New Zealand’s thinking about its maritime interests and defence priorities has favoured a customary hierarchy. Local and South Pacific regional concerns come first and then we span out eventually to global commitments. But recent developments in the East Asian littoral and the Northern Pacific suggest this approach may run New Zealand into a hole. We may be at a strategic turning point in terms of risks to our interests and in need of a paradigm shift where policy settings can be adapted to the changes occurring in this wider maritime periphery.
The idea that New Zealand even has a contested maritime periphery is not automatic in our thinking which emphasises our quest for well-governed seas much closer to home. Thanks to advances in international law and the multilateral system since the 1970s, New Zealand today claims sovereign rights over an extensive sea and seabed estate that runs well into the West Tasman sea and deep into the Southern Ocean, abutting the waters protected by the Antarctic Treaty system.