Labour needs to open the military-political front

Written By: - Date published: 10:13 am, December 3rd, 2023 - 28 comments
Categories: australian politics, China, International, Iran, labour, national, uncategorized - Tags:

The new National coalition cares little about defence. Defence is surprisingly a large and under-appreciated strength for Labour.

15,200 New Zealanders of diverse specialisations and skills serve in our military. It is a proudly bicultural institution which sustains this irrespective of political fashion. They are of course not a hive mind of political leaning, but that mass-tonne of voters is a core segment of organised working New Zealand. It ought to be a natural partner with Labour, and indeed with Minister Little they were. They should be again.

What Labour can also do better than National is help us all understand once more how critical our international partnerships really are right now. In part because of the political vacuum in military and international partnership experience we now have with PM Luxon.

New Zealand’s primary military allies are Australia and the United States. Concerning Australia, our 2023 White Paper states:

Australia is New Zealand’s most critical defence and security partner and our only formal ally. Defence will continue to work with Australia across the span of security activities in our region and further afield in ways that leverage our combined strengths”

The United States formal view about New Zealand is set out in this State Department commentary:

In 2012, the signing of the Washington Declaration enhanced the defense relationship between the United States and New Zealand by providing a structure and strategic guidance for security cooperation and defense dialogues. The United States Navy destroyer USS Sampson visited New Zealand in November 2016, the first bilateral ship visit to the country in more than 30 years. The USS Sampson’s visit took on additional significance in the aftermath of the 7.8-magnitude Kaikoura earthquake.”

Similar sentiments are apparent from Congress.

Australia is a key defence partner with the United States. Australia is our only formal defence ally. Pretty simple.

But regrettably Australia doesn’t really view us like that these days. While our everyday interpersonal, economic, sporting and institutional connections between both kinds of citizens build on intensive multi-decade cooperation, from Australia’s view we are drifting. There is a basic under-appreciation of the relationship at a political level.

This was clear when then Prime Minister Scott Morrison phoned Prime Minister Ardern to inform her shortly before the AUKUS security partnership was announced.

The fact that Australia negotiated the initiative largely without the input of one of its only two military allies signalled a failure at the political level to recognise the role and importance of New Zealand to Australia’s defence.

The lack of consultation was particularly notable because the headline element of AUKUS was that Australia would develop nuclear-powered submarines. Labour Prime Minister Ardern had to quickly confirm that any nuclear submarines would not be allowed into New Zealand’s territorial waters, and this was later followed up with Prime Minister Hipkins.

It is already clear that National is by itself incoherent in foreign affairs and has no grasp of defence issues. Judith Collins frankly has too many portfolios to focus.

A bold Labour Party would strike out for a new defence treaty with Australia, one that seriously updates the relationship for the new threat context outlined in the New Zealand white paper 2023 and Australia white paper 2023. It doesn’t have to ask permission from anyone let alone National to do this.

In practicality we have deep and abiding Australasian commitment. We have committed to deep military interoperability with both Australia and the United States.

And there is very good reason in 2023 for depth in partnership and in interoperability when one sets out the real scale of threat. The United States now confronts graver threats to its security than it has since Vietnam 60 years ago. Never before has it faced four major antagonists who are allied at the same time: Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. All have nuclear arsenals of some form. Russia is at war very close to the NATO border. China continues to heavily threaten the democracy of Taiwan. North Korea is actively pursuing long range missile tech loaded with nuclear weapons. Iran is a deep antagonist to Israel and Saudi Arabia, and the United States is close to getting pulled into outright war in its support of Israel and already is with Ukraine.

Yet frankly the United States political system is in such a mess that it has little energy to retain leadership that its scale of military  – and indeed ourselves – have assumed held under since WW2.

Indeed because the United States appears sclerotic and divided, it needs its partners ever more as it faces so many threats at once. Hey Labour: there’s no reason not to say so out loud.

Australia is also sizing up the interrelated nature of threats. The parallel interests of Australia and New Zealand are tightly bound in so many areas when considering our common trade reliance on China while also being a security antagonist, our common addiction to oil while we struggle through the first decades of the global clean-energy transition agenda, and of course our common Pacific partner threats to sea level rise and massive accelerating cyclone damage. Australia isn’t stating this clearly, and New Zealand should.

