Re-evaluating our foreign defence policy

Last week Major John McNutt was tragically killed in Kuwait when bombs from an American plane fell in the wrong spot.

Yesterday, the contribution of Major McNutt was commemorated at a funeral at Burnham military camp.

Parliament is united in grieving over his death.

I also appreciate the support given by American armed forces in escorting his Major McNutt’s body back to New Zealand.

Helen Clark has announced that New Zealand should not continue to participate in US-led task force in the Gulf that Major McNutt had been assigned to. National has disagreed. The Greens support the Prime Minister.

The task force in Kuwait is not part of a peacekeeping mission. It is the very opposite. It is part of the American-led military activity against Iraq. The most visible actions of this activity are the air attacks that have been condemned by most of the world community.

Sometimes the task force is called a ‘coalition task force’, but it bears little resemblance to the coalition that fought the Gulf War. That coalition fell apart long ago. Only America, Britain, Australia and New Zealand have officers assigned to the task force headquarters.

Since the Labour government came to power, it has rightly taken a more critical stance towards US policy in the Gulf. It opposes America’s hardline approach to continuing the sanctions which have led to the deaths of so many innocent Iraqis, but have not hurt Saddam Hussein. In fact, the sanctions and the bombing of Iraq have only strengthened Saddam, giving him undeserved credit as some kind of defender of the nation against outside attack.

The Labour government has also rightly stopped the participation of our frigates in the US-organised naval interception force in the Gulf.

So it is totally consistent with this for there to be no new Defence Force person to be sent to the Kuwait task-force.

I was shocked to learn that Helen Clark had not been told of the presence of a Kiwi in this Kuwaiti task force. We may have avoided a tragedy if the government had been able to re-evaluate New Zealand’s participation in the Gulf earlier.

In this light, I ask the government to review, rather quickly, other Defence Force postings and missions that may also not be consistent with the peacekeeping focus of our Defence Force – not consistent with the great work we are doing in East Timor, Bougainville and the Solomons, for example.

There are postings, exercises and conferences we attend which seem to be focussed on preparing for coalition warfare with the United States.

The most obvious of these is the Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration, which I attended in Auckland last year. This is organised by the US military command and involves New Zealand and other western countries in a big virtual reality war game — with the command centre in Colorado. Computers on the frigate Te Kaha and one of the Orions helped fight this virtual war against a fictional enemy nation.

This war game was totally inappropriate for New Zealand as a peacemaker.

Some time ago the government sent a clear signal that it was not interested in spending money on an anti-submarine capacity.

Yet last year the Defence Force’s Group Manager of Underseas Warfare, Dr Marriet, attended at least four Technical Cooperation Programme meetings in Washington, Phoenix, Sydney and London. These meetings discuss such things as anti-submarine warfare research. New Zealand also participates in an Air Standardisation Co-ordination Committee (ASCC) made up of the same four nations in the Kuwait task force, plus Canada.

The RNZAF admitted to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee that it was trying to “maximise interoperability with other ASCC nations” through common standards and procedures. It is this which pushes New Zealand to waste money on something like the $585 million Project Sirius anti-submarine upgrade for the Orions. New Zealand’s participation in two ASCC working parties – Air Operations and Doctrine, and on air reconnaisance – probably helped explain the pressure for Project Sirius.

The Defence Force also attends regular naval “standardisation” meetings under AUSCANNZUKUS, a five nation body similar to the ASCC, and also driven by the United States. We may not be in ANZUS but how many New Zealanders know we are in AUSCANNZUKUS.

We still have some way to go to refocus Defence Force right away from being subordinated to US military strategies, to a clear focus on what we are really good at, peacekeeping.