Hipkins and the UK

United Kingdom?  Ukraine?  Either?  Or both?

So many questions for a PM.

In Britain for the Coronation, Chris Hipkins’s genteel republicanism was rewarded with a plate of leftover sausage rolls

Nor was his muted positivism out of tune with the contemporary London vibe of springtime celebration after winter mourning.  Republicans here have so far been lying low, not gluing themselves to gun carriages.

Continue reading “Hipkins and the UK”

Australia buys nuclear-powered subs – would NZ  be concerned  if we came under attack and they were defending us?

Australia’s move to strengthen  its defence capability with  five nuclear-powered attack submarines  underlines how  relatively defenceless New Zealand  is  in the  Pacific.

Kiwis  may gasp that the Labor government in Australia recognises  it must outlay $400bn on the  nuclear subs, but this ensures  that Australia is  not  exposed  to any marauding raid.

Part of the deal under the Aukus  umbrella (embracing Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States) is that Australia will regularly host US nuclear-powered submarines beginning within five years, and embedding its military personnel with the US and UK navies, as it begins the process of establishing its own industry.

US President Joe Biden has stressed that the submarines, provided under the trilateral security pact  would be “nuclear-powered, not nuclear-armed”. Continue reading “Australia buys nuclear-powered subs – would NZ  be concerned  if we came under attack and they were defending us?”

In the face of China’s “coercive tendencies”, is  it time for NZ to shape its own “Indo-Pacific strategy”?

Earlier  this  week  Point of  Order  carried  a  post  by Geoffrey Miller  on  how Japan under  a  new security blueprint is doubling its defence spending. The plans see Japan buying up advanced weaponry – including long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles from the US – and spending more on developing hypersonic and cybersecurity technology.

Miller writes that Japan’s new National Security Strategy (NSS) openly calls out China, describing Beijing a ‘matter of serious concern for Japan’ and the ‘greatest strategic challenge’ to the country’s security.

The NSS also alleges China is developing its ‘strategic ties’ with Russia and is seeking to ‘challenge the international order’.

Meanwhile The  Economist  offers insights  into what it defines  as “Reinventing the Indo-Pacific”. Continue reading “In the face of China’s “coercive tendencies”, is  it time for NZ to shape its own “Indo-Pacific strategy”?”

Secrecy shrouds details of RNZAF planes being intercepted while flying on missions overseas

The disclosure  that 92 missions flown by  RNZAF P3 Orions have been intercepted  by the jets of foreign powers is sending  shock waves through the broader defence community.

Details  of the incidents, including the identity of the foreign powers and the exact locations of the interceptions, were withheld on national security grounds under the Official Information Act.

The NZ Herald broke the  story after  it had been withheld on national security grounds.

What is  alarming is that the public is  left unaware of the risks  which are routinely  carried by defence personnel  as they fly these missions.  It also points  to the need  for greater defence spending  to ensure the RNZAF, and other  defence services, have  the  resources  they  need  for the complex  tasks  they are expected to undertake.  

Defence chief of staff Air Commodore A. J. Woods  told the NZ Herald the 92 intercepts of the P-3K2 Orion maritime patrol planes happened across 234 missions since 2015. Continue reading “Secrecy shrouds details of RNZAF planes being intercepted while flying on missions overseas”

Ukraine: what’s to negotiate?

As the Kremlin’s spokesman tells us – somewhat improbably – that regime change was never Vladimir Putin’s goal, the debate on whether Russia and Ukraine should be negotiating gets another bounce.

Depressing – but necessary – to bear in mind that a settlement will rest more on power than on justice.

Some other lessons from the conflict also seem to be getting neglected.

Continue reading “Ukraine: what’s to negotiate?”

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. Continue reading “NZ-Aust defence agreement draws attention to the need for strengthening our military capabilities”

Thubron, Gorbachev and Putin: who is the odd man out?

It’s hard to believe Colin Thubron, writer, is more than eighty years old.  In his latest epic – ‘The Amur River: Between Russia and China’ – we can wince as he describes carrying fractured ankle and ribs for several thousand miles from the swamps of Mongolia through Russian detention.

Thubron is really a historian of sorts.  His longevity (personal and professional) and his absorption in the contested Eurasian borderlands allows him to interpret his interlocutors’ most painful memories.

Mikhail Gorbachev – who died yesterday – was another student of Russian history.  Google has no record of the esteemed travel writer’s meeting the last supreme leader of the USSR (Thubron’s breakthrough work ‘Among the Russians’ was published in 1983) but one imagines he would have been uniquely equipped to distil the inherited memories of the Russian-Ukrainian family’s suffering during the Stalin famine.  

Assuming that the politician would let him do so.

Gorbachev leaned on history to create a vision for a greater Russian state.  But – like his predecessor Kerensky – he found neither state nor people would respond to his plan in a coherent fashion.

Odd you might think, because when the – perhaps inevitable – civil war broke out in August 1991, the old order vapourized in a few skirmishes.  And despite being on the winning side (wasn’t everybody then), there was no following – or place – for Gorbachev in the new order.

Vladimir Putin also has a keen interest in Russian history.  Indeed it’s the basis of his vision for the country’s future.

As news comes through that there is still no place for Gorbachev in the new order (the Kremlin won’t give him a state funeral), it’s ironical to consider that Putin is the Soviet leader who has managed to achieve a reformulation of the USSR.  Gorbachev’s dream – now as nightmare.

