The evolutions of the international scene are increasingly impacting the periphery of the world, where it was thought that marginality provided protection from threats.
New Zealand published three documents in early August1 to which a fourth can be added2, on national security and defense policy. These documents outline the prevailing challenges, organizational and functional principles for its armed forces, and ways to improve the national defense and security capability of the future. Last August 4, Defense Minister Andrew Little presented them to parliament, completing a journey begun last year by the government chaired by Labor member Jacinda Harden (now resigned), despite her personal opposition, as it was profoundly pacifist and anti-militarist.
"A year ago we commissioned the Defense Policy Review, to provide a roadmap for the future of defense as part of New Zealand's national security, and to do so in the context of the rapidly changing conditions we see around us", Little said after meetings with MPs, adding that "One of the first actions taken by [Prime Minister] Chris Hipkins' government was to accelerate work on that review", wanting to highlight the difference in approach between the two prime ministers (Hipkins is also Labour).
These documents outline challenges and possibilities, introduce the principles and their four assumptions and conclude that, in the medium to long term, major investment in defense is required to continue to protect and promote New Zealand's interests.
However, it must be added that the documents are the search for a difficult internal balance, where, in the face of new threats, a strong pacifist and isolationist current of public opinion persists in New Zealand, which continues to be convinced that the geographical position of the archipelago protects it from external pressures and threats.
In 2023, New Zealand and its surrounding region is living in an unfavorable strategic environment and is facing more challenges than it has in decades: climate change, terrorism, cyber attacks, transnational crime, misinformation and disinformation, and tough commercial competition. This is a paradigm shift for a region, which, due to its distance from the centers of global tension, thought it was protected precisely thanks to its remoteness, despite a progressively weakened military apparatus.
These challenges seem to have exceeded previous expectations and architectures and therefore the armed forces, the first screen of national defense, are no longer able to respond to future challenges, but it is not clear how they could do so, given that the 'First National Security Strategy - For a more secure and resilient nation' It does not itself address issues of investment in capabilities, nor does it require the adoption of particular investment pathways, but it includes and outlines a range of defensive activities that can be delivered in various combinations, from the use of defense diplomacy through to combat. The task of examining how to best match capabilities to these activities, and balance the resource demands and related trade-offs on policy outcomes, is the subject of a future planning process.
More specifically, the government characterizes certain regional neighbors as threats to international rules and norms, including an increasingly intrusive China that continues to invest heavily in the growth and modernization of its military, and is increasingly capable of projecting military force and paramilitaries beyond its immediate region3. The New Zealand government also notes that strategic interest in Antarctica and the continent's surrounding waters is growing, but fails to address its long-standing contradictions and cites its March 2022 decision to postpone the purchase of a patrol vessel for operations in that area for which a gap remains4. New Zealand also characterizes Russia's invasion of Ukraine and North Korea's nuclear and missile weapons program as a challenge to international institutions and both a global and regional threat5.
Principles and assumptions
The document 'Defence Policy Review: Future Force Design Principles 2023' describes eight areas of intervention, designed to be modulated — from low to medium and from medium to high, with a progressive increase in capacity.
These principles include the abilities to:
Combat: marked as medium on the political scale desired by the government; represents the extent to which the New Zealand Defense Force (NZDF) can deploy for combat operations, into conflict zones and be able to renew itself
Line-up: between medium and high; represents the NZDF's ability to operate simultaneously in multiple areas.
Resistance: also set between medium and high; measures whether the NZDF is prepared to withstand shocks and attacks of various types, including disruptions to supply chains and digital networks.
Flexibility: set as average; corresponds to the range of circumstances that NZDF components can handle.
Scalability: also considered as average; refers to the NZDF's ability to rapidly expand or reduce its capabilities and facilities, allowing it to adapt to future changes in the strategic environment.
Partnership: another principle that reaches the middle level; relates to the NZDF's ability to operate with armed forces of friendly and allied countries. The Government notes that New Zealand will continue to work with key ally Australia, Pacific Rim partners and other security and industrial partners.
Technological approach: considered between medium and high; represents the research of cutting-edge technologies. The government says it will maintain the NZDF at the highest technological level.
System complexity: between low and medium; This final principle notes that NZDF components will seek to streamline bureaucracy and procurement programs, including the acquisition of standard military capabilities (and, if possible, in service and/or on acquisition and/or on schedule with friendly and allied countries ) instead of tailored military capabilities).
The same document also lists four planning assumptions that support the principles. These will be taken as an objective factor in the development of investment planning and policy: A) reduction of planning, action and reaction time, B) emphasis on regional and ultra-regional partnerships C) Enhanced operational readiness of the three components of the NZDF (RNZN, NZA, RNZAF); D) certainty of financial availability.
