New Zealand has joined the war against Russia.
The decision yesterday to send a C130 Hercules to Europe to provide logistics support for Ukraine may look peaceful but technically it is an act of war.
“This looks like active participation in the war,” Jim Rolfe, the former director of Victoria University’s Centre for Strategic Studies told POLITIK last night.
“Logistic support is no less participation than is fighting.”
The move follows New Zealand last week being one of four East Asian nations invited to a meeting of NATO foreign ministers to discuss aid to Ukraine.
Announcing the move yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the aircraft would be supported by a team of 50 Defence Force personnel to assist with the transportation and distribution of donated military aid to Ukraine.
An international donor coordination centre has been set up in Germany to coordinate the flow of military aid to Ukraine over the next two months.
“The C-130 will join a chain of military aircraft from partner nations travelling throughout Europe, carrying much needed equipment and supplies to key distribution centres,” Ardern said.
“But at no point will they enter Ukraine, nor have they been asked to,” she said.
The move is a rare one by New Zealand.
Usually New Zealand troops or ships or aircraft are sent into overseas conflicts as part of peace keeping operations though New Zealand troops in Afghanistan fought under the umbrella of NATO.
The last New Zealand forces to be deployed to Europe were a 250-strong infantry company which was part of the United Nations peacekeeping forces in the Balkans between 1992 and 1996.
New Zealand, which initially offered only non-lethal aid to Ukraine, is now also sending $7.5 million to contribute to weapons and ammunition procurement by the United Kingdom and $4.1 million to support commercial satellite access for Ukrainian Defence Intelligence.
The move to send the aircraft to Europe comes just four months after an updated Defence Assessment which argued that New Zealand’s defence policy and strategy should promote and protect New Zealand’s interests in its immediate region, specifically the Pacific.
Ironically, it could be argued that the Pacific has become less stable since the Assessment was published with the recent security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands.
And one Pacific nation, Vanuatu, abstained in the United Nations General Assembly vote to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.
But Ardern argued yesterday that what happened in Ukraine had implications for New Zealand.
“Our aid in all its forms is to assist the Ukraine army to repel a brutal Russian invasion,” said Ardern.
“Peace in the region of Europe is essential for global stability.
“New Zealand is not immune to its impacts, so we do need to make sure we play our role and its resolution.”
Ardern defined the commitment in terms of New Zealand’s support for the so-called international rules based order.
“This sits squarely with New Zealand’s values. Here we have a clear breach of the international rules based order,” she said.
“We have a country’s territorial sovereignty being challenged.
“We have a war which everyone can see.
“There is evidence around war crimes and impact on civilians.
“This is New Zealand playing our part and it’s a significant part.”
New Zealand has undoubtedly been under some pressure to have its flag in the ground in Europe in what is increasingly looking like a multi national coalition against Russia.
Australia has gifted $A116 million to Ukraine for what it calls “defensive military assistance” including 20 Bushmaster armoured vehicles already pre-painted with, a Ukrainian flag and the words “United with Ukraine” stencilled in English and Ukrainian “to acknowledge our commitment and support to the Government and people of Ukraine.’
In addition, Australia is delivering 70,000 tonnes of coal to help generate power in Ukraine.
New Zealand was one of four East Asian countries invited to join a NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting last week in Brussels.
Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta joined virtually while Foreign Ministers from Australia, japan and South Korea went to Brussels for the meeting.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a press conference after the meeting that the crisis had global implications.
It was clear that the outreach to East Asia was an attempt to restrain China.
China’s unwillingness to condemn Russia, and Beijing “joining Moscow in questioning the right of nations to choose their own path” represent “a serious challenge to us all,” Stoltenberg said.
“It makes it even more important that we stand together to protect our values,” he said.
“We are building stronger ties between NATO and our Asia-Pacific partners, starting with Japan,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
“We also had South Korea; we had Australia and New Zealand here today.
“And this is something that will carry through to the summit in Madrid, building greater coherence, greater collaboration, greater cooperation between Europe and Asia, between NATO and Asia-Pacific partners.”
The Chinese Communist party newspaper, “Global Times” accused NATO of including the East Asian countries as part of a plan to “encircle China.”
“The increasingly greedy NATO has extended its tentacles to regions and nations outside Europe and beyond the Atlantic,” it said.
“It seems to be discontented with being just a defense organization in Europe and has an ambition that is not openly stated, which is to go global.”
A readout on the NATO meeting, issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Friday said the meeting had been addressed by Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba who spoke about the situation on the ground and the support Ukraine needs.
“The Minister stressed that Ukraine needs action, not compassion,” the readout said.
It is unclear why New Zealand has escalate its aid to Ukraine and why it has now, effectively, decided to join the war.
“What we’ve always tried to ask ourselves, is what is the most meaningful thing that New Zealand can do and how can we do it?” Ardern said.
“When the ask came for logistical support, people, the C130; that was a good fit with what we could make sure we were able to deploy quickly and we know will make a difference.
“And we’ve done that alongside an additional tranche of aid alongside what we’ve already committed.”
Longer term, the deployment continues a process which began with the New Zealand deployment to Afghanistan and which has seen New Zealand grow its relationship with NATO.
China’s response to the NATO conference last week already demonstrates that getting closer to NATO carries its own risks.