In this new world characterised by disruption, each solution to a problem is at best an approximation, and each effort to resolve a problem particularly defence problems are likely to affect all other problems. The way to unpack such complexity is to bring more trusted partners deep into your fold with you; each partner brings  a new reach of diplomatic power, relationship capacity, and defence specialisation.

The Ardern+Hipkins government though only two terms long, was very strong in Defence investment. It sure took too long, but from July this year the pay of most NZDF personnel including new recruits and skilled lower ranked service people increased between $4,000 and $15,000. This increase was four times greater than any previous defence remuneration boost over the past decade.

Since 2017 the Labour government ploughed $4.5 billion of additional money into NZDF. It has been the biggest funding boost in living memory. If you drive past Ohakea you may get a glimpse of the four flash new Poseidon submarine hunter aircraft in the brand new hangars, or the five new transport planes costing $1.5 billion, or at Linton or Waiouru the roads may roll around you with the 43 new armoured vehicles costing $100m. We needed all of it: the pay rises and the equipment: morale and machinery were falling apart.

Only Labour delivered that. Not National. Labour in government were no doves. Nor were they remotely neutral in stating who their defence partnerships were with.

Absent Ministers Little and Mahuta, PM Ardern, and Ambassador King, this task of strategic partnering falls to Hipkins. He is indeed the leader and can stand clearly to defend our realm better than Luxon. Crisis match-fit also means sovereignty match-fit.

As so many parts of the world crumble, as our partners need us more even if they forget us, as our threats grow closer, it’s time for Labour itself to show New Zealand what fresh, strong, and smart defence alliances for this century ought to be.

28 comments on “Labour needs to open the military-political front ”

  1. adam 2

    As a Te Pāti Māori member I support a strong maritime force. I'd like to see subs and a good use of Waka Ama to build up the force.

    Opening a can of worms but with nuclear subs so we can provide power in an emergency. Lets put the subs on Auckland Island.

    With global boiling it makes sense to have a good defence force.

    • Ghostwhowalks 2.1

      Waka ama is of zero use in defence, which already incorporate maori culture

      Subs are impossibly expensive, even the conventional kind and only good for actual wars. We already have the naval vessels suitable and affordable for our location

      • adam 2.1.1

        Waka ama is of zero use in defence, which already incorporate maori culture

        Culture what??!? I was talking about it as a physical sport on the water where by the youth can learn skills like team work and mutual aid. Build up a bit of endurance and get a feel for winning and losing. Along side sailing, rowing and a whole lot of other water sports.

        only good for actual wars

        What you think global boiling is going to bring to our neck of the woods?

        • Ghostwhowalks 2.1.1.1

          There is no global boiling either. Physics will tell you that

          You ran all your ideas together ….submarines …waka ama t

          I get it all now its just a stream of buzz words which mean nothing

          • adam 2.1.1.1.1

            Physics will tell you that

            Tell you what? Global boiling is a political term, used by climate scientists (some of whom are actually physicists) to point out the inaction and out right denial by corporate elect fuck wits and their collection of stupid supporters. Are you one of those supporters?

    • Jack 2.2

      I was listening to a BBC radio 4 satirical review of the news week earlier today. Absolutely brilliant. Laugh out loud stuff. Then I read your post about your views on TPM defence policy … Waka ama and subs. Absolutely top draw insanity but brilliant for a laugh.

  2. Steve Bradley 3

    Can't disagree with much of the above.

    However, we need not to forget that the multiple "threats" facing the United States are largely of its own making – from post-World War II Indo-China down to today.

    And the slide to general war increases. We need to speak up at world forums – unequivocally – in defense of peace & reconciliation.

    • Subliminal 3.1

      I would argue that the threats are fully of the US own making. The US operates on a win/lose basis. They consider "excess wealth", however defined, that is not available to be hoovered up by international corporations to be an affront and much like the Mafia, are quite prepared to send in the goons to make the point. Its a model that exactly replicates the colonial settlement of North America. It means that confrontation, death and destruction of existing civil institutions of society in regions of the world that prefer to use their resources for their own development are the strategy for persuading a country to forget their own dreams and aspirations.

