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Action Alert - Frigate and F16s
Peace Movement AotearoaPO Box 9314, Wellington. Tel (04) 382 8129, fax (04) 382 8173, firstname.lastname@example.org
Issued 21 September 1998
We have received word that the government may be about to make yet another decision with regard to the purchase of a third ANZAC class frigate. According to the information we have received this decision could be made within the next two weeks.
In addition, Ministry of Defence officials have recently been inspecting 28 F16 warplanes in the US with the possibility of purchasing them.
The alert below is in three parts : i) an update on the frigate; ii) an update on the F16s; and iii) some suggestions for what you can do to try and prevent these purchases going ahead.
i) Frigate UpdateAs you may recall, the possibility of purchasing a third ANZAC class frigate appeared to be scuppered last October with Winston Peter's sudden announcement that he did not support the purchase. However, the political situation has changed ...
Also changed since then is the 'defence' industry approach, in early September they announced the hiring of a public relations consultant and obtained the assistance of Vice Admiral Sir Somerford Teagle (retired) to front a two month campaign for a third frigate. Teagle is now touring the country speaking to Rotary clubs and anyone else who will listen on the theme of 'What does the NZ Navy Need?'
Wrong question in our opinion - surely it should be 'What does NZ Need a Navy For ?' From the reports of those who went to hear Teagle in Wellington, the arguments over the third frigate could equally apply to the two existing frigates - the same underlying doubts about the viability of a NZ navy and so on.
Before going into the arguments that Teagle is putting forward, the first point to look at is cost. It is rumoured that the third frigate will be offered to the government at a bargain price, possibly $350 million for the basic hull and engine (as opposed to $575 million each for the
previous two). This inducement is apparently being offered because of concerns that if there is not another order, the production process of those companies involved will be wound down, with subsequent job losses.
This in essence means spending a minimum $350 million to save some defence industry jobs - and this from a government publicly committed to reducing tariffs and subsidies to manufacturers ? Where is the 'free market' economy in this ? Imagine $350 million put into the Employment Service for job creation, or the health service, or education and the effect that would have on beneficial long term increases in employment.
To move onto the other arguments put forward by the Teagle, the defence industry and presumably the navy :
a) the first purpose of the defence forces is to defend NZ .
As Teagle himself says,
"Put simply, there is no direct threat to NZ itself, and it is difficult to see how one might emerge. Only the United States has the capacity to mount an operation against such a distant and isolated target and it is difficult to determine a motive for them doing so." *
Further to this, according to Teagle, we need three frigates to ensure that ONE is operational - so not only do we have no potential aggressors who might attack us; but if someone did, then it is likely only one frigate would be in a position to whirr around the coast frantically defending us all. As you may have guessed by now, Teagle believes we should in fact have four frigates. Incidentally, for those of you who like silly phrases, this one/three ratio is from the 'Critical Mass of the Navy' study.
In addition, Teagle makes the point that it is crucial for us to defend our economic exclusion zone (EEZ) - implied in this is protection of fisheries. During discussion following the presentation of Teagle's paper, it was admitted that the public perception of the navy is that they are very involved in fisheries protection but this is quite clearly not the case. Since 1989 the only occasion on ... "which any frigate has been assigned the task of investigating suspected infringements of New Zealand's exclusive economic zone was in May 1994, when HMNZS Southland participated in a successful interdepartmental operation to apprehend paua-poachers in Foveaux Strait." (Paul East in reply to Matt Robson, PQ 10822, 24 June 1997).
Even in Teagle's opinion the protection of the EEZ is not enough to ... "scarcely justify the maintenance of combat capable forces of any arm - land, sea or air'.
Then there is the search and rescue argument - and it has to be said that we have not as yet heard a satisfactory argument as to why the navy (as opposed to, for example, a professional coast guard) has to carry out this work.
The final point in the 'defending NZ' bit is the defence of our trade routes - this is covered in Teagle's paper, and was also the subject of much discussion in the seminar. Basically Teagle's argument goes something like this - we need to be capable of defending our trade routes because the majority of our trade goods are transported overseas by sea, and there is a remote and unlikely chance that at some point in the future NZ ships venturing forth may be subject to the activities of pirates.
This argument has little validity given that: a) merchant ships rarely knowingly travel into pirate infested waters; b) our major trading partner is Australia - not a lot of pirates between here and there; and c) most of the world's trade goods are transported by sea and there is no way that the international community would tolerate global disruption of shipping routes without major diplomatic efforts and / or imposition of economic sanctions to prevent this.
Furthermore what does protection against this remote possibility mean ? That all ships leaving here will henceforth be accompanied by a frigate just in case (bit tricky if only one frigate is operational) ?
The days of gunboats blasting their way through to open new markets or allow trade goods to be delivered may survive in the navy's fantasies, but are in reality long gone.
b) the second and third purposes of the defence forces are to contribute to regional security and a part in global security efforts.
The arguments around these two points really hinge on the definition of security - if one believes that security is the settlement of disputes and the keeping of peace at the barrel of a gun, and that the global world order is best maintained by supporting and contributing to US economic and nuclear colonialism, then we would need armed forces including a navy.
