Paying our way in defence

Ron Mark
Ron Mark
The Government through Defence Minister Ron Mark last week announced the spending of more than $1million to buy five new Hercules aircraft.

This is part of a $20billion list the Government says it needs in the next 10 years. That is a lot of money for a small isolated nation in the southwest corner of the Pacific Ocean with no apparent enemies.

That is also a large amount when there are always pressing needs, when hospitals are running large deficits, when there is a housing crisis, extensive child poverty and a plethora of ''wellbeing'' issues.

New Zealand has always been a defence spending scrooge, and the likes of Australia have often complained this country does not do its share. Australia spends about 1.93% of its GDP on defence, the United States 3.2% and the United Kingdom 1.8%. New Zealand's tally of $4.3billion in the last Budget represents about 1.1% of GDP.

The previous government as well as the present coalition have recognised New Zealand has been underspending. In particular, the tools of the defence trade have become battered and bygone. The old Hercules, for example, have been kept flying since their beginnings in 1965.

There are those, like the Green Party, who argued we could have invested in smaller planes and done without the ''war-making'' capability.

But we live in a dangerous world. It is naive to believe New Zealand does not need reasonable defence forces and equipment. If New Zealand defence capability is emasculated it becomes like householders who leave their properties unlocked and do not take out insurance.

As Prof Robert Patman, professor of politics and international relations at the University of Otago, has said, New Zealand is in one of the most challenging security environments since the end of the Cold War. The $20billion military spending was correct as the price of an independent foreign policy, he said. New Zealand could not rely on the United States or China to advance its interests.

The Defence Force's 2018 strategic defence policy statement makes it clear the world is changing. It refers to ''compounding challenges of a scope and magnitude not previously seen in our neighbourhood'' It says ''Defence will have to act in new ways and at new levels to protect New Zealand's values and interests''.

Aside from so-called potential ''war making'', which, unfortunately, remains essential, the Defence Force plays other roles.

It helps run monitoring missions to help protect this country's massive Exclusive Economic Zone, about 11% of the Earth's surface, as well as taking on responsibilities to help in the Southern Ocean and other parts of the South Pacific.

It comes to the fore in disaster relief in the South Pacific and New Zealand itself, efforts which also develop and sharpen its operational capacities.

It needs also to be present around the South Pacific as part of its Pacific reset, conscious that any vacuum would soon be filled by China.

Defence policy-makers have become attuned to dangers from climate change. Resource wars and pressure for mass immigration loom as possible outcomes.

Meanwhile, as New Zealand enjoys the advantages of an international rules-based order, so too it must contribute to that. It has contributed to peace-keeping, often through the United Nations, in several theatres.

The Defence Paper identifies three main areas of challenge to that order: the challenges to open societies and subsequent reduced will to promote co-operation, the growing spheres of national interest and several ''disrupters''(climate, space, cyber and terrorism).

Adequate defence spending is necessary both for the various roles our defence forces undertake, and also as insurance in an evermore threatening world.

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