whether they died in the skies above Britain, at sea fighting the Germans or Japanese or in the Mediterranean theatre.

All of the ceremonies set an appropriate tone, sombre and respectful. The high losses suffered are shown in the number of war memorials all over New Zealand from little towns through to Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and so forth.

One concern I had was upon finding out decades ago that World War 1 was also the “Great War”. It did not bother me so much until I started to question what I was taught about the war and whether those teachings were honest. On the whole I think my education has been relatively honest about New Zealand’s involvement in the wars. When I saw the phrase “Great War” several years ago, I asked and it was explained to me that the name is not from any descriptor seeking to make the war look good or grand in any way, but a simple acknowledgement that the scale of the destruction in the countries affected had – until World War 2 – no parallel.

I am further assured by the words of General TIm Keating, Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force, who said that the ongoing and increasing popularity of A.N.Z.A.C. Day is not related to any glorification. Rather those that were children 30-40 years ago and now have children themselves who lost grandfathers and uncles, great grandfathers and great uncles in the wars. They are now wanting to show their children what it means to go to an A.N.Z.A.C. Day Dawn Service, to listen to the stories shared and appreciate what past generations have done for the country.

Like a lot of boys when I was younger, I was fascinated by war stories and the battles fought. I played computer games and read magazines from the bookshop. I participated in mock infantry charges and watched documentaries on television, such as “The World at War”. Whilst it made me interested in the how and why of battles being fought, listening to the stories of the service personnel who were there, one realizes that sometimes the real war was about surviving the elements in whatever form one found them.

Then I saw Saving Private Ryan. Any jingoistic ideas I had about war and the reasons for war were splattered on the floor when I dropped a half litre bottle of coke that I had just opened. Aside from the sheer savagery portrayed in the movie it rammed home the futility, seeing how it had marked Ryan all these years later as a war veteran. The realism was so strong many veterans who had been in France on D-Day in 1944 could not watch because it brought back too many bad memories.

And when service personnel come home from war, a lot leave the services. They go into farming, or train as teachers, or lawyers, or doctors – something more constructive than killing people. But they never forget where they went and what the saw. And whilst bullet wounds generally heal, the mental scars are often more impervious.

Whilst I will be pro-military, it is not because of a revision of my thoughts on war. It is horrible, senseless and usually started for reasons that are questionable at best. It is because no sane country leaves itself unprotected in a day and age where future wars are going to be about geopolitics and resources. I will be pro-military because the New Zealand Defence Force is an honourable and professional outfit to be a part of, and – despite the investigation into the fight in Afghanistan – does not believe in nor participate in the use of torture.

One day the Defence Force may have to fight. Like all I hope it never comes and that future generations of soldiers will not find their names etched into the cold hard gravestones like their forebears. But I don’t think anyone of them will be going to war any more enthusiastically than any of their many predecessors.

 

Time for N.Z.D.F. to come clean about Afghanistan raid


In 2010, New Zealand Defence Force soldiers participated in an attack on an Afghanistan town called Tirgiran. During the exchange there were civilian casualties.

For months, those casualties were denied strenuously by the Chief of the Defence Force Major General Tim Keating, who said there were huge inaccuracies in Nicky Hager’s book Hit and Run, which alleges war crimes were committed by the N.Z.D.F. Now, in a u-turn yesterday, Major General Keating admitted that civilian deaths might have happened. Yet he continued to insist that the book is wrong.

I have in the past given the New Zealand Defence Force the benefit of the doubt, and considered the onus to be on Mr Hager to demonstrate otherwise. Whilst I still wonder if Mr Hager has a vendetta against the Defence Force, his claims have now received a major credibility boost.

It is time for Major General Keating to come clean as the person in charge on a day-to-day basis on what really happened in that raid in Afghanistan. To fail to do so is to undermine the credibility of his office, as well as every man and woman who serves in the Defence Force.

When New Zealand fights overseas, we might be under the command of a foreign power. In the case of Afghanistan the American command had jurisdiction over our forces. In East Timor, it was the Australians. It matters not who has control of the overall operation, but that New Zealand Defence Force ultimately answers to the New Zealand Government, who in turn must answer to the New Zealand people.

The New Zealand Defence Force needs to be aware that it should under NO circumstances EVER conduct practices of a tortuous nature, or operations of a nature that may break the international conventions this country is a signatory to. In the event that our personnel find themselves being asked to participate in such operations, the command making the request should be informed forthwith that New Zealand will only participate if it is fully compliant with the Geneva Conventions.

