The Government’s recently released Defence White Paper has raised questions again about New Zealand’s defence priorities, and in particular the level and nature of public funding on defensive capabilities.
The Green Party has a longstanding belief that priority must be given to non-violent means of resolving conflict. The Government’s defence policy since 2009 has shown that it is less stringent in determining the legal and legitimate use of force than Green policy prescribes. In particular, we support the NZDF to carry out core functions of global and regional conflict prevention and resolution (peacekeeping), and peace-making and peacebuilding. We also attach importance to territorial search and rescue, disaster relief, and fisheries protection.
To fulfil these functions, defence personnel need equipment and other capabilities to operate effectively, and to stay safe in the field. Whether $20 billion is appropriate is another question entirely, and one that is difficult to address unless the Government provides a clear timetable outlining the details of its planned expenditure.
Minister Brownlee has said that cyber capabilities need to be thought of like any other weapon that is at the Defence Force’s disposal. While cyber capabilities seem less imminent or harmful than conventional weapons, it is still imperative that New Zealand’s armed forces must only be deployed in accordance with international law, and with the explicit sanction of Parliament.
It is positive that the White Paper recognises the importance of maritime surveillance of our Exclusive Economic Zone and that of our Pacific neighbours. These are Green Party priorities for the NZDF and are likely to become even more pressing issues in the near future.
However, for all the fanfare around the release of the Paper, there is limited detail about where the $20 billion in defence spending is going to go. The recent explanation that proposed upgrading of the frigates will cost around $120 m. more than anticipated is further evidence that the Government’s cost-benefit analysis for defence spending is questionable.
It has long been Green Party policy to phase out these expensive ships and invest instead in assets that will help us carry out useful, peace-promoting activities, like disaster relief and maritime surveillance – such as Multi-Purpose Vessels (MPVs) and modern patrol boats.
Obviously the NZDF’s work on these issues will be influenced by the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters, as indeed the White Paper itself notes. The Minister’s assertion that defence policy “is not determined by the potential for adverse effects of climate change”, however, demonstrates how far the Government can mindlessly go in shirking its climate responsibilities.
In recent weeks we have also faced the prospect of a US Navy ship travelling into NZ waters for the first time since 1984/85. The fact that we have stood strong on our anti-nuclear stance is a political victory for New Zealand, and for the nuclear-free campaigners of the ‘80s in particular. It is incumbent on the Prime Minister, both morally and legally, to ensure that his decision to allow any US ship to visit will not violate our anti-nuclear legislation.