New Zealand describes Australia as its most important defense and security partner and only "official" defense ally, but also mentions its "Five Eyes" intelligence sharing partners - the United Kingdom , the United States, Canada and Australia - as fundamental to the NZDF which uses scientific and technological developments, but does not mention the other agreements of which it is part with the same nations of the so-called "Anglosphere"6.
To this end, Wellington notes that the second pillar of AUKUS (Australia, Great Britain, United States) – an agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States to provide nuclear-powered attack submarines, to Canberra – could represent an opportunity for New Zealand to cooperate on emerging technologies, while remaining faithful to the principle of not allowing the storage and transit of nuclear weapons on its territory and in the air-sea spaces under its jurisdiction. This pillar includes the development of advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence7. But, Wellington has also called Washington a crucial defense partner for New Zealand, with a defense commitment that has deepened over the last decade and, despite differences over the nuclear issue, New Zealand's military presence is a frequent element in inter-allied exercises in the region, starting with RIMPAC. Furthermore, together with Australia, Japan and South Korea, Wellington has greatly strengthened ties with NATO8.
La 'First National Security Strategy - For a more secure and resilient nation' covers the period 2023-2028 and identifies a dozen key issues: strategic competition and the international system based on shared rules; emerging, critical and sensitive technologies; transnational organized crime; economic security; Pacific resilience and security; maritime safety; border security; cyber security and space security. In response to these challenges, New Zealand will develop a national security reform agenda over the next two years, in line with the Royal Commission's emphasis on collective responsibilities and leadership of the national security community. These reforms will ensure Wellington has the appropriate structures and arrangements in place to deliver a more strategic approach9 to the needs to be addressed.
The chief of staff of the NZDF, RNZAF General Kevin Short, commenting on the documents released by the Wellington government, expressed the hope that the promises will become reality as soon as possible, especially in the financial dimension to enable the armed forces to cope to old and new threats and that, in a broader vision, the country can also deal with oblique ones, such as climate change, international competition or more general uncertainty. General Short confirmed that the NZDF worked closely with the Ministry of Defence, the Minister (and all other departments, such as the Prime Minister's Office, Foreign Affairs, Finance) on those policy documents. The NZDF now has the structure and principles to work and it is hoped that the Defense Capabilities Plan will become operational during 2024, although military leaders do not expect to see an increase in financial allocations over the next two or three years, nor that reaches 2% of GDP. In 2022, New Zealand spent 1,18% of GDP on defense, according to SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). This situation also impacts on the staff situation and there are attempts to re-recruit furloughed staff but there are funding problems.
The problem, as it has now become general, consists of indirect threats, starting with espionage, subversion and disinformation. Indeed, China, Iran and Russia are accused of conducting illegal activities and interference, New Zealand's national security service said after making its threat assessment report public for the first time. In the report, Security Director General Andrew Hampton said the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) places a high premium on sharing more information publicly. The service had previously adopted a much more restrictive approach to external relations, but decided to change this after the SIS (and other branches of the New Zealand Intelligence Community, which includes the Government Community Security Bureau, and the National Assessment Bureau of the prime minister's office, as well as the New Zealand Police) have been criticized for focusing too much on the threat of Islamic extremism and for being caught by surprise when a white supremacist killed 51 Muslims at two Christchurch mosques in 2019. In the report, SIS states that the most notable case of foreign interference is the continued targeting of diverse Chinese communities residing in New Zealand by individuals with links to the Chinese Communist Party's intelligence services, in line with Beijing's efforts to promote its political, economic and military role in the Pacific. SIS said it was aware of and concerned about ongoing Chinese intelligence activities “in and against New Zealand”. The report also states that Iran has been involved in social interference by monitoring Iranian communities living in New Zealand and goes on to link Russia's war in Ukraine to a number of issues, including increased geopolitical competition, disruptions of supply chain and efforts to spy on other countries and sow disinformation. “Russia's international disinformation campaigns have not specifically targeted New Zealand, but have had an impact on the views of some New Zealanders,” the report found. Nationally, the agency found that violent extremism continues to pose a threat. The report says groups of people likely still exist in New Zealand with the intent and capacity to carry out domestic terrorist attacks, although the agency is not aware of any specific or credible plans10.
It is hoped that the principles outlined and the resulting actions (and the necessary resources) become a reality. A hypothesis of victory of the nationalists [similar to the British conservatives and the Australian national liberals] in the elections next October should not change the picture as the Chinese threats should not decrease, but rather expand further. The problem is that the components of the NZDF are extremely small in number (10.000 units in total) and poorly equipped. The New Zealand Army completely lacks heavy tanks11, the small battalion of 26 light tanks Scorpion it operated between 1983 and 2000 without finding a replacement12 and not even all infantry units are equipped with the now old 8x8 rotated APCs LAVIII; there is no artillery with a caliber greater than or equal to 155mm. The RNZAF does not have aircraft capable of ensuring air superiority13, and only 4 P-8s Poseidon for maritime patrol, when two more would be needed to cover the immense EEZ of New Zealand: In the RNZN there are two ANZAC class frigates (out of the four originally planned, deducted from the joint program with Australia, which instead planned and built eight) , will be struck off next year. It is hoped that the option of a joint Royal Australian Navy and Royal New Zealand Navy initiative will be repeated14 for the purchase of new units. Fortunately, despite this scenario which is not encouraging in material terms, the level of staff continues to remain very high.
