Jim Rolfe is a former NZ Army officer, academic, author and international defence consultant. This is his analysis of the Government’s Defence Policy Statement.

The 2018 Strategic Policy Statement, released Friday, A White Paper in all but name, is a comprehensive, cogent and well integrated document. When combined with the updated Defence Capability Plan later in the year the New Zealand Defence Force will have a clear path that will, in the words of the Minister of Defence, Ron Mark, at the launch, set the shape of Defence for decades to come.

The Policy Statement was considered necessary by the government because they wanted to confirm that the policy settings described in the 2016 Defence White Paper were still relevant. They must be, given that there is at least an 85 percent overlap, perhaps more, in policy settings and policy determinants between the two documents.

Those who feared that the new government would be in any way soft on defence should be reassured, not only by document itself, but also by the Minister’s wide-ranging analysis of the issues facing Defence and his robust support for Defence and the people who work within it. For example, the Minister strongly emphasised the point that the NZDF has to be combat capable and ready for international tasks and recognised internationally as being such. These and other similarly strong points are embedded in a set of six principles underpinning defence policy.

As well, recognising the long-term nature of defence decisions, the Minister noted during the question and answer session that he had consulted widely and shared defence information across all parties in Parliament. It’s probably a step too far for such sharing to be codified into parliament practices, but it is a welcome approach in an area that has too often generated more heat than light in debate between government and opposition over the years.

Inevitably, the Minister played up the differences between this statement and the previous policy line. We now have a set of principles, mentioned above, against which defence decisions will be made and should be judged. The principles are themselves nothing exceptional, nor even particularly new other than to be codified in a single collection and branded, but they are completely sensible and it is another signal of the new transparency within the defence system.

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