For a country that prides itself on respecting international law, this is hugely embarrassing. It potentially damages our reputation as being clean and responsible overseas. But this potential damage goes further than that. This potential damage potentially threatens New Zealand forces who go there in the future. It sends damaging and confusing signals to Afghanistan and Afghanis about what New Zealand wants to achieve there.

Major General Tim Keating did not achieve his current rank by bluffing his way through the ranks. It is not possible. One will be found out long before you get that far. Someone that far up the military hierarchy should be expected to know that New Zealand and New Zealanders have standards. He should be expected to know there are good historical reasons why we abhor torture and why we prefer a clean fair fight to one with dirty underhand tactics. In getting to this position, Major General Keating indicates that he is aware of these expectations and intends to uphold them.

So why did New Zealand not do this? Why are one of the finest small defence forces in the world starring down a major credibility crisis because of an operation in Afghanistan of a questionable nature in 2010. The Defence Force and in particular Major General Keating need to come totally clean about this now, or resign.

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.

Who should be deciding Defence Force spending priorities?


Without a doubt one of the most controversial areas of government spending is always that for the Defence Force. It does not matter how large or small, how sophisticated or out of date their inventory will be, the politics of defence spending is almost as much of a political minefield as any war that the equipment purchased might be used for. There will always be people who think a nation needs to spend more on their military establishment even when current spending is ample. There will always be those who think too much is being spent, even when their nations military cannot perform some of its most basic functions, is viewed with  concern by close friends and allies. But at the end of the day, are those elected to govern really the best people to be deciding on equipment purchases?

In New Zealand there has been a long record of controversial purchasing decisions made by civilians, most of whom have not spent any time in uniform, many of whom have ideological views rather than pragmatic ones based on sound advice that they wish to advance. Whilst one might wonder for example whether or not we really needed a combat component in the airforce consisting of aircraft worth N.Z.$50-60 million a piece, the decision to scrap the combat wing was made by a Labour Government that had as much as a decade earlier decided there was no purpose for it, without a Ministry of Defence white paper or any other report investigating the pros and cons. To the best of my knowledge none of the Ministers of Defence in the Helen Clark government had military experience.

It is interesting to note that the same Government decided to purchase 105 Light Armoured Vehicle III (LAV’s). The short sighted nature of this was multifold. First and foremost, it was noted that the C-130J Hercules aircraft were not up to the rigours of transporting one of these large vehicles. The number of vehicles that was purchased also raised significant questions – did we really need 105 of them, with a total cost of N.Z.$665 million for an army that barely had two functional battalions. In Iraq, during the U.S.-led war it was noted that these vehicles were vulnerable to attack from any enemy with access to relatively simple weapons systems such as rocket propelled grenades, and could not defend themselves against air strikes.

But National has raised questions about whether it is any better with its prioritizing of defence spending. In 1999 it announced it was looking at a third frigate of the A.N.Z.A.C. class, which would cost N.Z.$470 million. It ignored suggestions that European models of equal capability could be purchased for a third of the price. Because 1999 turned out to be National’s last year in office prior to the Clark Government, this never went ahead.

It’s recent announcement that it is looking at replacement aircraft for the C-130J transports, whilst welcome, was followed by another announcement that the proposed replacement aircraft would be C-17 Globemaster transports. The announcements were made by Gerry Brownlee, a former businessman and wood work teacher with no knowledge of the Defence Force. Several questions arise from this announcement:

  • Why spend N.Z.$2 billion on transport aircraft, which is equivalent to nearly 2 years expenditure on the entire New Zealand Defence Force
  • Why these aircraft, the most expensive transport plane currently on the market whose full carrying capacity we simply don’t need
  • Would there need to be infrastructure improvements needed to handle such big aircraft

With these examples borne in mind, I cannot help but wonder whether ideologically driven politicians with no military experience are really suited to making decisions on Defence Force purchases. Certainly I am glad that the military industrial complex with its morally and legally questionable ambitions, does not hold the same sway here as it does over American politicians whose careers are beholden to it. Several of them have military experience, and are of the view that might is right.

At the end of the day, the Government is responsible for the security of the nation, domestically and internationally. No self respecting nation would ever leave itself knowingly undefended, and New Zealand is very lucky to be far from the major conflicts. However, the potential for localized conflicts in the South Pacific or having to contribute significantly to a United Nations peace-keeping/making mission is very real. Without the experience of overseas deployment though, are politicians the right people to be making the decisions or should there be a panel of military personnel with civilian oversight?