In making this decision New Zealand has signalled what we do not want in terms of our defence forces. What we must now address is what we need.
National and ACT’s argument that we need the F-16s shows how completely out of touch they are with the electorate. Two thirds of New Zealanders in a TV One poll were against the purchase. Given that our current skyhawk fleet have never once been used in operations in more than thirty years, they are quite clearly correct.
The F-16 deal would have cost around a billion dollars – a waste of money which could be better used on social and environmental spending. As far as prices for these kind of planes go, this was very cheap. But as the Prime Minister noted, a bargain price is no reason to buy. They have to be useful.
The Greens see no role for strike aircraft in our defence forces and will continue to press the government to scrap the Skyhawks as well. The Quigley report notes that if we are to continue with the Skyhawks they will require $100 million for upgrades and new weaponry.
The Quigley Report goes on to note that removing our air combat capability – if you can call it that – would save the defence forces $140 million annually. Given the embarrassing state of the peacekeeping forces which we sent to East Timor last year this amount could make a huge difference to the readiness and morale of our peacekeeping capabilities.
The differences between our peacekeeping forces and our ‘air strike force’ are obvious. One gets used to keep international peace, the has been used for nothing.
Last week the Prime Minister also suggested that New Zealand could make up to $80 million through selling the skyhawks. Given that they are of little use we urge the government to do this swiftly and to reinvest the proceeds into replacing some obsolete equipment, such as our Vietnam era radios, which are currently being used by our army.
The Greens are hoping this decision to scrap the F-16 contract will refocus the whole debate on the objectives we set for our defence forces.
We see the primary tasks of our defence forces as being peacekeeping, fisheries monitoring, mine-clearing and disaster relief (including medical assistance and field hospitals).
These are the things we do well and are respected for internationally. The Greens believe our naval combat forces, in the form of the frigates, are also superfluous to our needs and should also be sold in order for us to upgrade and invest in Hercules, helicopters, field equipment, land transport vehicles and top of the line peacekeeping equipment.
Arguments that we need jet fighters and frigates – only useful for major war confrontation – are based on old World War Two or Cold War scenarios, or on keeping other nations like Australia or the United States happy. These arguments put forward by ACT and National undermine the independence of New Zealand foreign policy and are, the Greens suggest, out of step with the values and wishes of the majority of New Zealanders.
New Zealand does make worthwhile and respected contributions to international peacekeeping. We pride ourselves on it and are recognised around the world for it.
However we can do better yet, but we must focus and prioritise. We must have confidence and pride in ourselves as a nation.
When I was in East Timor earlier this year I found morale among our troops high, despite our less than perfect equipment. This is because they were doing relevent, constructive and valuable work.
Richard Prebble asks how our military forces can have any morale when we are in the middle of canceling our air strike capacity. I ask how the pilots who fly these planes can have the same morale as our peacekeepers when they have never used their planes in operations once in over thirty years?
How can our sailors have top morale when they are on a frigate that has only been used in ‘exercises’ (including with Indonesian warships) or or doubtful operations like helping the United States enforce trade sanctions which continue to hurt the Iraqi people and strengthen Saddam Hussein.
We have much more important work for these sailors and pilots. Peacekeeping in an East Timor village may not be as glamorous as flying a fighter plane, but in todays world it is much more valuable.
©Copyright 2000 The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand