One of the country’s most eminent former public servants is questioning some aspects of the recent Defence White paper and wondering whether the document has a big gap in the way it deals with maritime security.

Simon Murdoch, former Secretary of Foreign Affairs and head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has raised questions about New Zealand’s defence capability across a huge slice of the South Pacific and Southern Oceans.

The White Paper contains a map showing what it calls New Zealand’s maritime domain which extends from Kiribati on the Equator 9500 km to the Ross Sea and in an arc which stretches nearly 7000 km from New Caledonia and Samoa in the west across to Pitcairn Island in the east.

“The size of the area itself and the nature of the risks are such that the issue of minimum credible capability has to be considered,” he told a Symposium on the White Paper in Wellington yesterday.

The Symposium was organised by the Centre for Strategic Studies at Victoria University and was attended by a wide range of academics, defence and foreign affairs staff and diplomats.

Mr Murdoch said that in the early 2000s the Clark Government had made substantial savings in the Defence budget by scrapping the A4 Skyhawk combat wing and applying those savings to land forces and patrol vessels as well as an upgrade of the P3 maritime surveillance aircraft.

“So 12 years on, what we got from a whole of Government perspective,” he asked.

“The national maritime ‘muster’  from a whole of Government perspective — excluding the (Niwa Vessel) Tangaroa —  is 11 Royal NZ Navy vessels; several with no blue water capability; most with no weaponry; 6 P3 Orions, two police launches, small inshore waters craft for 180 fisheries officers and DOC rangers and something probably available from assets maintained by port operators.

“The question has to be asked whether these capabilities in an insurance sense provide a sensible degree of calculated cover for the contingencies that future maritime security policy has got to rate as being risks of some latency.

“Is there a misfit here?”


The questions raised by Mr Murdoch could be answered by New Zealand simply spending more money on defence.

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Dr Mark Thomson, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute  produced graphs to show that New Zealand spending on defence, as a percentage of GDP, had consistently ranked the lowest among the “Five Eyes’ nations — the USA, Britain, Australia and Canada.

But the Defence White Paper capability plan required that New Zealand spends $20 billion over the next 15 years on aircraft and ships whereas it had spent only $6.2 billion over the past 15 years.

Some of that money is already being spent.

POLITIK understand that Cabinet agreed last week to purchase an ice-strengthened tanker for the Navy which will be capable of delivering fuel to Antarctica for the New Zealanders, Italians and Americans.

The Government hopes that this may relieve some pressure it is feeling from the United States over New Zealand’s inability to have its 757 transport aircraft fly to the ice with a full load.

POLITIK also understands that Cabinet has approved expenditure on a Littoral Support Vessel, which will carry out multiple roles including dive support, hydrographic work and will be able to carry cargo to the Pacific.

As part of the business case to get Cabinet approval, it has been proposed that the vessel also is available for use by other Government entities like NIWA.

But neither vessel will answer the questions raised by Mr Murdoch.

He said we needed to look at New Zealand’s security not from looking out from New Zealand but from looking back to New Zealand from the outer limits of the maritime domain.

“It would be wise to assume that New Zealand’s military may indeed be required for regional collective security preservation in wider East Asia some time over the current planning cycle,” he said.