NZ-Aust defence agreement draws attention to the need for strengthening our military capabilities

Facing  what they  say is a  growing threat to regional security,  Defence  Minister Peeni  Henare  and  his  Australian  counterpart, Richard  Marles,  (who is  also Australia’s  Deputy Prime  Minister) have  agreed to  explore strengthening the  “joint operational capabilities of our forces”.

For  NZ, trying  to rebuild its  defence forces  which were run  down  during the  Covid  pandemic,  and  now  losing  personnel, this  is  particularly  significant.

Australia  and NZ  already  have  what  the  ministers  believe to be  a “uniquely  close  relationship”.  But with  the  unspoken  threat from  China in the  Pacific (the  ministers  call it  an “increasingly complex  security  environment”,  it  is  vital that  NZ steps  up  the  pace  of  recruiting  new  personnel  to  each  of  its three armed  services.

In  light  of  his  meeting  with  Marles,  Henare’s  announcement  last  week of  a  high- powered  Defence Policy  Review  led  by Sir  Brian  Roche  can  be  seen  as a  precursor  to  the  commitment  to   strengthen NZ’s  defence  capability.

Point  of   Order  thinks  it  is   worth    recording  in  full   the  statement  issued   by  Henare  and  Marles  after  their annual  meeting in   Geelong  this  week.

“Australia and New Zealand have a uniquely close relationship. We are bound together by our history and our home in the Blue Pacific. We share values, a common strategic outlook, and deep people-to-people links.

“The Ministers reaffirmed the strength of the Australia–New Zealand defence alliance in an increasingly complex security environment 

.”The Ministers exchanged perspectives on regional security issues and reiterated their shared ambition for a safe, stable, and prosperous Pacific.

“The Ministers discussed growing strategic competition in the Pacific, and noted the region’s long tradition of working together in a transparent and consultative way to advance regional priorities.

“In particular, the Ministers acknowledged the Pacific Islands Forum countries’ strong commitment to meet the security needs of the region, as articulated in the Biketawa Declaration and Boe Declaration on Regional Security.

“The Ministers noted Australia’s Defence Strategic Review and New Zealand’s Defence Policy Review, both currently underway, and agreed, in recognition of our shared views of the strategic environment, that officials will remain closely engaged in our respective policy and capability planning. The Ministers also committed to supporting each other’s defence forces in regenerating collective training and force readiness post domestic COVID-19 related commitments.

“The Ministers acknowledged our already deep defence cooperation across all facets of our defence organisations. Noting the rapidly evolving security challenges we face, it is vital our defence engagement at all levels remains responsive and efficient.

“The Ministers agreed to a refreshed bilateral Australia–New Zealand Defence Dialogue Architecture. The Architecture guides official-level cooperation between our respective Defence organisations to ensure it is coordinated and supports the priorities for the relationship set by Defence Ministers.The refresh will deliver a future-focussed and agile dialogue structure that is better able to respond to the increasingly complex challenges of our strategic environment.

“The Architecture includes reinvigoration of key lines of effort at the officials level, including a working group on defence industry access to deepen Australian and New Zealand defence industrial base collaboration.

“The  Ministers  agreed  to  a  range  of  initiatives including:

      • closer coordination of our respective defence reviews;
      • increasing personnel exchanges, postings and secondments at junior and senior levels;
      •  strengthening the joint operational capabilities of our forces; and
      • developing complementary and inclusive efforts and protocols with the region to enhance coordination on humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

“Both Ministers look forward to discussions on regional security at the upcoming South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting.”

Henare   has  appeared   to  be  slow  to  get to  grips   with the  Defence  portfolio,  although  his   attention  may have   focussed  on  more  pressing  issues  relating to his other ministerial responsibilities during the  Covid  pandemic.

Certainly   there  is  a lot  of   ground  to be  covered  now and  the  critical question  is  whether   he  will  be  able   to  get  his  ministerial  colleagues to  concentrate  on  approving measures  to  rebuild  the Defence  Force  capabilities  as   NZ  heads  into  election year.

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