It’s interesting to see the contrasts between the New Zealand Defense review (which is underway) and the just completed Australian Defense White Paper released today.
Our defense review started on a somewhat underwhelming note. The most controversial issue being the idea of leasing land off private companies, an idea that appeals until you consider the practicalities and why you’d bother – it’s hardly going to save money in the long term if you already own the land. Mostly the talk was about cutting back, although there’s stuff all to actually cut back. There was no talk of possible threats, or the need to at least be seen by allies like the USA of taking of defense seriously.
The Australian’s in typical robust style and going to spend more – and this is a Labour led Government. The Australian paper wasn’t shy about identifying China’s “unexplained military build-up” as a cause for concern in the Pacific. They also recognised the need to at least be able to offer a serious deterrent to possible adversaries, while acknowledging that they would still need to work with the USA.
The white paper offers an opportunity for New Zealand – we get a specific mention. Our review should consider how we can dovetail our defense planning more closely with Australia. They are planning to build a lot of the new capability in Australia. This could offer opportunities to purchase the same equipment, and surely there must be opportunities for business in New Zealand?
Surely we need to be bolder than the piece meal approach we have historically had. There is every indication that this Government will take defense no more seriously than previous ones. If we aren’t going to be too concerned with it, why not just become a virtual wing of the Australian Defense Forces. Do the same things they are, but on a significantly smaller scale. Buy exactly the same equipment at the same time from the same suppliers, communication, guns, hardware, ships, tanks… exactly the same stuff. Rebuild our air strike force with a few F 35’s they are planning to buy (if we’re allowed) maybe we could lease some from Australia as part of a defense pact.
If we are looking at selling land and leasing it back, how about the same approach for everything else?
Why not approach the Australians on the basis that we will develop our own defense force, but almost as part of theirs. Contract training from them for planes, tanks, ships etc, on the same equipment which we will purchase – work with them on maintenance for equipment, some aircraft done here, some in Australia, same with boats. We could form a close defense pact that allows for our Independence, but with complete interoperability and identical equipment.
We should accept we are a small bit player, I’m sure everyone does already, and embrace it. We should aim to be able to completely seamlessly work with Australia. This gives us a narrow focus and something that allows politicians to focus on more interesting things. It could be adopted in a bipartisan fashion so it’s becomes a policy a bit like the Reserve Bank Act or (possibly) Kiwi Saver. It is just something the Defense Forces can get on with.
When it comes down to it, the majority of Australia’s concerns in the Defense paper are perfectly aligned to what ours should be. The concern about protecting our Pacific interests should be the same. To simply adopt their review, taking into account our budget constraints, and sit down with them and align our equipment and logistics makes sense.
John Key has shown some vision and creativity in dealing with things since being elected. Maybe this is a chance to put our defense on a new path for the coming years.