Speculation was rife earlier this year that Peeni Henare was about to announce his defence policy principles in a stand-alone speech. If that mode of delivery had eventuated, observers would have pounced. Nothing says New Zealand’s external security environment is fine and dandy quite like a Defence Minister choosing People and Infrastructure as the big ideas alongside New Zealand’s interests in the Pacific.
But in a change of plans Henare’s trio of principles and a matching set of underwhelming priorities were rolled into the release of New Zealand’s 2021 Defence Assessment. As was evident in the pre-Christmas launch and the limited media comment which has followed, the picture painted by that new document is bleak.
While the Assessment begins with climate change and strategic competition as the top two problem generators, it’s the second of these which does most of the work. And “strategic competition” is a euphemism. A one sentence summary of the 36-page public version of the Assessment could easily read: China is threatening New Zealand’s interests in the South Pacific.