Thursday, August 27, 2009

An ANZAC Force

The Defence Review is still out for consultation but it seems obvious the National Party's defence policy is suspiciously like ..well business as usual for the National Party.

John Key has apparently agreed to the notion of a common ANZAC force together with Australia. He thinks linking our military with Australia is easier than linking our currency. Well glory be, what a surprise.

The fact is the Nat's have never had any idea about defence other than to bend over for the Australians. That said the Ministry and NZDF have worked very hard to practically be an extension of the Australian defence force by making sure that everything we equip our forces with is sold to us by Australians first. Our Navy is Aussie made, our airforce is Aussie standard. Only our Army which has LAV IIIs instead of LAV IIs and Pinzgauers instead of Bushmasters is slightly different to their Australian counterparts and then not in a good way.

The problem that John Key doesn't seem to get is that defence IS diplomacy. A common ANZAC force means common diplomacy. How else can it operate? The Australian fleet commander gives an order and the kiwi frigate commander says 'golly I'd better check with Wellington"?

And if he doesn't?

So what happens if a kiwi frigate commander is told by an Australian fleet commander to sink an Indonesian sub? Or a kiwi soldier is told by an Australian commander to fire despite the presence of civilians? Are we going to hide under Australia's skirts then too?

Or will we have vast rules of engagement so that every military officer will need a law degree to make sense of who gives the orders and what you do when you recieve them?

The simple fact is New Zealand soldiers should work under New Zealand command all the way up to and including our Prime Minister. It is the only way New Zealand policy can be distinguished from Australian policy in a way that everyone (even those who may not like us) can make sense of it.

Moreover, and this was the point of my defence review, New Zealand's role should not be to ape Australia's but to support Australias.

Australia is the mightiest military power in South East Asia. Discounting the French nuclear presence the only conventional forces in the region which match Australia's are India's and China's. That's saying something given that Australia is less than 100th of those nation's size. Australia does not need New Zealand's contribution to achieve security.

Given that, the intelligent thing to do is to contribute capability that Australia (or anyone else for that matter) will always need more of. In general that means logistic support. New Zealand's defence force should primarily be a logistical powerhouse - as opposed to logistical beggars. No commander can pass up more freight capacity, medical support or field support.

The other thing we can contribute is Pacific reconnaisance and intelligence. As Sun Tze says you can never have enough intelligence. That means long range aircraft, special forces troops and ships that contribute to vulnerable island economies.

Politically such a force has very different political options. A logistics force supports operations and defends itself. It provides backbone not cannon fodder, and if it is withdrawn its absence has a powerful effect. A reconnaissance force provides the ability to plan operations.Absence of information creates greater uncertainty and the need for more scale.

By focusing on these two principal roles New Zealand can maintain an independent policy. Just as important it can also meet its own needs for defence.