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Alert! NZ / French wargames

21 March 2001

Peace Movement Aotearoa / Pacific News Bulletin

Kia ora,

well all sorts of strange goings on in the Tasman these days - nuclear waste shipments; a nuclear protest flotilla’ and the not so well publicised “a chunk of the ocean off New Zealand will become a simulated war zone over the next fortnight as a flotilla of warships from New Zealand, Australia and France, a submarine and maritime aircraft converge on the area” (Judith Martin, NZDF, 5 March 2001). Yes folks it’s true - NZ warships and warplanes have indeed been simulating a war zone with French warships and warplanes - two of them being the very ones which were not welcomed by us in Wellington.

As reported in the latest Pacific News Bulletin (see full article below), the captain of one of those warship said “ During the period of the French nuclear tests we were embarrassed to come into this region, but since they have halted we are seen with a more benevolent eye and are welcomed everywhere we go.” (Jeanne d'Arc's, Captain Phillippe Combes).

Truly remarkable, guess he got that idea from the NZ government or Wellington City Council who welcomed the warships here to Aotearoa. Perhaps he is not aware of the new safety fears about the stability of Moruroa atoll, cracking and fissuring as a result of the French government’s nuclear weapons blasts - it’s likely that not even the ‘nuclear free’ Wellington City Council or ‘nuclear free’ NZ government will welcome the Jeanne d'Arc again if Moruroa collapses ... for more information about the safety of Moruroa, check out the PMA Newsletter, March 2001, available in paper or at -

And if you have read the latest PMA Newsletter, you will already know that a French nuclear submarine has been visiting Perth, FNS Perle. It is one of the French Rubis Amethyste class nuclear powered attack submarines, "one of which has recently been withdrawn from service after the discovery of more radioactivity than expected in the main circuit of the vessel’s nuclear reactor" (Laurie Brereton press release, 24 November 2000). These are anti-shipping submarines equipped with Exocet missiles, 14 x 21” torpedoes, or with 32 mines. Perle was commissioned in 1993, and has 66 crew. On 30 March, 1994 FNS Emeraude had an accident with a burst steam pipe resulting in 10 deaths. FNS Rubis, commissioned in 1983, collided with a tanker on 17 July, 1993 (information from the Anti-Nuclear Alliance of Australia).

And then today, the latest in this sorry saga - according to Australian media reports, the NZ Skyhawk warplane which crashed into the sea off coast of Western Australia last night was ... "taking part in exercises with the Royal Australian Navy" and "training with the French nuclear submarine Perle when the incident happened" (NZ Herald, 21 March 2001).

So in summary, the current NZ government is happy to have the NZ armed forces play wargames not only with the French armed forces, but with French nuclear submarines! This despite the French government being an unapologetic nuclear weapons proliferator; who are in military occupation of our nearest Pacific neighbour Kanaky (New Caledonia)., Te Ao Maohi (‘French’ Polynesia); and who have created a toxic nuclear nightmare of as yet unknown proportions in the Pacific because of their insane pursuit of nuclear weapons development. Shame on the lot of them.

As you may be aware, the government’s Defence Policy Framework (June 2000) stated that "New Zealand will not engage in military co-operation or exercises with the armed forces of states which sanction the use of their armed forces to suppress human rights." We’ll leave you to decide if the Australian and French governments use their armed forces to suppress human rights ...

France, New Zealand and Australia in joint military exercises

In February and March, the Australian, New Zealand and French armed forces held joint naval exercises, highlighting increased military co-operation in the Pacific between the three countries. The Ocean Protector and Tasmanex exercises focussed on the Exclusive Economic Zones of New Zealand and Kanaky (New Caledonia).

One reason for the joint exercises was the regional tour by the French warship Jeanne d'Arc, with visits to Papeete, Noumea, Wellington, Sydney and Shanghai. The warship, based in Brest France, is a helicopter carrier used for training by the French Navy. As well as the 161 French naval officer cadets on the current tour, four New Zealand naval officers also travelled from Tahiti to Sydney on the warship, as it travelled through the Pacific over the New Year.

The Jeanne d'Arc's Captain Phillippe Combes welcomed the presence on board of the New Zealand sailors as a "clear political gesture" from the New Zealand authorities. Captain Combes stated: "During the period of the French nuclear tests we were embarrassed to come into this region, but since they have halted we are seen with a more benevolent eye and are welcomed everywhere we go." (Not quite - peace activists in Wellington protested the ships' visit to the New Zealand capital, as reported in the February edition).