If, on the other hand, one believes that regional and global security involves such things as clean water, ample supplies of food, assistance in the case of natural or man-made disaster, just social systems and resolution of disputes by peaceful means then we do not need a navy. Further, the resources (economic and human) used by the navy could be put to better use in pursuit of these security aims. As but one example, the creation of an unarmed civilian peacekeeping organisation which could be used in potential areas of conflict around the world would be a cheaper and arguably more useful development than pouring more resources into the armed forces.
Finally, aside from the concerns about the third frigate, what is potentially more worrying is the increasing emergence of a 'defence' industry here - to the extent that the inaugural Defence Industry Committee Awards of Excellence were held in Wellington in the first week of September. The mind boggles as to what excellence in weapons component production might mean.
[* all quotes from Teagle are from the paper he presented to the Centre for Strategic Studies seminar, Wellington, 16 September 1998. Copies of the paper are available from PMA for an SAE / koha. If requesting this by email, please make sure you send your postal details.]
ii) F16 UpdateRather to our alarm, on 7 September the front page of the Dominion featured the headline 'Shipley may get VIP planes' - this began by discussing Shipley's need for a VIP plane for state visits and moved rapidly into the airforce's need for new war planes ! According to this article, the currently most favoured option is for leasing - the VIP plane, F16s, and maybe even helicopters for the airforce.
Then on 15 September, a Dominion article by David Dickens confirmed the rumours that have been circulating for some time (see May-June 98 PMA Newsletter) that the airforce was to be offered some or all of the F16s which belong to Pakistan but which the US will no longer deliver to them because of Pakistan's nuclear weapons development programme. Dickens reported that officials were then in Arizona examining the warplanes.
Apparently the F16s are a tempting buy because the airforce's Skyhawks are now almost 30 years old, and an American company has bought up all the Skyhawk spare parts and can charge what they like for them.
Dickens points out that the Skyhawks are anyway due for replacement by 2007, and rather curiously goes on to say :
" To keep them in the air till 2007 will require an upgrade of weapons and laser designator, projected to cost $67 million over the next three years. A new stand-off missile costing $20 million is budgeted for 2004-2005." Excuse us ? these things are essential to keep them in the air ?
Apparently the F16s would be an excellent buy because they only have 10 hours flight time each on the clock, the "F16 is a superb aircraft. It is the most versatile strike aircraft operated in the world today. There are also good diplomatic and strategic reasons. Regional partners like Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, the United States and South Korea use them , as do some
small NATO countries with strong peacekeeping records such as Norway, Belgium and Holland."
Further, they were "the most common fast-jet strike aircraft used in the Gulf war". A perfectly good reason for a boycott of them on moral grounds we would have thought !
There have been no actual figures given of purchase price, nor the cost of retraining, retooling and so on so they could be kept operational here, nor the cost of getting them 'combat ready', their running costs etc. We are awaiting the replies to some parliamentary questions on these very points.
Basically the arguments against this purchase are the same as those for the frigates - why do we need them and what are they to be used for ? While the navy can try and argue (albeit not very successfully) they need frigates for useful things like fisheries protection, search and rescue and so on, it is not clear to us how 'fast-jet strike aircraft' can conceivably be used for anything other than warfare, and warfare in support of military alliances which we do not necessarily want.
At a time when public confidence in the provision of health, housing and education services is dropping fast, and there is an urgent need for the creation of proper jobs, the very last thing we need is new weapons systems. Surely the time is long overdue for looking clearly and critically at the reasons for continuing to support such a non-productive and not at all socially useful drain on our economic and human resources - that is, the armed forces. It is difficult at the best of times to justify the thinking which gives the armed forces a budget of $5.45 million each day. It is even more incredible now when there are so many services being cut for 'lack of funding'.
iii) Things to do
If you find this re-arming of the NZ defence forces objectionable then please make your opinion known as loudly and publicly as soon as possible.
You could do this by writing to your local and nationally distributed newspapers. Contacts for the nationally distributed papers are : Christchurch Press , fax (03) 364 8492, <email@example.com>; Dominion, fax (04) 4740257; Evening Post, fax; (04) 474 0237, < firstname.lastname@example.org>; Herald , fax (09) 373 6434; Sunday Star Times, fax (09) 309 0258.
You could also give / send your views on this to your local MP (and any list MPs who might reside in your area), to Jenny Shipley and to Max Bradford. All MPs and Ministers can be
written to at : Parliament Buildings, Wellington (no stamp needed).
Prime Minister's office tel (04) 471 9998, fax (04) 473 7045; Max Bradford, tel (04) 471 9976, fax is (04) 471 1440.
If you have the right software, you can send either a fax through your email which you address as follows :
We have not included their email contacts as those messages generate an automated response, and email messages are not always read.
Adventurous Auckland people could go to the Open Days at Devonport Naval Base which are to be held from 10:00am - 4:00pm on Sat & Sun 3 & 4 Oct.
Thanks to Sankar Ramasamy and Sam Buchanan for assistance, and to the various peace people around the country who have contributed their points to this alert.
Further information is found in: