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Defence Strategic Policy Statement released

Line of Defence Magazine, Winter 2018

ANZAC frigate HMNZS Te Mana and (now decommissioned) fleet replenishment tanker HMNZS Endeavour. Source: NZDF.ANZAC frigate HMNZS Te Mana and (now decommissioned) fleet replenishment tanker HMNZS Endeavour. Source: NZDF.

 

The just-released Defence Strategic Policy Statement, writes editor Nicholas Dynon, is a stark rendering of the strategic environment, a front-footed articulation of where New Zealand stands, and a manifesto for strong investment in Defence.

 

With the Defence Strategic Policy Statement, the coalition Government has delivered a frank and fearless assessment of New Zealand’s strategic environment few would have expected.

Although sharing aspects in common with the 2016 Defence White Paper, the Statement paints an altogether darker strategic outlook. Reflecting two years of tumultuous change in the international environment, its message is clear: the world is changing in perilous ways that are at odds with New Zealand’s interests.

It will certainly have come as something of a surprise to those who’ve grown accustomed to Wellington’s ‘careful not to offend’ stance in relation to China’s growing influence and assertiveness.

While much of the media and punditry around the Statement – both here and abroad – will focus on its stinging rebuke of China and Russia, it ultimately identifies that the single greatest threat to New Zealand is posed not by any one country but rather by the accelerating erosion of the international rules-based order.

This is an important distinction. As a trade-dependent and small country, the international rules-based order is crucial to New Zealand. The UN system gives small and large countries alike an equal seat at the international governance table, while international laws and agreements allow New Zealanders to do business with certainty.

Most obviously, Chinese military-led territorial expansionism in the South China Sea and its failure to recognise Court of Arbitration rulings are noted, as is Russia’s cyber-enabled information operations. But significantly, at the Statement’s heart is a concern with countries’ domestic values – values that ultimately drive their international behaviour.

“Both domestically and as a basis for international engagement, China holds views on human rights and freedom of information that stand in contrast to those that prevail in New Zealand,” states the DSPS. “ Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia, advocate “values and views not aligned to those of the traditional leaders of the international rules-based order.”

In terms of values, neither are New Zealand’s traditional friends and partners spared by the Statement. Recent political trends in United States and Europe are reflective, it says, of a trend of “liberal democracies sliding into illiberalism, some democracies incorporating authoritarian elements as they centralise power in executives…”

 

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“Challenges to open societies and Western liberalism, driven by increasing disillusionment with existing arrangements within these societies,” it continues, “threaten to reduce the willingness of open liberal states to champion the rules-based order.”

Most importantly – and really the keystone of the document – is that in raising concerns about the values of others, it articulates exactly where New Zealand stands. 

Of the Statement’s 28 mentions of ‘values’, 23 relate to New Zealand’s values. It is, as its authors claim, an attempt to align New Zealand’s strategic policy with its values.

This isn’t just fluff. It has real implications.

Together, the stark strategic picture described by the Statement and its alignment of strategic priorities with New Zealand values, serve to justify the case for investment in Defence capability at levels of at least those prescribed by the 2016 Defence Capability Plan.

In terms of capability, it means maintaining “highly sophisticated capabilities that deliver for New Zealand, and that are valued by and interoperable with those key partners that share our values and interests.”

It also means dealing with the disruptors, such as foreign cyber-based information operations and political influence activities, that may threaten New Zealand’s open society and democratic processes from the inside.

A clear rebuke of recent accusations of New Zealand as the ‘soft underbelly’ of the ‘five eyes’ alliance, it is perhaps also a strong indication – and not before time – that criticisms of New Zealand not ‘pulling its weight’ might become a thing of the past.

 

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