Whether dense or dispersed – population and terrain ‘swallow’ security forces. As an example, consider the intervention in East Timor 20 years ago. A country the size of the province of Northland in New Zealand was the deployment site for about 20,000 international troops, police and UN officials. It was only just enough because there wasn’t a concerted resistance to their presence after the first engagements.
New Zealand is to go into ‘Lockdown’ at midnight tonight (25 March 2020) as the threat response to COVID-19 rises to Level 4. The initial period is four weeks and a national state of emergency has been declared under the Civil Defence and Emergency Management Act, given the Government sweeping powers to quarantine, requisition, ration and much more. People are expected to self-isolate at home unless they are essential workers and everyone can still go to and from supermarkets, pharmacies and other essential suppliers as long as they space themselves out 2m from the next person.
I think the declaration is the right thing to do and border controls should have been tightened up a lot earlier. But right now, it is what it is and we have to face some stark realities. Not everyone is going to follow the rules. They will have to be upheld by security forces and there are simply insufficient numbers to achieve that across the country. Put all the NZ Police, Defence Force and others together and you have enough to cover one or two bigger cities at best, but only for a couple of weeks because no-one can work constantly. Many will get sick. Others will just need a break.
Despite this, the NZDF Reserve has not been mobilised. Albeit tragically depleted by years of political (and Defence Force) indifference to their continuity they still bring about 2,000 more people into play. But to cut to the chase, we need to think further. Now is the time to be recalling those who have left the NZDF in the last four years who have a statutory Reserve liability. It’s also the time to call for voluntary re-enlistment of all former service personnel. There are roughly twenty thousand contemporary veterans (deployed overseas since the Vietnam War) plus many thousands more who are equally capable out there in every part of New Zealand. I have no doubt most would happily put their hand up and do what is required within their capability – from liaison to logistics as well assisting current forces on the ground.
Why mobilise now? Because it takes time to get people together briefed and deployed. Trouble, if it is going to happen, will occur during this four-week period when the novelty of staying home and restrictions on food, liquor, tobacco, sport and entertainments really kick in. It’s too late then to call for the volunteers.
The process needs to be a simple as possible. Ask via the many social media channels that ex-service personnel belong to. Get them to log into a site in order to volunteer. Re-enlist them online – forget about the police vetting and medicals. They can be released later if not suitable. Then give them travel instructions to concentration areas around the country where Reserve units and NZDF bases already exist. Form new units as required. The government should then declare, under the Volunteers Employment Protection Act that the COVID-19 response is Service in situation of national interest. (See also Defence Act Section 50 ). Give them all a six-month Short-Term Regular Force Engagement with the provision that they can be stood down if not required.
This may seem over-simplified but it’s actually that simple. No need to worry about all the kit. BYOB (Bring your own boots), a brassard and ‘hats floppy’ will get things rolling. While we are discussing actions, don’t forget the massive resource in the private sector security industry. They can easily be appointed Temporary Constables right now under the Police Act.
The Defence Minister, Hon Ron Mark, has been invisible on this matter. Time for him to step up if the PM’s mantra of ‘go hard and go early’ is to be believable.
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