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.


Big spending decisions looming on New Zealand Defence Force

At the weekend, the bi-annual Warbirds over Wanaka airshow was held in Otago. One of the highlights of the airshow was a pair of United States F-16 combat jets that were flown in from Okinawa, Japan, to perform for the crowd. A few years ago this probably would not have been possible and it points to a warming in our relationship with the United States that in the couple of years the United States Airforce has also appeared at the Royal New Zealand Airforce Air Tattoo in 2017.

However, a failure of the R.N.Z.A.F. C-130 Hercules, meant that one of the displays of the United States Airforce F-16’s was delayed because the C-130 was supposed to play a supporting role but was not able to due to a mechanical failure. Whilst one should expect mechanical failures, these are going to grow in complexity and frequency on aging air frames.

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft for example are based on a type that had its first flight in the 1950’s. The air frames that New Zealand has have been in the Royal New Zealand Airforce for as long as I can remember. Whilst they have been great aircraft and have served really well, it is time to replace them. Further upgrades are not going to work on air frames that are naturally getting more and more expensive to maintain year in year out.

A second aircraft that is due for replacement is the P-3K Orion surveillance/patrol aircraft. It, like the Hercules is based on a very old air frame, and was first introduced to the R.N.Z.A.F. in the 1980’s. It is also based on an air frame that is at least 50 years old. The R.N.Z.A.F. has 6 Orion aircraft in service.

Minister of Defence Ron Mark has indicated that the Orions and the Hercules aircraft are both up for replacement. However Mr Mark says that a decision on their replacement types is some way off as he has a Defence white paper to review. Then a capability plan needs to be prepared and reviewed, before a review of the Government’s ability to deliver on the plan.

The chances are very slim, if not non-existent, but I still believe that there should be a small number – 12 would be adequate – of combat jets. It does not need to be a fifth generation aircraft like the American F-22 or F-35. A small number of Saab JAS-39 Gripen multi-role aircraft so that we may maintain some sort of parity with Australia would be quite adequate. The JAS-39 also has an added benefit of being able to take and land on short runways, so should there be a conflict in the South Pacific where a military response is needed we will hopefully not need to rely on Australian support that might not be there.

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.

A.N.Z.U.S. in 2017

When World War 2 ended, the strategic defence of New Zealand had been irreversibly altered. Gone were the days when Great Britain provided all of our military hardware. Gone were the days when it could be relied on to come to our aid in time of war. That had been replaced by the United States of America.

During the war the U.S. had stationed a Marine Division in New Zealand to provide protection against a Japanese attack. By the end of the war much of our military hardware was of American manufacture. America and the Soviet Union were very much the two major powers in the world after World War 2. The European powers, devastated by war had more immediate priorities than reclaiming far flung colonies. It was in the years immediately after this war that many nations were granted full independence.

American geopolitical strategy called for a number of alliances or treaties to contain the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The Australian New Zealand United States (A.N.Z.U.S.)alliance was one of these. The members of the alliance understood that an attack on one of the other members should be construed as an attack on them.

It was probably in the late 1950’s prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis that New Zealanders first began to have doubts about nuclear weapons. It stemmed from concerns about British nuclear testing, environmental impacts and the potential threat to humans. France acquired nuclear weapons in 1960. During the Government of Prime Ministers Norman Kirk/Bill Rowling, the Royal New Zealand Navy often sent ships to Mururoa, Fangataufa atolls to support the protests against nuclear tests conducted by the French. 

In 1985 New Zealand left A.N.Z.U.S. as a result of its refusal to permit nuclear powered and/or armed ships into New Zealand waters. There was a significant American response to New Zealand’s decision. Aside from leading to a substantial cooling of the American-New Zealand military relationship and a cooler overall diplomatic relationship, it raised questions among western nations about New Zealand’s commitment to western ideals.

The best known reaction to this was from France, which thought New Zealand was becoming a bastion of anti-nuclear weapons sentiment, which is true. New Zealand has long supported the small south Pacific nations in their campaign to keep this part of the world free of nuclear weapons and power. The major causes were then, and still are now when the subject arises, that hosting warships from a foreign power with nuclear weapons on board may make New Zealand look more attractive in a nuclear war.  But more seriously, and more likely, especially after the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown was the concern that there might be some sort of nuclear accident in our waters, which would have crippling environment, reputation and economic impacts on New Zealand.

Is A.N.Z.U.S. relevant in 2017? It depends on who one talks to. The Green Party and the far left of New Zealand politics will say no and insist that we reduce our defence ties to America. Others might say that if we are not supporting America then we must be supporting Chinese ambitions in the south Pacific, and it is true that China has global ambitions, which President Xi Jinping outlined a few months ago. But does that mean we necessarily support China? No.

New Zealand’s immediate security environment whether other nations like it or not, is the South Pacific. Australia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Niue, Tokelau, Federation of Micronesia are our neighbours. Not those in the Middle East. Not those in northeast Asia. We need to build up a comprehenisve defence relationship with all of these South Pacific nations and Australia. An attack on one or more of them by a foreign power is an attack on New Zealand.

Yes we might have a use – and we do – for American ECHELON communications. However we need to make clear that New Zealand intelligence agencies shall have a South Pacific orientation. This is not only in New Zealand’s interests, but as a nation that is perhaps more in tune with this part of world, perhaps in America’s interests as well.

When working in a hostile security environment alongside American or other foreign forces, New Zealand needs to be aware of its obligations to the Geneva Conventions when dealing with combatants, and the conduct military activity. We also need to be careful about ensuring local customs are respected. Unfortunately the United States has not always shown the due regard, and has been left wondering as a result why locals became hostile. As a nation we place great pride in our conduct and adherence to these, and the international community likewise recognizes our emphasis.

We still have a military relationship to the United States in 2017, but it is questionable whether a Cold War alliance is the best way to maintain that relationship.

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.