Sunday, May 03, 2009

Bludging kiwis should thank Rudd government

$A22 billion of spending on 100 new fighter jets and 12 submarines by Australia is a substantial commitment over the next 10 years, along with confirmation that its military alliance with the US is the cornerstone of its defence policy.

Have no bones about it, this means Australia is maintaining its strong defence presence in the region and its ability to project its air and sea power around its lengthy territorial waters. It is a commitment Australia has maintained throughout the Cold War and since.

Sadly, New Zealand has eroded its military commitment to the defence of the South Pacific in several stages since the mid 1980s. It started with the effective abandonment of ANZUS when the Lange government, following extensive goading from the left of the Labour Party, took an ideological hardline against the US Navy. The Lange government refused to accept a conventional powered, nuclear incapable ship because the US "neither confirmed nor denied" it carried nuclear weapons.

Following that, New Zealand has eroded its blue water navy to 2 frigates, and eliminated its air strike capability. As a result, with New Zealand effectively unable to contribute more than 2 frigates (and the army) to an overseas actions, its contribution to the collective defence of the South Pacific is derisory, through no fault of the forces themselves.

So New Zealand should be grateful at Australian taxpayers continuing their commitment. The truth is that the New Zealand armed forces are capable of maintaining some defence of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) from illegal fishing, but not any serious attack, or assisting Australia in the likelihood of any attack.

From Lange to Clark, New Zealand governments have wimped out of defence, because New Zealanders always felt safe from invasion. The idea of contributing to a defence alliance has seemed fanciful, suiting the "independent foreign policy" stance of the so called "peace movement".

Defence is a core role of the state, and while the current government will be fiscally constrained in a recession to remedy it, it should be addressed over the medium term. Meanwhile, a big "thank you" should be extended to the Rudd government, for maintaining Australia's defence forces over the longer term, and in effect, New Zealand at the same time, whilst New Zealand can effectively contribute proportionately so little in return.


KG said...

What's happening, of course is that although NZ doesn't have the hardware, Kiwis do join the Oz military in significant numbers.
Given that Australia's main defence problem seems to be the recruiting and retention of staff that's a useful contribution.
I'm not suggesting that this excuses the way previous governments have run down our capability though.
The question of whether a tiny country-with a population of less than many overseas cities-can afford a blue-water navy and an air force with strike capability is worth exploring.
Perhaps contributing personnel to Oz forces on a more formal basis would be a better way to go?

Libertyscott said...

Fair point KG. It should be about making an adequate contribution of course, and the debate should be had. I'd argue that NZ should of course contribute what has long been seen to be fair - 4 frigates and a air strike force of around 20. However, I'd rather the army be fully equipped first and be able to be extended as a priority.

Anonymous said...

There's not been the will to afford it, sadly. But yes, thanks Mr Rudd.

Yes I think the priority/aim should be to kit up an army that's able to project lethal force pretty much anywhere & for the Naval & Air forces to be built round support of that. Remain independent but rebuild those alliances!

Hey, there's a review in the works!

- Sam P