1 First National Security Strategy - For a more secure and resilient nation, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, https://www.dpmc.govt.nz/sites/default/files/2022-12/backgrounder-english.pdf, 04.08.2023; Defense Policy Review: Defense Policy And Strategy Statement 2023, Department of Defence, https://www.defence.govt.nz/assets/publication/file/23-0195-Defence-Policy-and-Strategy-Statement-WEB.PDF, 04.08.2023; Defense Policy Review: Future Force Design Principles 2023, Department of Defence, https://www.defence.govt.nz/assets/publication/file/23-0195-Future-Force-Design-Principles-WEB.PDF, 04.08,.2023
2 Defense Policy Review: Defense Policy Review and Strategy Statement Cabinet papers and Aide Memoire, Department of Defence, https://www.defence.govt.nz/assets/publication/file/DPSS-web-v2.pdf 04.08.2023
3 a clear reference to the space that China, also thanks to Australian ignorance and American forgetfulness and superficiality, has managed to obtain in the Solomon Islands, Solomon Islands signs policing pact with China, NPR, https://www.npr.org/2023/07/11/1186916419/solomon-islands-signs-policing-pact-with-china 11.07.2023
4 New Zealand Suspends Antarctic Patrol Ship Project, Cites COVID Budget Impact, VOA, https://www.voanews.com/a/new-zealand-suspends-antarctic-patrol-ship-project-cites-covid-budget-impact/6495516.html 21.03.2022
5 RNZAF completes North Korea sanctions enforcement deployment, Department of Defence, https://www.nzdf.mil.nz/media-centre/news/rnzaf-completes-north-korea-sanctions-enforcement-deployment/, 18.02.2021; furthermore, New Zealand participates with personnel in both the UN Command [UNC] and the UN Command Military Armistice Commission [UNC-MAC]; Republic of Korea - United Nations Command & Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC), Department of Defense, https://www.defence.govt.nz/what-we-do/diplomacy-and-deployments/deployment-map/republic-of-south-korea/, no dates
6 ABCANZ [American, British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand] Armies [land forces], AUSCANNZUKUS [naval forces], Air and Space Interoperability Council [air forces], Technical Cooperation Program [defense technology], Combined Communications-Electronics Board).
7 Canberra wants to broaden its reach; Australia to buy Tomahawk cruise missiles in $1.7bn spend on long-range defense capability, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/aug/21/australia-to-buy-tomahawk-cruise-missiles-in-17bn-spend-on-long-range-defence-capability, 03.08 2023
8 New Zealand Draws Closer to NATO with a Wary Eye, USIP, https://www.usip.org/publications/2023/07/new-zealand-draws-closer-nato-wary-eye 06.07.2023
9 The Royal Commission was set up to investigate an attack on Christchurch mosques in 2019, however, that plan could change if the country votes for a new government during the general election due on October 14
10 New Zealand intelligence report accuses China of 'foreign interference', The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/aug/11/new-zealand-intelligence-report-accuses-china-of-foreign-interference 11.08.2023
11 the only 'Centurion' tank company was disbanded in 1968, http://kiwisinarmour.hobbyvista.com/cent.htm
12 Arms dealer signs to buy our cantankerous tanks, NZ Herlad, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/arms-dealer-signs-to-buy-our-cantankerous-tanks/JU5HQX6OJYKAG4XOZEMODPHMIU/ 17.09.2000
13 In December 1998, the [Conservative] National Party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, approved the purchase of 28 F-16A/B Block 15s following their embargoed sale to Pakistan under a lease-purchase agreement for a year as a temporary replacement for its fleet of aging A-4 Skyhawks. The agreed price was 105 million dollars. In a controversial move, the contract was canceled by the new incoming Labor government, led by Helen Clark, in March 2000, citing a favorable security environment in which "an air combat force is not a priority", US Will Sell New Zealand Planes It Denied to Pakistan, NYT, https://www.nytimes.com/1998/12/02/world/us-will-sell-new-zealand-planes-it-denied-to-pakistan.html, 02.12.1998; (8 August 2000). "New Zealand Is Backing Away From the Global Marketplace NYT, https://www.nytimes.com/2000/08/08/opinion/IHT-new-zealand-is-backing-away-from-the-global-marketplace.html 08.08.2000
14 the RAN alone would like to order nine 'Hunter' class frigates, Hunter Class FFG, RAN, https://www.navy.gov.au/fleet/ships-boats-craft/future/ffg, no dates
Photo: New Zealand Navy