So what does that mean in practical terms? Our first responsibility is to our immediate region, which is essentially the South-west Pacific. That’s an immense area—it’s one-twelfth of the world’s surface. But we’re still expected by the nations within the region to be there and available to deal with virtually every foreseeable contingency. We’ve seen it with Timor-Leste and the Solomons for example, but also with the tsunami in Samoa, which killed more than 150 people—that’s a big disaster for such a small country. Samoa absolutely expected New Zealand to respond instantly, to have aircraft on the ground, to have medical teams on the ground within 24 hours. And we did that. And the New Zealand public expects that because there are such deep relations between the people of New Zealand and the Samoan people.
Beyond the South-west Pacific, New Zealand also has a deep relationship with Asia in terms of trade and investment and people flows. And it’s very clear to me that nations within the region that are deemed to be full participants don’t cherry pick—they don’t just say we want the trade, we want the investment, we want the tourists, but don’t trouble us with security issues. This isn’t seen as an expression of partnership. So we do take an active role, primarily naval, within the region. Our navy is designed to have capabilities and relevance around maritime security.
Outside the Pacific, New Zealand has also contributed to UN peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and the Middle East, for example. Is there any scope for an expanded peacekeeping role for your country’s forces?Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
We’re at the maximum level of what we can do—our defence forces are stretched to do what they do now. But we will certainly always see ourselves as having the ability to do what we do now, and we see that as New Zealand’s role in the world, playing an active role driven by our history, our relationships and interests in stability as a trading nation.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was one of the leaders invited to the nuclear security summit hosted in April. One of New Zealand’s stated goals is universal nuclear disarmament. But with the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme on hold and Iran’s continued intransigence over its programme, how optimistic can you really be?
There are multiple levels to the nuclear issue. It’s proliferation to countries that don’t currently have nuclear weapons, like Iran, and so forth—that’s one part, an important part. But in North Korea’s case, to go nuclear is a dead end. Yes, they’ve got people’s attention, but to what end? If North Korea wants to progress, it will need to use its imagination. There are plenty of models within their own precepts that they could follow in terms of economic growth – economic growth and having a communist government are not irreconcilable. You only have to look, for example, at the growth of Vietnam over the last two decades, which has been truly dramatic. And you only need to see the constructive leadership role Vietnam is playing in ASEAN to see how constructive they could be. You would think North Korea could see that, but they don’t seem able.
Meanwhile, Iran is backing itself into the same corner. Yes, they get people’s attention, but they end up going backward at the same time. That’s one aspect of proliferation.
The other aspect is the general level of nuclear weapons amongst the nuclear weapons states. So New Zealand has an interest in both those areas, so the world can become a safer place. And just as peacekeeping is part of NZ’s self identification, the country’s efforts around a nuclear-free world are also very much part of its commitment to building a more secure world.