From Coalition Warfare to Peacekeeping: The Green View

It’s good to be able to stand in front of you as a representive of the establishment. For those of you who are now dissenters and protesters against the government, I know how it feels. If you need any help about how to make up banners, see me afterwards.

And for any Defence Force protesters here, don’t worry, there’s room for all of you in the new defence force. It will only require a little bit of re-education.

Now, to the main message.

The recent defence changes are a major step towards nationhood.

For most of our history in defence, we’ve been dancing to someone else’s tune: firstly the British, and in recent decades the Americans and the Australians.

At last we’re starting to determine our defence capability according to our needs, and what we can best contribute to the world.

The threat to New Zealand’s coastline is a non-military one:

  • it’s smugglers in ships trying to get past Customs,
  • it’s despoilers of the environment, spilling oil and the like.
  • it’s those who overfish and illegally fish.
  • it’s people trying to by-pass the immigration service.

The new configuration of the Orions, and the new multi-purpose long-range ship and associated patrol boats will be a big step to dealing with this real threat to our coastline.

Under the old order, the big con inflicted on the public was that the Orions were being used for fisheries surveillance and search and rescue. In fact, as the Maritime Patrol Review shows, each Orion typically flew just 40 hours per year on civil patrol tasks in New Zealand (and a little more around the Pacific EEZs).

The Orions have mainly been a warplane, wasting large amounts of money galavanting around the world on anti-submarine exercises in Britain, Korea, Canada, you name it.

It’s great the frigate Canterbury is not being replaced by a frigate, and my main beef with the government is that they are going to hang onto the two ANZACs for a while.

The ANZACs are ill-configured for our needs. Te Mana is up in the Solomons, but clearly a multi-purpose long range boat would be much better for this mission. Te Mana wastes a lot of space on missiles and associated warfighting paraphenalia. The Solomon Islands militias aren’t going to launch any attack on it.

And finally, it’s great that the Skyhawks are going and the emphasis will be put on the workhorses of the airforce, the Hercules and the Iroquois helicopters.

The Skyhawks have never been used operationally in 30 years. I am amazed when some people argue that this means they have been effective, like having an insurance policy even if your house doesn’t burn down. If the fact that the Skyhawks have never been used is proof of something, you could make the case that pop-guns or air balloons are also deterrents.

The Skyhawks have never deterred anything. They’ve only been a deterrent to New Zealand having an independent defence policy.

Yes, the focus on peacekeeping using our troops, the Hercules and the Iroquois is the way to go. East Timor, Bougainville, and the Solomons prove it – as well as other peacekeeping missions New Zealand has been involved in.

New Zealanders are proud of our peacekeepers. We are pretty good at it, as I saw when I visited East Timor.

And as you may know, as a result of my initiative, the government will investigate the feasibility of a peacekeeping school, which to me will be part of us becoming an international centre of excellence in this area.

It is hardly a novel idea with countries like Canada, Ireland and the Netherlands already having such schools.

I’ve been amazed at the snarky response to such as school from some military quarters. They take it as a slight on existing training.

But such high-level schools exist in most other fields of human endeavour.

There is nothing wrong with peacekeeping schools, providing more integrated specialist training, mainly for officers.

Some have dismissed the projected greater involvement on non-military peace-building specialists in military training, that is, human right workers, those practiced in settling refugees, aid people, language and cultural experts, and practioners of non-violent dispute resolution. But it would be arrogant to say military people have nothing to learn from these people, who have often spent much of their lifetime building up their skills. They can improve soldiers in exactly the type of skills you need in places like East Timor.

I hope no-one here will say that say that advocates of a peacekeeping focus, or peacekeeping schools, are downgrading necessary combat skills – as if any of us don’t want the soldiers in East Timor to have the skills to defend themselves against armed militias. Whenever people use that argument it demeans them.

Now, lets get back to the question which should really come at the beginning of every defence talk. What is the threat? Where is the enemy? Who is taking over our country?

It’s undeniable our country is being taken over. I won’t bore you with the figures but clearly we are being taken over by the bigger multinationals from the richer countries like America, Japan, Europe, and – yes- Australia.

So if countries like America or Australia are taking you over, why do you want to have a military alliance with them, directed against other countries they choose to name – China’s the one Dubya is trying to crank up a the moment. It doesn’t make sense.

What is the American military all about? Primarily, it is about projection of power to protect its economic interests.

What’s the National Missile Defence all about? The projection of power: don’t mess with us, we can nuke you, but you won’t be able to nuke us.

Australia, the deputy sheriff, is buying into this, giving the Americans the right to use the Pine Gap facility to track missile launches for the NMD.

This makes it insane for New Zealand to buy into Australia’s offensive combat structure, they way we have in the past with the Skyhawks, the frigates and submarine detection through the Orions.

A quick way to get off side with most of the world is to buy into the full Australian defence structure, which is in turn in sinc with the Americans. Much of American global strategy is despised around the world. This includes their NMD, sabre-rattling round China, propping up Israel to the extent it is destabilising the whole Middle East, defying world opinion to drop the sanctions against Iraq (which are only helping Saddam) – not to mention making the world safe for global warming.

Yes, we should have a military relationship with Australia – but only in those areas where we have a common objective, like in peacekeeping or in fisheries surveillance and disaster relief.

Australia’s approach to Asia has been flawed, and hypocritical.

Australian governments have created a fear of Indonesia in the populace. Then they signed a security pact with the Suharto regime and supported the occupation of East Timor. Well they’ve shifted on East Timor, but yes they say it’s okay for Indonesia to occupy West Papua against the will of virtually the entire people.

Now, for lack of anything else, China is deemed the potential enemy, the excuse for a major armaments programme. Sure, China is not particularly democratic, but who is it calling for self-determination for Tibet, or the release of political prisoners in China – not the Australian government, but the people disparaged as peaceniks like the Greens.

Real security in our region requires peace and social justice, and you’ve got to put emphasis on that, be consistent about it. You don’t go soft on enemies of democracy like Mahathir or Singapore’s leaders just so you can have frigate exercises with their armed forces – under the Five Power Defence Arrangements -what a waste of time and money they are. Sure, we should have good trade relations with Malaysia, work with it in peacekeeping, but a major coalition warfighting relationship. Whatever for?

New Zealand has a big role to play to the world, but it revolves around peacekeeping, promoting disarmament, and helping resolve disputes (regionally and through the United Nations) and being a champion of human rights and social justice.

It shouldn’t involve tagging along behind Uncle Sam – and when it comes right down to it that’s what the Skyhawks, frigates and anti-submarine surveillence through the Orions have been all about.


Speech notes in an address to a Centre for Strategic Studies seminar, May 30