New Zealand defence story.
by David Blake
It's well known that New Zealand's defence force is less than intimidating on a world scale.
Less well known is that our woefully inadequate defence spending, and sometimes isolationist foreign policy, could be jeopardising our trade links with key partners such as the US and Australia.
New Zealand defence spending has always been low by international standards, both in actual terms and as a percentage of GDP. A 2005 parliament briefing report shows New Zealand consistently spends less than the US, UK, Australia and Canada, spending less than one per cent of GDP between 2003-2004. Yet Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said in May this year that our defence budget is about right.
So what? New Zealand's physical isolation and happy-go-lucky nature will protect us from harm, you say? If not, our disarming sense of humour and all-round likeability... then surely our friends will come to our aid?
While the threat of military aggression from another state is unlikely, New Zealand's lack of military prowess may be costing us in terms of trade negotiations and privilege if we are perceived to be unwilling or unable to pull our weight in maintaining global peace and security.
Recent criticisms from visiting geopolitical commentator, George Friedman, echo concerns made by policy analysts here and overseas.
Friedman says New Zealand's perception that it can pick and choose whether to engage in military operations, such as the Iraq war, and still expect to be listened to in trade talks with the US is naive.
By contrast, he says that Australia has obtained its privileged position of strategic ally with the US through a long-term commitment to military assistance and cooperation.
So New Zealand's joke of a defence force might not be so funny after all, especially from the point of view of some of our closest friends and allies.
In the 1970s, the international community imposed boycotts on South Africa in protest against its apartheid system. While most countries, including Australia, joined the boycotts, New Zealand continued to send the All Blacks on rugby tours and continued to receive Springbok tours to New Zealand.
Aside from maintaining sporting relations with white South Africa and devaluing the ANZUS treaty, the nature of New Zealand's international relations can be inferred from their bid for the 2003 rugby World Cup.
When stripping New Zealand of its right, the IRB issued a statement declaring:
"Generous accommodations made by RWCL to meet the needs and problems of the NZRU were repaid with consistent failures and wholly inappropriate behaviour. Despite this, the Council determined to give full and fair hearing to New Zealand's position and to its most recent submissions. However, the outstanding Australian proposal held an attraction, a professionalism and a logic which were irresistible. "
Is it time that we gave up our independent foreign policy aspirations and toed the line for our trading partners?