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.