Kiwis enjoying a summer's day at the beach at Oriental Parade, Wellington.

National Security is More Than Guns

Throughout this election and many before it, we’ve been told by political parties that the first role of government is to protect the people. That’s about where the national security debate begins and ends, politically, until it comes to buying military hardware or deploying troops. While the parties are currently negotiating who will govern the instruments of national power, it’s timely to, once again, ask why New Zealand has no national security policy and why the subject is of so little interest to media outlets?

The start point is asking what national security actually is. A vox populi survey usually lands in the area occupied by the armed forces. However, security is far more than fighting wars, peacekeeping and undertaking humanitarian assistance. Every country has a different definition but, for the purpose of discussion, I’m going to set this one out:

“Anything that poses a threat to the New Zealand way of life is a threat to national security”

I realise that defining inversely is not ideal but it enables the discussion to move quickly to ‘so what’? Other ideas on definitions of national security are welcome.

What is the New Zealand way of life? Another tricky question but one that highlights the sheer breadth of a decent debate on national security. A descriptive approach includes factors such as:

  • a robust, corruption-free democracy
  • freedom of belief, speech, movement and association
  • the ability to achieve according to ability and without regard to social differences
  • protection from aggression and crime
  • uninterrupted supply of physiological needs such as water, shelter, food, energy and other utilities
  • the ability to move and trade freely in the world
  • helping those less well-off

These and other descriptors lead to themes beyond the role of the armed forces and police including, for example, economic, energy and cyber security as key elements of national security. It’s also clear that our way of life will seem different across generations and so national security policy development is based on a politically-led, ongoing conversation between all stakeholders.

The role of politicians, in keeping Kiwis safe and prosperous, begins with pro­viding a coherent national vision – one which clearly articulates a vision for internation­al relations, national security and the social fabric of society. This vision does not exist in New Zealand. Without a geo-political statement of intent, senior public servants, defence and police commanders are operating in a situa­tional vacuum, buffeted by politically expedi­ent decisions, variable media coverage and a short electoral cycle. They lack the context that they need to make decisions at the operational level of national security (see diagram below as an example from the armed forces and cyber-security).

politics strategy operations tactics diagram

In order to develop a national security policy, some principles are needed and I have listed a few to start the discussion:

  1. National Security is one of the core arms of the State that contribute to the goal of enabling New Zealand to achieve Optimum National Power (ONP).
  2. Security policies only work when every member of our society feels that they have a role to play.
  3. We are a trading nation and therefore our economy is dependent on global sta­bility, buoyant international markets and safe means of transit for our goods.
  4. We do not have the resources to pursue isolationist policies nor to alienate those we would trade with.
  5. Protecting our peo­ple and resources is neither an optional ac­tivity nor one that we can allow to continue to degrade because of political ideology or unwillingness to discard old ways of thinking.
  6. We must find fresh, new ways to maxi­mise capability within the context of a very small economy and that requires a formal Whole-of-Government approach rather than current ad hoc systems and ‘stove-pipe’ budgetary process.
  7. Like any community, we have specific responsibilities to our neighbours and we cannot do that alone.
  8. Peace is not the absence of war just as safety at home is not measured by crime rates. There will be no full and final so­lution to war or crime but effective con­tainment of those who disrupt society is achievable.

The problem with the current process of conducting a security assessment every five years followed by a Defence White Paper is exactly that – it is a Defence White Paper. There is a real opportunity here for the incoming Government, not matter what its composition, to use the next White Paper cycle (due 2020) to have a go at engaging with the entire country and producing a National Security White paper for the first time. If countries like Timor Leste and Fiji can produce such a document across the whole of their Governments, I refuse to believe that it is too hard for New Zealand to do so. It would be helpful if the fourth estate could find some people interested in being specialist reporters in the national security space to chase the politicians along on this topic.