It seems incomprehensible that New Zealand could pull Defence Force personnel out of its two longest standing and most successful peacekeeping deployments. Yet that is exactly what is revealed to be on the table in an Official Information Act response received on 19 June.
In Budget 2018, operational funding for Vote Defence Force was cut by $18.176 million under the Departmental Output Expense “Military Operations in Support of a Rules-Based International Order. In the explanatory notes, this was attributed to “the successful completion in 2017/18 of NZDF’s support, through the provision of training, security, engineering, and supervision, for United Nations and Multi-national force operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and across the Middle East”. I wrote a piece about this reduction then (NZDF Trainers Out Of Iraq?) and submitted an OIA request to the Minister of Defence, Hon Ron Mark, seeking clarification. The response cites no major missions ending in 2017/18 (bit of Budget honesty would be helpful) but that the funding cut anticipated the mandate expiry dates in 2018/19 for four missions as follows:
|Operation Name*||Country*||Mandate Expiry|
|Afghanistan National Army Officer Academy||Afghanistan||30 June 2018|
|Multinational Force & Observers||Egypt||31 July 2018|
|United Nations Truce Supervision Organization||Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria||30 September 2018|
|Building Partner Capacity||Iraq||30 November 2018|
* I have corrected factual errors in the OIA response version of this table to accurately indicate names of missions and the countries they operate in.
UNTSO is our longest serving mission and Kiwis have been present as part of the international observer force since the late 1940s following the declaration of the State of Israel and Palestinian mandated territory. MFO – stationed in Sinai, Egypt – has had a continuous NZ presence since 1982, including RNZAF helicopters in the early 1980s followed by NZ Army trainers, drivers, engineers and staff officers. Kiwi Generals have commanded this force. The fact that Israel and Egypt have not gone to war since the MFO began is testament to its effectiveness.
On 11 June, the Prime Minister announced that the Afghanistan mission would be extended for three months, till 30 September this year. In little over a month, the MFO mandate expires. Ron Mark says we would be unlikely to withdraw all personnel suddenly but no announcement has been made on an extension. The OIA response states “Should Government decide to renew any or all of these mandates, then Cabinet will consider the allocation of funding for these missions as and when it would be required.” I accept that there are other ways of providing the money for these missions but this approach is particularly problematic in two ways.
First, the NZDF has to keep preparing troops to deploy to these missions in case the Government decides to extend the mandate. This is unfunded training. Put yourself in the position of those servicemen and women and their families who ‘might go and might not’. Second, it has an impact on our international relationships. If we pull out, other countries will have to fill those places. If we procrastinate, we will be seen as an unwilling or unreliable coalition partner. Both have implications for the country.
It is unclear whether this chaotic approach to our peacekeeping mission planning is because Defence is a low priority for this Government, Ron Mark can’t get Cabinet’s attention on the matter or whether the three factions of the coalition are slugging it out over the end state. Maybe it is simply as it seems – chaos? It is definitely not good, especially as we await the decision on major purchases from the 2016 Defence White Paper.
There’s an old saying taught to every army instructor. Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents P#@* Poor Performance. Maybe it’s time for another P – “Political” in the mnemonic?