May 23, 2005


Pacifist New Zealand adds muscle to its military: The island nation will concentrate on peacekeeping skills to help its neighbors. (Janaki Kremmer, 5/24/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

Until recently, Australia's independent-minded neighbor across the Tasman Sea chose to ignore grumblings from Canberra that it wasn't pulling its weight in defense spending.

But earlier this month, New Zealand started listening, announcing plans to boost its defense spending by $3.2 billion over the next 10 years to modernize equipment and add hundreds more ground troops.

In addition to frustrating Australia, New Zealand's antinuclear, pacifist stance has troubled its own generals and affected the morale of the armed forces in recent years. As the government moves to respond to these concerns with new money, it is also shifting strategy by concentrating on peacekeeping skills that it has developed in East Timor, Afghanistan, and the Solomon Islands.

"With the realization that the end of the cold war has only opened a Pandora's box and created more trouble spots, it's time, they feel, to contribute in the best way possible," says Peter Cozens, executive director of the Center for Strategic Studies at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand.

Almost two decades ago, New Zealand was thrown out of ANZUS, the trilateral security alliance with Australia and the United States, for refusing to allow US nuclear-powered or equipped ships to dock in its waters. It canceled a deal to buy 28 F-16 fighter jets in 2000, cut its modern warships to two, and slashed the air force. It currently spends $850 million a year on defense - less than 1 percent of its gross GDP.

The goal now is to reverse that trend, while still streamlining the military. When the budget was announced in early May, defense minister Mark Burton told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that New Zealand would move away from trying to do a little bit of everything in favor of making "realistic contributions."

By redefining its "defense identity," New Zealand could well repair its relationship with the US, which was damaged in the 1980s, experts say.

"New Zealand now does not need the latest American equipment, but it offers troops in certain situations, and that opens up the possibility of rebuilding something that was lost," says Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University in Canberra.

The move is also likely to strengthen ties with Australia, on which New Zealand has long depended for security.

Nowhere are Realists more unrealistic than in their obsession with the Atlantic "Alliance" at a time when it is is the Pacific and the Indian that matter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 23, 2005 11:59 PM

Now just wait one minute here. The Kiwis slashed military budgets, ignored the protests of neighbours and friends while hitching a free ride, became Kofi's stooge, watched morale plummet, took a pacifist line and now is announcing minor budgetary increases with major fanfare to be devoted to peacekeeping. Sound like anyone else you can think of?

And you are impressed by this?

Posted by: Peter B at May 24, 2005 12:10 PM

In other words "A chill wind is blowing, we can feel it, and we want to make sure that the Aussies and the Yanks will show up when needed."

A sad fall from men like Freyberg to the current set.

Posted by: Mikey at May 24, 2005 1:29 PM

NZ isn't important for what it does, but for what it means that they are now doing something at all. another signal that the forces of good are triumphing, making it safe for the fence sitters to get down and get in line. how do people from NZ look people from AUS in the eye ? shameful group of cowards.

Posted by: cjm at May 24, 2005 5:52 PM

The Southern Hemisphere's Iceland may be coming around to avoid the worlds indifference, perhaps too late.

Great sailors though.

Posted by: Genecis at May 24, 2005 9:55 PM