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Defence policy after East Timor

17 February 2000

The Defence Minister Mark Burton has given the opening address today at a "Defence Policy after East Timor" seminar at Victoria University, hosted by the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs.

The key points of his address were:

The INTERFET deployment to East Timor has been very successful, quickly restoring order and facilitating the distribution of humanitarian relief.

East Timor has been the largest deployment by the NZDF since Korea.

Our forces have worked very well with their Australian, Canadian, Irish and Fiji counterparts. None of our partners in this engagement were able to stand alone.

New Zealand needs a highly qualified, highly skilled and well equipped force that can complement our defence friends, especially Australia.

East Timor has demonstrated the limitations of New Zealand's ability to deploy and sustain our forces over large distances. This problem must be addressed as a priority.

Our involvement in Bosnia, Bougainville and East Timor offers important lessons for future defence engagements. There has been a notable shift from fighting between states to localised intra-state issues. Defence forces are usually needed to restore stability.

The two primary functions of the NZDF are contributing to New Zealand's wider security interests and meeting our responsibilities in the South Pacific. In addition it has a key role to play in supporting international relations under the auspices of the UN.

Our closest and most important defence relationship is with Australia and that will continue.

The Government aims to ensure that the NZDF is credibly resourced and properly equipped.

The greatest needs are: to upgrade the Army's mobility, communications, surveillance and fire-support capabilities; improve the maritime surveillance and airlift capabilities of the Air Force; and provide an effective naval sealift capability.

The costs and benefits of proceeding or cancelling the F-16 acquisition programme are currently under review.

The Naval Combat Force study initiated by the previous Government will now consider alternative types of naval vessels which might be more appropriate to New Zealand's wider needs.

We must ensure we can retain highly trained personnel who can be made available for operational tasks.

Our defence dollars must be spent wisely. Our defence forces are spread too thinly and are not sufficiently well equipped for what we want them to do. We are a small nation with limited means and we cannot do everything.


East Timor has reinforced for the Government the important and constructive role our Defence Force can play in promoting global security. Significant re-equipment of the Defence Force, and particularly of the Army, is required. We need the resources and capabilities to respond quickly and effectively to security situations. It is therefore crucial that we set informed priorities for investment on defence equipment.

Link to main page on East Timor.

Link to main page on military alliances and spending.

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