PEACE-MAKING OR FRIGATE BUILDING?


The recent delivery of ANZAC frigate Te Kaha, the future arrival of its twin, the possible purchase of two more and the Defence Assessment currently being undertaken for the government, raises several issues for New Zealand.

The first of these is simply one of democracy. How well is the Government responding to the wishes of the people. Public opinion is opposed to the frigates, no poll on the subject has ever had a majority in favour of the frigate purchase (even counting the donít knows). One is more likely to find supporters of MMP than apologists for the frigates, and no doubt the government ignoring the will of the people of the frigate issue has contributed to the loss of support for MMP, which many people believed would make government more responsive to the public. Generally, people would rather see billions of dollars being spent on health, education, housing and law enforcement than on costly war machines. How often, for example, does one see defence at the top of the polls as an issue that concerns people?

What are our defence needs, if any? Some people look at a world map and see that we have no near neighbours that are hostile, while some, like retired Rear Admiral Jack Welch, see shipping lanes to defend. The fact is that the Government has stated that we have no enemies and this has been the position for many years. Even the Ministry of Defence acknowledges that there is little chance of our being attacked. They say in the 1996 Ministerial briefing papers "there are no immediate or readily foreseeable threats to New Zealandís physical security".

Why then do we maintain an expensive defence force? There are no enemies posing threats and no demand for a military from the public. Letís then look at the frigates themselves and the international scene.

Choice of Ship

It is worthwhile reflecting once again on the choice of ship that we have elected to buy. The ANZAC frigate is entirely unsuitable for New Zealandís own security requirements. If we are to have ships at all, they could be used for patrolling our economic zone to catch illegal fishing vessels. Clearly if we want ships at all we need ships that will meet our needs. The activist group Just Defence identified several alternatives to frigates in 1988. Although cheaper and more suited to our needs they were passed over in favour of the less suitable frigates. Unfortunately the frigate purchase makes some sense.

In 1989 retired Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll told Just Defence that the frigates New Zealand was about to buy had advanced anti-submarine warfare capabilities but were vulnerable to air attack. He said that:

"The expense of such ships would appear to be warranted only if New Zealandís naval commitments extend to supporting US naval operations against Soviet forces in the North Pacific and Southeast Asia."
The frigates we are buying have been selected to fit in with the Australian navy so that we can train together. Frigates are also known to be designed to escort other warships, acting as anti-submarine vessels and our frigates have been specifically built to fit into such a role in the United States 7th Fleet. The ANZAC frigates we are buying have more to do with fitting into allied forces than meeting our own requirements.

Work Creation or Wealth Creation

To win support for the frigates the Government has been actively promoting the idea that the project has been for New Zealand in creating jobs. While some short term jobs were created the frigate exercise is in reality a form of wealthfare, or tax-payer subsidy to business. One Hamilton based company reckons that the frigate project has secured them guaranteed work for a decade. Minister of Defence, Paul East, proudly declared in a January press release,

"to date the contract to build 10 ANZAC class ships has brought $470 million to 417 New Zealand companies. These figures do not include the $126 million from other contracts that New Zealand companies have won in Australia as a result of access gained since we signed the frigate agreement."
In addition to over half a billion dollars of taxpayers money, companies have benefited in that they are now able to bid for "multi-billion-dollar defence projects in Asia." Hence New Zealand is now becoming an exporter of expertise in the design and manufacture of military hardware for governments with dubious commitments to human rights. These export earnings are estimated to be worth $80 million a year - more than wine exports.

Defence Alliances

Our argument for the frigates is that we need a credible defence force so that we can pull our weight in the defence of common interests in the region and be part of United Nations peace-keeping missions. The argument also runs that we should not be freeloaders on the backs of other nations in the region.

This ignores the reality that it is these alliances that make us our enemies to start with. The frigate Canterbury, for example, was part of a United Nations deployment that enforced the trade embargo against Iraq. It is now known that infant mortality has increased 10-fold since the embargo was implemented. New Zealand could well be viewed by the Iraqis as their enemy for contributing to these deaths.

Another argument for the frigates is that we need to train with other forces to keep our forces combat ready and effective. Larry Ross of the NZ Nuclear-Free Peacemaking Association says that if exercise with the United States the government will be in breach of section 5(2)(b) of the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987. This section outlaws aiding or abetting anyone to have control over any nuclear explosive device. Being very much the junior partner in any defence alliance we will be under the control of others and our policy will need to be subservient to othersí needs, as defined by them, as we were in the Gulf War under the United States command.

The cost of the Frigates

The frigates have cost New Zealand a lot of money. Buying more will cost a lot of money. However, the capital outlay is only part of the total cost of these ships. If they are to be used and run as effective warships they will have a significant running costs. These have been estimated at one million dollars a day. Technology upgrades will be required from time to time to keep the frigates up to modern technological requirements. If the ships are to be effectively integrated into the Australian or American navy for exercises or combat, they will set the agenda for upgrades and we will be set an agenda for upgrades by them to maintain compatibility.

Peace-making

Some peace activists would support New Zealand actively contributing to United Nations Peacekeeping forces. They see our ill-prepared troops in Bosnia as a good reason to fund a decent military force. But if we only have a military for these purposes we become little more than a mercenary force. There is an alternative to peace-keeping and that is peace-making.

New Zealandís small no-threatening size and geographic isolation makes us ideally suited to be peacemakers in the region and beyond. We could become active peacemakers rather than supporters of war. Our defence spending currently supports an industry that has a vested interest in war and the violent settlement of disputes.

Prevention and settlement of disputes through diplomacy is something that New Zealand should be seeking. Defence researcher I.C. MacGibbon wrote in 1977:

"Ideally, the security of New Zealand could best be achieved by ensuring conditions in which major threats to her interests would not emerge, that is, through political action to remove the sources of conflict."
This would require a mature diplomacy that could not also be part of alliances that may undermine friendly relations with other countries.

Not only would such a diplomacy secure our own defence but we could make a more valuable contribution to world peace than we could through sending troops away. This role for New Zealand has been supported by the Dalai Lama and Josè Ramos Horta, both Nobel Prize Winners and international conflict resolution experts such as Dudley Weeks.

Conclusion

The frigates have not contributed at all to New Zealandís defence from outside forces, because we have no enemies. The frigates have been an expensive exercise paid for by the taxpayer that contributes to New Zealandís ability to be part of an international force that has done untold harm.

The beneficiaries of the frigates project are diplomats and politicians who think we should be part of alliances with the United States and Australia and the companies that have been given a subsidy from the New Zealand taxpayer.

We should use the upcoming defence review and possible frigate purchase as an opportunity to reflect on our place in the world and how we can best contribute to world peace.

Richard Davis, September 1997.


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