New Zealand Considers Role on ISIS

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New Zealand Considers Role on ISIS

Amid opposition, the country contemplates joining the coalition in the Middle East.

New Zealand Considers Role on ISIS
Credit: New Zealand Defence Force via Flickr.com

New Zealand’s defense chief, Lieutenant General Tim Keating, is currently in Saudi Arabia for talks on fighting ISIS.

New Zealand is not part of the coalition fighting the group, unlike allies Australia and the United States, and it has made no public decisions to join but, said Keating, “it makes sense that there’s New Zealand Defence Force representation at such a meeting… it will be a good opportunity to receive updates on the situation.” Prime Minister John Key has told reporters that the decision whether or not to send troops would most likely be made Monday.

There is not full support, even among conservatives such as the Nationals partners, for sending troops overseas. Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox said, “Training troops in Iraq and places like that have in the end turned sour on those countries that have done that.” She did agree to humanitarian aid and peacekeeping, however. Key previously ruled out the idea of Kiwi troops in combat roles, restricting them to training.

Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne is also against the training of Iraqi troops, saying, “All they’ve done is create an ongoing festering sore which is now rampant, if you like, right through the Middle Eastern region… I mean it didn’t work in the Crusades and yet these are the modern day versions of that.” He said the idea of New Zealand joining just to be part of the Western club was not a good one. Iraq has formally requested military aid from New Zealand, however, so it is not simply a case of Kiwis following their closest security ally Australia blindly into battle. Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee has issued a statement saying essentially that given the close relationship between Australia and New Zealand it was important to share views on security and defense.

New Zealand recently took up a position on the UN Security Council this year and has been involved in issues in the Middle East. Possibly unusually, it disagreed with Australia’s veto on Palestinian statehood, saying New Zealand would either have agreed or abstained from the vote.

New Zealand is also part of the postwar ANZUS alliance, though its membership essentially went dormant when the U.S. suspended its security guarantee in 1985. The then-government campaigned on an anti-nuclear platform and refused to harbor American ships that were armed with nukes. Per policy the U.S. refused to let New Zealand know if they were or were not nuclear and, as a result, were refused entry to New Zealand’s waters. This mouse-that-roared mindset has continued; New Zealand opposes some of the grand powers of the Security Council’s P5 and campaigned for its place with other small nations. In fact Key called its winning of a seat after a decade a “victory for small states.”

The 2010 Defense White Paper, the first in ten years, suggests that military force will most likely be used in response to direct treats to New Zealand, Australia, the Pacific Islands, or as part of the Five Power Defence Arrangements or under the aegis of a UN effort, most likely a regional one. Within that scope, ISIS is out. However, the paper follows up with:

“It is also likely that ad hoc coalitions prepared to use force in response to security concerns will arise in the future, and that New Zealand might be asked to contribute. The Government would consider a range of factors in determining the possible scale and nature of any such contribution.”

Within that, fighting ISIS, or at least training others to fight it, sounds more likely. New Zealand has gone to both Afghanistan and Iraq, though protested the invasion in 2003. There are currently a handful of New Zealand defense personnel around the globe, in Sinai,  South Sudan, the Middle East and South Korea, all in non-combat roles. New Zealand is also currently hosting NATO Military Committee Chairman General Knud Bartels, who will leave on February 21.