There was once a time when navigating national security was a straight forward issue for New Zealand and indeed much of the world. The threats were distant and being monitored by our allies. But slowly but surely what started out as a nice back yard in which New Zealanders thought they could have a beer, has turned into a crocodile pit. Last year one of the inhabitants of the crocodile pit had a go at New Zealand. We hastily removed it, checked the foliage around the edge and then went back to our seat.
For the last several months, for obvious reasons New Zealand as a nation has been fighting COVID19. It caused us to shut down for a month and then spend another 3 weeks on Level 3. We did it and with the exception of the last month, where a bit of a COVID surge has occurred, completely stopped it. But in that time have we been paying enough attention to other national security threats?
We were right to be more concerned about our internal well being. No one really understood COVID19 when it first became a problem and its ability to spread around the world caught many nations dozing at the wheel. The global pandemic has infected 15 million around the world, of which nearly 4 million are in the United States. Of the 3.97 million Americans who have or have had COVID19, nearly 145,000 have died, which is more than all Americans killed in World War 1 or getting close to the size of Hamilton.
With our borders shut, some might argue that other security threats were no longer a problem since no one could get in or get out. Planning a terrorist attack unless the attackers had all of their resources ready to go, was out of the question and any suspect transport activity would have been much more easily spotted by the Police, and other than a supermarket, what would they attack anyway?
Daesh was really a consequence of failed western geopolitics. New Zealand for the most part rightfully stayed out of that conflict, which had nothing to do with us and would only expose New Zealanders to unnecessary danger from one of the most backward entities in the world. New Zealanders understood this.
Then we had 15 March 2019. An Australian-borne New Zealander shot up two mosques in Christchurch, killing 51 people during afternoon prayers. New Zealanders were revolted. The Prime Minister acted decisively, introducing legislation within ten days to restrict the potential for firearms similar to the one used to indiscriminately murder New Zealanders in the future. But against this backdrop of a rapid Government response, toxic right wing conspiracy nuts tried to derail the legislation. Mixed among them were activists who believed that the gun man was doing New Zealand a favour by killing so many Muslims.
He was not. He was trying to incite violence and division.
Not surprisingly the Police response to the attack was massive, and received widespread international applause. Armed Police stood guard at the mosques and at places such as Christchurch’s justice precinct for weeks following the attacks to reassure New Zealanders. This is not to say we should put armed Police back on the streets again just to reassure the public that New Zealand is safe. Considering the recent revelations that Maori and Pacific Island communities feel unsafe when armed Police are around, perhaps the most immediate thing we can do is take steps to disarm that fear and thus disarm the distrust that fear can stoke.
New Zealand Police really need to invite the leaders of all of our ethnic minorities to a hui. At that hui they need to go through all of the individual minorities one on one and then as a group to find out their specific concerns. They need to identify common themes coming out, such as among the Maori and Pacific Island communities, the fear of armed Police; among Islamic and other religious communities the fear that 15 March 2019 might not be the last. These people are as much New Zealanders as you and I. Let us make them feel valued and welcomed and not feel like social pariahs.
Internationally we need to look at how much we want to do with a United States Government that openly demonizes Muslims and other religious communities. We need to look at whether our Defence Force should be deployed in war zones that started because of some foreign power or another having a geopolitical agenda. New Zealand needs to also have a critical look at whether we make a big enough effort to help our small Pasifika neighbours, some of whom have barely functional governments.
COVID19 might have been the dominating thing on our domestic radar, and in many respects still is, but that should not we stop paying attention to potential threats overseas or domestically. They are still there lurking like ambush predators, awaiting a suitable moment, and we need to be ready.