Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Towards Comprehensive Security: Hugh Steadman Discusses the Threats Facing New Zealand

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Towards Comprehensive Security: Hugh Steadman Discusses the Threats Facing New Zealand

Article excerpt

The defence debate in New Zealand traditionally centres around manpower and hardware: the appropriate posture and levels of associated expenditure. Within this context the ideological Right proclaims the need to retain an all-round capacity to participate in the military preparations of 'our natural allies'. The Left has opted for a commitment to land-based UN peacekeeping and has let go both the deep-sea navy and the aerial strike force required for a 'balanced military force'.

However, not all threats a society has to defend itself against are military. A national defence review should be from the ground up. What are the essential elements of this society that must be preserved at all costs? What are the threats to these core values? What defensive measures can be taken to secure society against those threats? Only when that foundation is secured should a society consider the protection of non-essential 'luxuries'.

In his recent book Collapse, Jared Diamond looks at the causes of the failure of past societies. Diamond identifies four categories of potentially fatal threat and argues that their coming to pass, sometimes singly but usually in combination, has been responsible for the destruction of all past societies. Diamond's threats are: environmental damage, climate change, hostile neighbours and (its converse) decreased support from friendly neighbours. The fifth and over-arching cause is inadequate recognition of, and timely response to, the emergence of those threats.

New Zealand's defence policy, if it is to be well balanced and, therefore, best suited to withstand a storm, needs to consider all four categories.

Core values

What are New Zealand's core values that have to be protected at all costs? What are the dangers posed to those values by each of the four types of threat and their combinations ? What are the appropriate protective responses?

The very first duty a society owes to itself is that of survival. While there is life, there is hope. No matter how serious the external threats, the core value of New Zealand society should be the ability to feed, shelter, protect from physical violence and care for all its members. Its predominantly democratic, liberal and humanist social identity, values and cohesion should be made proof against military occupation by a foreign power and/or its population's reduction to the direst physical straits by other factors. Only when New Zealand can judge itself safe from the destruction of these core values, should it start looking at other desirable positions to defend.

Environmental damage

An unfriendly environment can threaten society with pestilence, famine and natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and floods. Of the three, pestilence probably has the potential to inflict the most damage over a relatively short period. With globalised travel, all societies are now exposed to risk of pandemic. However, modern science allows counter-measures to be developed and rapidly introduced. While New Zealand's access to these facilities continues, it is hard to imagine an epidemic of such proportions that it would render society unviable. A more serious environmental threat to the nation's health would be posed were its environment to be poisoned as the result of a major overseas nuclear disaster, whether accidental or deliberate.

As its first line of defence against famine, New Zealand would appear advantaged in that it is not yet over-populated. Though its environment has been considerably degraded, it is not yet at a point where there is any apparent danger of it being unable to provide the basic food and shelter requirements of the population. Environmental protection laws are now in place. The nation produces an agricultural surplus and would appear to be less likely to succumb to starvation in adversity than virtually any other. However, it should be remembered that New Zealand's agricultural productive capacity could be impacted upon by others of Diamond's four threats. …

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