New Zealand is the only Five Eyes partner without an explicit national security strategy document (although technically Canada calls their version a national security policy). Clearly our closest partners believe that some form of overarching direction is useful for determining the activities of individual agencies.
Of course, a New Zealand strategy can be determined through examination of past statements and actions. But that is hindsight. What would be more useful would be some foresight in a form that brings together all the strands of the country’s strategic activities and lays out a sense, in one document, where we are going and where, in the future, resources to achieve national security goals should be directed. What should such a document encompass?
The building blocks for such an approach are already in place, but not in one place. Since 2011 there has been a range of documents published by successive governments and various agencies that between them do everything required.
The ends of our strategy are described in the 2011 Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet National Security System Handbook, revised in 2016. The country’s national security end is, in brief: ‘… the condition which permits the citizens of a state to go about their daily business confidently free from fear and able to make the most of opportunities to advance their way of life’. Simple and succinct yet comprehensive. Note that it includes both international and domestic components in the concept of desired security ends. Rightly so.
The security environment within which those ends are sought (focusing only on the international environment) is described most recently and comprehensively in the Ministry of Defence Strategic Defence Policy Statement published in 2018 and reiterated in the 2019 Advancing Pacific Partnerships, also published by the Ministry of Defence. These papers describe a complex and uncertain environment with a range of challenges that need to be addressed by New Zealand if it is to achieve security.
The ways of achieving security are consistent across these publications and also in a range of ‘NZ Inc Strategies’ published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade since 2013, which unsurprisingly focus on trade matters (an important security issues for New Zealand) more than on the high politics of military capabilities. Rather than trying to operate independently in the world, or focusing on a single relationship bloc, New Zealand will rely on relationships and on the international rules-based order, but will keep a minimal military capability so that New Zealand can contribute to military responses if order breaks down.
The means, the resources applied to these ways of achieving security are those the government has to hand. The armed forces, diplomacy (not only by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but all agencies with an international presence) and society more generally all have a role to play here. There is, however, little or no analysis as to whether the means available are appropriate or sufficient for the tasks defined for them. Many would argue they are not, but that is a separate discussion.
What New Zealand does not have in these strategic documents is overall coherence. Despite the fact that we spend significant time in whole of government discussions (presumably to ensure policy approaches are consistent across the government), there seems to be little understanding between agencies that other agencies are addressing the same or similar issues. New Zealand’s overall security goals are rarely if ever referenced. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade claims to be the lead agency in integrating New Zealand’s activities internationally and has strategies for countries and regions such as China, Australia or the Gulf region, yet we have the Ministry of Defence leading on a Pacific strategy with activities that go beyond the purely military. To be fair to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, that agency submitted a comprehensive review of Pacific activities to Cabinet in December 2018 in, ‘The Pacific Reset - The First Year’. But that document did not mention Defence activities at all.
It is clear that official New Zealand understands implicitly that there is a sensible approach to the world to ensure that New Zealand remains secure. What is not so clear is whether that approach is completely ‘joined up’ across the government. It is also clear that without explicit documentation the government is not being as transparent as it could be and as it should be.
The time is ripe for a New Zealand national security strategy.
Jim Rolfe is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Strategic Studies.