      Up till now there has been little in the way of alternatives but it is becoming especially critical for us now to maintain and strengthen our independence. We rely on China for much of our trade, both export and import. The US will never open up to our agriculture. We can continue to agressively assert the part of our Anglo Saxon origins or understand our future as indigenous people of the Asian Pacific

      • Ghostwhowalks 3.1.1

        Yes. my neighbours from Taiwan are very dismissive of the US jingoism – it could only lead to complete destruction Gaza like of the country if war does break out. US territory untouched.

        Even in Britain the Isle of Man and Channel Islands arent formally part of the United Kingdom but are considered 'British' and I would think China with 2500 years of government can work something out themselves.

        As an aside to the British territories , once places like Malta and Mauritius voted against independence but were told its happening anyway. Nowdays London says Falkland’s or Gibraltar cant change status unless the locals agree.

  3. Populuxe1 4

    The new National coalition cares little about defence. Defence is surprisingly a large and under-appreciated strength for Labour.

    Well that's a bold assertion without a skerrick of evidence offered to back it up. What is the basis for the notion that the National coalition cares little about defence? Also, lest we forget, it was Helen Clark who landed us with the nonsense that the Pacific was a benign environment, so I'm not convinced Labour's record is all that marvelous.

    Judith Collins frankly has too many portfolios to focus.

    I mean, Andrew Little was Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, Minister of Justice, Minister of Health, and Minister of Defence, so I'm not sure what point you're making there.

    • Ad 4.1

      Defence is mentioned not once in either the NZFirst or Act coalition agreements.

      Will be watching for any mention in the upcoming Speech from the Throne or mini-budget.

      It's 24 years since Helen Clark was first elected and things have changed as they do.

    • Ghostwhowalks 4.2

      Little was Justice (Ardern ) then Health (Ardern) before Defence ( Hipkins) not all at once . Theres always minor portfolios .

      Your facts ,like Bishops, are easily refuted as down right lies

      • Populuxe1 4.2.1

        You know, the need to assume an honest mistake as an intentional lie probably says loads more about you than it does about me.

        • Ghostwhowalks 4.2.1.1

          A fool and his facts are soon parted. Its all about you and your sockpuppet… it was your whole point.

          Who knows Littles or any minister portfolios anyway without checking.

          A regular like Alwyn does get his facts jumbled and points out other errors thats fine we all do that.

          • Populuxe1 4.2.1.1.1

            I was a regular until I got fed up with certain agendas hijacking every issue. I've dipped back in, not that it has anything to do with anything. Even if I was a tighty whitey righty, this platform doesn't exclude people on an ideological basis, and given most people are anonymous, I'm not sure how accusing people of being a sock puppet even makes sense. I hope the reactionary paranoia works out for you, but it's bloody tedious to engage with.

    • Ghostwhowalks 4.3

      "Well that's a bold assertion without a skerrick of evidence offered to back it up"

      Evidence….heheheh . Guess which party is missing here

      https://policy.nz/2023/party-vote/policies/defence-and-foreign-affairs

      Even Act says 'increase defence spending' pre election , but dropped that in its signed agreement.

      Nationals manifesto is just general blather and a lie about the P-8 which was ordered by the Labour government

      • Populuxe1 4.3.1

        Was that link in the OP? No. Ergo, it was not evidence offered up. And it's very early days to reading that much into the tealeaves. I have no doubt National et al will make a pig's ear of it, but that's not the same thing as saying they don't care about it,.

  4. It's the word 'honest' that raises eyebrows!

  5. Simbit 6

    NZDF pay rise covered by decline in raw numbers?

  6. DS 7

    We're happy enough to help defend Australia – but that's largely moot, since Australia is not under any threat whatsoever. The real threat to be avoided is Australia dragging us into one of Washington's imperial projects.

  7. SPC 8

    The focus should be on the relationship between the military and GW event resilience, here and around the Pacific. Transport and logistics capability (and relates to a coastal shipping policy).

    National is more likely to sign up to AUKUS 2, and with Peters in the Pacific as USA fanboy, this could influence foreign perceptions about the decision.

    Labour needs to express this is bi-partisan where/when we reassure China that we are not part of the AUKUS 1 (are not militant about Taiwan's independence), but are an ally of Oz (should it be attacked) and note and respect the decision of the international body on territorial borders (sea).

    On the procurement side of it, spending is based around replacement need and otherwise modernising equipment/tech.

    Labour should question government actions, or lack of actions in all these areas.

  8. John 9

    Hipkins is not competent to comment.

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