In the last few weeks two major incidents have highlighted an ongoing dilemma. On November 4 the government announced the NZDF would, as had been forecast a few months earlier, start training the Iraqi Federal Police. An extension of the Building Partner Capacity Programme, this declaration was met with little public comment. More recently, a range of national and international military assets have been used to respond to the November 14 earthquakes that rocked New Zealand and caused devastation in and around Kaikoura. This time the public response has been overwhelmingly positive. However, these two incidents underscore an over reliance on utilising the military to respond to a range of issues. We need to have a conversation about this.
Let’s start with police training. In Iraq, Bob Perito pointed out in 2006, that “the U.S. military’s takeover of indigenous police training was unprecedented”. In previous operations this responsibility had fallen to the Departments of State and Justice. In Iraq (and Afghanistan), however, it was decided that only the U.S. military had the resources required to pursue the intended police training programme. In both countries heavily militarised police forces emerged; forces whose main focus was counter-insurgency. What happened as a result of this almost exclusive focus on counter-insurgency was not only a very high level of risk to those police officers, who were seen as softer targets than military personnel, but also a lack of emphasis on the skills and ethos actually needed to carry out civilian policing tasks. Significant abuses of power resulted and contributed to the conflict that continues on in both countries today.