(Jim Rolfe is a former army officer and Director of Victoria University of Wellington’s Centre for Strategic Studies. He is currently working as a defence and security analyst. He has written on the New Zealand security sector and has experience in the Middle East working on defence matters.)
The terrorist attacks in Paris have triggered understandable calls worldwide for immediate response and retaliation.
But we need to be careful that any response is not so disproportionate that it completely outweighs the seriousness of the attacks; serious though they were.
This is so for France and it is so for every other country that could conceivable be the target of this kind of terrorism, including New Zealand.
What then do we need to do?
First we need to use our own sources and those of our friends and allies globally (this is not an Anglo-Saxon ‘five-eyes only issue) to check that there are no indicators that New Zealand faces any similar threat. Such a check cannot, of course, lead to any certainty of safety, but it’s a start.
Second, given the fact that Paris happened at all we need to be looking at current policy settings to ensure we are still comfortable with them, with or without any particular indication of threat.
There is no necessary need to change them, however, without proper indications of increased threat.
Third, we might need an element of security theatre.
We’ve been reminded that it’s a dangerous world out there.
Perhaps a more obvious police presence at airports and other places people gather would be useful.
They will not add to security in any objective sense, but they will provide an element of reassurance and that’s a legitimate action for the government to take.
There are things we should not do.
We should not, for example, inflame the situation by making generalised assertions of blame, with the implication that in New Zealand there are people who could make the same kinds of attack.
All that does is make a bad situation worse and potentially lead to some form of mob reaction.
Also, we should not make arbitrary restrictions on liberty of any kind.
If certain measures were adequate at airports before these attacks, then they are adequate after them absent any new intelligence on a specific, or even general, threat against airports.
The same point can be made for almost any area in which there might be a temptation to act ‘in the name of security’.
This is different from the ‘security theatre’ mentioned earlier.
That was intended to re-assure.
Arbitrary restrictions with a rationale of ‘increased security’ don’t increase security they merely give officials some fig-leaf cover if an event happens.
No doubt all of these actions and others have been looked at by the government.
The watchword should be ‘considered’ rather than ‘reactive’ when deciding what to do.