If Gorbachev was the theorist with the plan, Putin was the pragmatist.  Where Gorbachev fragmented the system and gave away both sticks and carrots, Putin – with the attention to needs of the most astute democratic politicians –  painstakingly, and with a great deal of trial-and-error, built a durable coalition from old powers like the security services, the military command and ethnic bosses, and new powers, like the oligarchs.

Putin’s power grew as competing forces (including some former allies of convenience, like the oligarchs) were neutralised.

People from prosperous and gentle countries, like New Zealand, can be obtuse in coming to terms with the fact that both peaceful and violent societies need a dedicated cadre of public servants thinking about where to use violence and kill; on whom to inflict it; and by what rules and procedures.  Indeed, it can be more complicated at the kinder end of the spectrum (ask our defence officials about their participation in the Russian-killing programme, for example).

Putin is one of those public servants.  He joined the KGB, the Soviet institution which quintessentially embodied that responsibility.  

While Gorbachev’s actions showed a tremendous desire to avoid the use of force to achieve his goals, it’s hard to say that about Putin.  His record suggests an emotional attitude closer to Stalin’s, of whom the poet Osip Mandelstam (also one of his victims) said: 

“He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries. / He wishes he could hug them like big friends from home.”

One can imagine a powerpoint presentation in the Kremlin running through the kill-list, with Putin then leading a vigorous discussion on the appropriate toxins, calibrating the suffering to the crime.  Personal justice demands personal attention.

But back to Thubron, whose ruminations remind us that sometimes – as with Gorbachev – you just can’t force some things on the Russians, and sometimes – as with Putin, and others – you can.

Thubron’s people are the descendants of camp survivors, war veterans, party torturers; those who endured the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ones born after; and those who just kept their heads down.

By getting into an extended war in the Ukraine, Putin’s ability to force things on Thubron’s people may be slipping.  It’s giving them a choice: between an insular and – in some ways – more secure society, and a freer and, in social terms, less stable one.  With the price paid in lives.

You can see that China’s General-Secretary Xi might have a keen interest in restricting the scope for choice in Russia and thus be anxious to help Putin redeploy Russian soldiers to the Ukraine from Colin Thubron’s Amur river.

With Ukraine’s attempts to recapture Kherson building up and reports of facilities to re-educate Putin’s ‘liberated’ Ukrainians, we get a step closer to an answer.

Deployment to train Ukrainian troops is all very well – but Henare should fix sights on new hardware and lifting NZ army morale

When PM Jacinda  Ardern  announced this week the  government had decided to give  additional  support  to Ukraine  against  Russia’s illegal  war, she described the deployment  of 120 personnel from the NZ Defence  Force to the UK  to  help  train Ukraine soldiers as “significant”.

The decision follows a  completed deployment of  30 NZDF personnel who went  to Britain in May to   train Ukrainian military  personnel in operating  artillery.

“We know that one of the highest priorities for Ukraine right now, is to train its soldiers, and New Zealand is proud to stand in solidarity alongside a number of other countries to answer that call,” Jacinda Ardern said.

Point  of  Order  has  no  doubt the NZ  contingent will  do a  very  good  job.  It may even  revive  the rundown morale  among NZ’s  armed  forces. Continue reading “Deployment to train Ukrainian troops is all very well – but Henare should fix sights on new hardware and lifting NZ army morale”

ACT goes on attack as Defence Force personnel are found to be sniping at pay, dwellings and leadership

When a  Royal New Zealand Air Force C130 Hercules broke down in Vanuatu  this  week   there  was  a certain  irony   in the  event.  It left  Defence Minister Peeni Henare stranded in the Solomon Islands capital, Honiara, where he had been leading  a delegation of 30 New Zealanders, including officials from the New Zealand Defence Force and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who were in the country for World War II commemorations.

Henare  took  over  the  Defence  portfolio  after  the   2020 election,  but  so  far   he  has  done  little  to  upgrade  the  rundown   state   of  the  country’s  defence   resources.

Whether  his   stranding might serve  as  a  wake-up  call  could  be  monitored   not  just  by   Defence officials   but  by a   wider  public  becoming  alarmed  at  how  defenceless  NZ  has  become,  even  as  threats  in  the  Asia-Pacific  region  become  all too obvious.

This   week  the  ACT  party drew  attention to  how numbers are dropping in the New Zealand Defence Force as personnel are faced with “poor pay, poor dwellings, and poor leadership from the Minister”. Continue reading “ACT goes on attack as Defence Force personnel are found to be sniping at pay, dwellings and leadership”

Missiles that loiter (with intent to do mischief) – Australia is re-arming but NZ is still considering modern munitions

Australia  this week   announced it is planning to spend $A3.5bn on long-range strike missiles years ahead of schedule because of growing threats posed by Russia and China, Associated Press has  reported..

Defence Minister Peter Dutton said  the accelerated re-arming  would  increase Australia’s deterrence to potential adversaries.

Meanwhile  there  is  no  sign  of  the  Ardern government  considering   increasing  defence  spending, although  Defence  Minister  Peeni Henare  did say  this  week the government had considered sending weapons – such as the Javelin missile launchers – as part of the government’s support of Ukraine in fighting off the Russian invasion.

 “That’s been in front of Cabinet for consideration. To date, Cabinet hasn’t agreed.”

Point of  Order   would   like  to  think   the  NZ  Defence  Force   has  its  own  stock of  Javelin missiles, but  there  is  little  evidence  of that.   The US has already supplied thousands of the anti-tank missiles and hundreds of launchers  to Ukraine’s forces.

A Javelin missile, a  modern successor  to the  Bazooka,  costs  around $US1m. Continue reading “Missiles that loiter (with intent to do mischief) – Australia is re-arming but NZ is still considering modern munitions”