Finding Peace through Preparedness: John Pallot Discusses Defence Requirements in the Twenty-First Century

By Pallot, John | New Zealand International Review, September-October 2006 | Go to article overview

Finding Peace through Preparedness: John Pallot Discusses Defence Requirements in the Twenty-First Century


Pallot, John, New Zealand International Review


History has always been a cycle of war and peace. Painful as it may be, this is one of the reasons for evolution of the human species from earliest times up to the present, when almost anything seems possible--if we learn from history. At the end of a war, peace treaties attempt to avert future wars, but they have never so far succeeded in this objective--and are unlikely to do so--because of conflicting interests and inevitable changes to the rules. At the same time, strategy, tactics, economic changes and new technology develop so as to give one party an advantage; as and when differences can no longer be easily resolved, and if early action is not taken, war again becomes inevitable--albeit a new style of war and not necessarily one as destructive as in the past. Some principles, nevertheless, remain constant, but there is always debate as to what has changed and what remains the same. A simplistic commitment to 'peace' all too often does nothing more than hasten war because it sends the wrong signals to those with different ideas.

This was particularly true for those of us who went through the Second World War. As sadly exemplified by a well known debate at the Oxford University Union in England, a resolve never to go to war again simply encouraged Adolf Hitler to go against the advice of his military advisers. It then constrained British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in his attempt to negotiate peace at Munich in 1938. Only a year later, he was left with no option but to enter a war that involved the deaths

of over 50 million people and the development and use of nuclear weapons. This is firmly ingrained in the memories of those who took part and are still amongst the living but often misunderstood by those who were then unborn.

The period from 1914 to 1990, from the First World War to the end of the Cold War, has been described as the 'Long War'. (1) To understand it, however, it is necessary to go back to the Napoleonic Wars. New Zealand was settled by Europeans during the nineteenth century largely as an outcome of the Battle of Trafalgar which left the Royal Navy in command of the world's oceans. This was clearly understood in this country by the early European settlers and Maori iwi who grew prosperous through overseas trade. During the period between the world wars it was implanted in the minds of our youth and especially those living at or near one of our ports. New Zealand's governments committed lives and treasure in the wars of the last century because, as Michael King put it:

   In addition to imperial sentiment, they
   were influenced by the fact that New
   Zealand's prosperity rested on its market
   in Britain and the need to keep the
   sea trade routes open. (2)

Naval dependence

Since the 1940s the role of the Royal Navy has been taken over by the United States Navy. As the Cold War drew to a close, enough New Zealanders to matter somehow lost sight of these realities. They failed to appreciate how our country had been defended by the armed forces of the United States whilst so many of us were away fighting in Europe or the Middle East during the Second World War. Throughout the Cold War our dependence on the United States Navy continued and command of the seas and the nuclear deterrent were ultimately the telling factors in preventing a Third World War. A New Zealand Prime Minister nevertheless took part in an Oxford University Union debate, leading some older minds back fifty years to the 1930s and the outcome from another debate in the same place. Whilst he and his sentiments gained a popular response, they did nothing to help end the Cold War. The resultant legislation still contributes nothing to peace in a new era but it does, however, lock New Zealand into an isolationism that is totally contrary to the nation's present and future interests. For thinking veterans of the wars of the last century, there is no way that these views help to prevent a future war--whatever form it may take. …

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