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Insight: we need a private-public sector dialogue on security

NZ Security Magazine, August 2017

Prof. Rouben Azizian argues the need for a National Security Strategy for New Zealand.Prof. Rouben Azizian argues the need for a National Security Strategy for New Zealand.


Professor Rouben Azizian, Director of Massey University’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies spoke at the NZSA Security Industry Awards Dinner educational seminars on 25 August. NZ Security talks to him about "National Security and Regional Responsibility: the need for new paradigms.


NZSM: Professor, can you give us a brief introduction to the topic of your seminar talk?

RA: This is an opportunity for me to speak to a rather unusual audience. When I say unusual, people like me who specialise in security studies and international relations tend to spend time with like-minded academics, the military and police, and talk about subjects of relevance to these groups. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much experience addressing business people focused on security issues, so this is a great opportunity for me to do that, and I’m hoping that the opportunity is two-way.

For me, it’s an opportunity to understand what the private sector thinks about national security. But it’s also a chance for businesses to appreciate that national security should not be a narrow field owned by specific security agencies and academics, and that it’s a broader domain where the private sector has a key role to play.


NZSM: When you mention ‘security’, what exactly are you talking about?

RA: In terms of talking about security in the 21st century, at a time when we are going through a number of uncertainties that include the new administration in the US, the rise of China, and unexpected developments in the South Pacific, there are many things we used to take for granted. That’s no longer possible. We need to be looking at the security arena through a different prism.

At the national level, the new paradigm should recognise that we can’t afford anymore to run security as the domain of a few select security agencies and forces, because security is increasingly a comprehensive concept that includes human security, economic security, etc. We need to broaden the dialogue, and encourage businesses to be involved in the dialogue.

We’re seeing that cyber security has emerged as one of the drivers of closer security dialogue between businesses, government and the academic community.

Ultimately, we need to be strategic and proactive about New Zealand’s security. As a country, we need to think long-term about developing a national security strategy. Such a strategy should not be developed by some small policy group, but rather it should be one that benefits from a widening of input away from government to non-government, and away from reactive crisis management to proactive measures.

We say we are a country prone to earthquakes, for example, but when it happens there is a lot of tension and lack of coordination around who is in charge and who is responsible for what.


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NZSM: You mention that businesses should be encouraged to participate in security-related dialogue and to engage with government. How do you see that happening? What is the role of businesses in this?

RA: I think the way it can – and should – work is that there could be several tiers of engagement. Through universities, for example, we run workshops and conferences on security and rarely do we get interest from business. These should be seen by businesses as an opportunity to have a say about where we’re headed in terms of our security.

Cyber is the tip of the iceberg. It is one of the dimensions of a broader security complex where threats can be the result of particular geopolitical tensions or criminal activity. We can’t just fight cyber through changing passwords only. We can only fight it if we understand together who is behind it and how do we collectively work to prevent it from happening.

Is it that there is a nation-state behind it, which could suggest that we need to make sure that New Zealand’s diplomacy or intelligence service activities are effective in addressing these issues. Is it criminal activity? What type of criminal activities drive this type of cyber threat? So, for me, it is very important that businesses are a part of this broader discussion.

We cannot afford anymore to have a very narrow focused approach to business activity where we say “I have a market and I will be safe”. Economic activity is increasingly needing national-level support to provide a safe security environment. For that, rather than wait and see what the government is going to do or say, I think that businesses need to be involved. So, when I say dialogue, this is about listening and talking and understanding the bigger picture.

Chambers of Commerce, for example, have very focused activities on conventional business issues, but they need to also look at things from a security perspective – to securitise business issues.


NZSM: You mention discussions and dialogues, what types of discussions and forums would such discussions take place in. How do businesses get cut through with government in terms of being a part of this national dialogue?

RA: Every time there is a discussion on emergency management in New Zealand dealing with earthquakes etc, I’m not sure that we always get the adequate presence of businesses in these discussions in terms of prevention and preparation.

When something happens in say Kaikoura or the Manawatu Gorge, I tend to hear about how businesses are affected and how businesses need support and government subsidies. But when we talk about resilience and how prepared we are, I don’t see that businesses are that visible.

Businesses seem to be more visible and vocal at the post-crisis stage rather than the pre-crisis stage. In post-crisis they definitely need support, but by then it’s too late.

It’s not their fault only, but also the fault of government. If there is no national security strategy or regular dialogue about these things, that’s what’s going to happen. A small group of bureaucrats will prepare various crisis management tools that don’t necessarily factor in the opinion of businesses.

We had the Massey University security conference last year and there were very few businesses involved. That’s unfortunate, because we were talking about cyber security and other issues where businesses are affected.

At the regional level, we’re going to run a conference in September on Pacific security. For businesses that have interests in the Pacific or those that see China’s increasing presence as a concern or opportunity to do more business, they should be involved.

Businesses interested in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for example, should understand that the TTP is very vulnerable to two factors: nationalism and geopolitics. New Zealand, as one of the architects of the TPP, has a very pure interest in free trade. But there is no such thing as free trade in a world where we are seeing increased levels of nationalism and geopolitical rivalry.


NZSM: It seems that the type of security that we’re talking about here is one in which businesses should be looking to lower their risk profiles in order to safeguard their future profits and reputations and ensure that they are meeting their responsibilities to keep their staff and their future viability protected.

RA: Yes. It’s not so much about dealing with post event issues and recovery, but about lowering the risk. It is a factor that has become more of a package that includes an understanding of the issues I’ve just mentioned.

In the past, businesses dealing overseas always had to be sensitive to cultural issues, but today we have to realise that it’s not just cultural issues that we need to consider any more, there is nationalism and the increasing competition between nations, which is shaping the economic environment and business environment.


NZSM: It comes back to your comment in relation to cyber and that it’s not good enough for businesses to be simply put in protection to specific vectors, but they really do need to be exploring the cause of the threat and why it occurred in the first place.

RA: And collaborating with whoever is responsible for overall protection, such as government agencies, in helping them develop mechanisms to minimise, mitigate and prevent these things. That’s what I would call comprehensive national ownership of security rather than just delegating security to some government agencies and failing to engage in joint analysis, discussion and development of preventative measures as a nation.


NZSM: Should government be more consultative and should the private sector be demanding that government be more consultative in this regard?

RA: Absolutely. We know that governments by nature tend to be conservative, and they tend to be secretive when it comes to security, so they’re not necessarily going to volunteer. It is more convenient for them not to broaden their consultation too much.

So, I think it is the responsibility of businesses to push government in that direction, and the first step in doing this is being present when security is being discussed. It’s about businesses presenting themselves as stakeholders in discussions on security issues. I don’t think that businesses in New Zealand are necessarily active stakeholders, they are occasional, ad hoc stakeholders, and some businesses more than others.

In today’s context, it’s difficult to separate one source of insecurity from the other, so we need businesses to be involved. In my opinion, until businesses step up in this regard, we’re not going to see much progress on this.


Professor Rouben Azizian is Director of Massey University’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies. He has previously taught Political Studies at the University of Auckland prior to 13 years with the US Defense Department's Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) in Honolulu. He is a former Soviet and Russian diplomat, and was posted to New Zealand (1991-1994) as Counsellor and Deputy Chief of Mission.



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Line of Defence, Autumn 2017


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