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Defence White Paper a constructive way forward

Line of Defence, November 2016

C-130J HerculesC-130J Hercules


Former Defence Minister Hon Dr Wayne Mapp places the New Zealand 2016 Defence White Paper within strategic context, observing that it represents continuity but also recognises a changing environment.


Defence policy as much as possible ought to be bipartisan. This was a key motivator of New Zealand’s 2016 Defence White Paper, just as it had been with the 2010 Defence White Paper. Naturally the government of the day will have its preferences, but these should not obscure the importance of the nation having an enduring and predictable defence policy.

The last few years has seen an increase in international terrorism, and the continuing rise of China. The latter in particular has been foreseeable for at least two decades, and will remain the most significant development in international relations. China’s reaction to the recent International Arbitral Award over the South China Sea underscores that fact. China will for some time see itself as a rising power where the existing international order does not properly recognise Chinese interests.

This was perhaps the most significant issue facing the drafters of the White Paper. How would New Zealand navigate between the role of the United States as a long and valued defence partner, with global interests, and the rise of China as the economic powerhouse of Asia with the largest military capability within Asia?

In essence, the White Paper stressed the depth and breadth of New Zealand’s relationships with Australia and the United States, while also seeking to build co-operative defence ties with China.

The emphasis was for New Zealand to play a part in building a cooperative framework within the Asia Pacific that would preserve the peace and stability that has enabled unparalleled economic growth in the region.  It was recognised that this would not be without challenges as the region strives to adapt to the changing balance of power in the region.

But within the Asia Pacific, New Zealand is a small nation located deep within the South Pacific. More than anything else this shapes New Zealand’s defence priorities. While New Zealand may be far away from the key sources of conflict, that does not mean there are no challenging defence and security tasks within its own environment.


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The sheer size of the area poses its own challenges, with New Zealand having direct interests from the Ross Sea in the Antarctic through to its sovereign interests (Tokelau, Cook Islands and Niue) extending to the equator. This shapes many of the core capabilities of the NZDF.

In particular, this dictates the requirement to surveil and patrol the region, as well as being able to deploy throughout it. The increased level of global interest in the Antarctic means that New Zealand will need a greater presence there than is currently the case.

Many of the NZDF’s core capabilities are nearing the end of their lives, with the C-130 Hercules and the P3 Orions being 50 years old. The White Paper had to address their replacement. And while it did not specify the actual replacement platforms, it did indicate that any replacement had to be as least as capable as the existing platforms.

In practise there are few choices. The only practical replacement for the P3 Orion is the P8 Poseidon, which is already in service in the United States and Australia. Britain is also acquiring the P8, so all our closest partners with the skills in this specialist domain have already indicated the logical path ahead.

There are more options to replace the C-130, and this will be a keenly fought-over contract.

Naval combat and patrol has been a vexed issue for New Zealand defence for many years, though the level of angst in the community seems much less than it was in the 1980s. The White Paper indicated the need for ice capable ships, and the Canadian Harry DeWolf class patrol vessel provides a suitable option. This is a 6,500 tonne ship able to go into ice-strewn waters.

The White Paper envisages the replacement of the ANZAC frigates in the late 2020s with ships of similar capabilities. Inevitably there will be the opportunity to partner with Australia in this project. The issue will not just revolve around the most suitable ship, there will also be substantial political considerations in the ultimate decision.

New Zealand is not just interested in its own environment. At present there are 170 trainers in Iraq within an ANZAC contingent, and such commitments will undoubtedly occur in the future.

This shapes both defence policy and the configuration of the NZDF. While the NZDF is predominantly configured for the needs of the region, it also is designed to be able to deploy with allies and partners well way from New Zealand. This covers not only the Army but also air and naval capabilities, such as the P3 Orion and the ANZAC frigates.

The White Paper represents continuity, but it also recognises a changing environment, especially increasing resource and security pressures within the South Pacific extending to the Antarctic. Within a modest defence budget of around 1% of GDP, the White Paper proposes a constructive way forward, reflecting both New Zealand’s foreign policy interests, and the need for new capabilities to deal with challenges in the South Pacific and the Antarctic.


Hon Dr Wayne Mapp was New Zealand’s Minister of Defence and Minister of Science and Innovation from 2008 to 2011. Dr Mapp launched the previous Defence White Paper as Defence Minister in 2010, and was a member of the Advisory Panel for the 2016 White Paper.


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