Arriving in Noumea on 2 February for the first time in 13 years, the carrier was accompanied by the anti-submarine destroyer Georges Leygues, which has been involved in French military operations in Lebanon, Yugoslavia and the Gulf. The two warships conducted naval exercises with the Noumea-based frigate Vendemiaire, before meeting up with Australian and New Zealand warships in the Tasman Sea.

The naval exercise Ocean Protector was held between 12 - 27 February, simulating anti-submarine actions by ships from Australia, New Zealand and France. Ships involved included:

* HMNZS Te Kaha
* HMAS Brisbane, Melbourne, Anzac, Arunta, Huon, Norman and Success
* FNS Vendemiaire, Jeanne d'Arc and Georges Leygues.

The exercise also tested anti-aircraft defence systems, as RNZAF Skyhawks and RAAF Hornets practiced attacking the warships.

The next naval exercise, Tasmanex 2001, took place between 5 - 15 March, about 1,000 kilometres northeast of Auckland. French warships and French land forces based in New Caledonia joined an Australian Collins class submarine and RAN and RNZN vessels:

* HMNZS Te Kaha, Te Mana and Resolution
* HMAS Brisbane, Melbourne, Newcastle, Arunta, Waller and Success
* FNS Vendemiaire, Jeanne d'Arc and Georges Leygues, plus the patrol boat Moqueuse from Noumea.

Around forty aircraft also participated from RNZAF and RAAF maritime squadrons, including New Zealand Skyhawks, Aermacchi jets and Orion maritime patrol aircraft.

Tasmanex was one of the largest exercises in decades between Australia, New Zealand and France. One of the aims of the wargames was to mix military personnel from the three countries. As a first in Pacific military exercises, soldiers from the three countries were mixed to form joint battalions rather than being grouped by country. Vendémiaire Commanding officer Olivier Beauchêne said: "This is the first time the French Navy takes part in this kind of exercise, and at this level, with Australian and New Zealand armies. This is evidence of the good quality of relations between the three countries."

Tasmanex 2001 simulated a Economic Exclusive Zone dispute between several Pacific island countries - interesting to note, given Australia's sorry record over Timor Gap oil, and discoveries of major oil and gas reserves in the waters between Australia and Kanaky (see Pacific News Bulletin, November 1999).

Since the mid-90s, the armed forces of France, Australia and New Zealand have been co-operating on maritime surveillance of the small island states of the region. The July 1992 South Pacific Forum in Honiara opened for signature the Niue Treaty of Co-operation in Fisheries Surveillance and Law Enforcement in the South Pacific Region, which came into force in May 1993. The Forum encouraged France to join in this regional maritime surveillance initiative. In 1993, a series of meetings led to co-ordination between French Air Force patrols from Tontouta air base in New Caledonia, and Papeete Tahiti, with Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) flights under Operation SOLANIA, and the Royal NZ Air Force (RNZAF) Norpat/Norsurv patrol/surveillance program.

A New Zealand Army officer travelled to New Caledonia in 1994 to visit French military units and observe training exercises, while a French officer travelled to New Zealand for similar exchanges in January 1995. New Zealand Navy officers attended diving courses in France in 1995 and 1997.

Military relations were suspended in 1995 during the furore over renewed nuclear testing, but soon revived. A French Senate delegation visited New Zealand in February 1997 and encouraged closer military co-operation. In a joint communiqué in October 1997, Australia Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and the then French Overseas Territories Minister Jean-Jack Queyranne noted: "that the level of military co-operation between New Caledonia and Australia had been excellent over the past year, with a number of new initiatives under consideration." Only the 1999 Timor deployment by the three armed forces delayed this series of wargames.

All this backslapping about improved relations between France, New Zealand and Australia has overshadowed ongoing French control of more than 5 million square kilometres of Pacific Exclusive Economic Zones. When will the Kanak and Maohi peoples get to govern their own marine resources?

(Source: Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes; Navy News, Royal Australian Navy)

Nic Maclellan, Pacific News Bulletin, March 2001.

For the PMA Alert on the French warships visit to Wellington and the protest, referred to in Nic’s article, check out -

Photos of the protest are at -

‘‘New’ defence policy - breached already?’ for the PMA Alert about the first major breach of the government’s human rights provision in the defence policy check out -

What you can do:

a) let the government know what you think about NZ/French wargames: Helen Clark, Prime Minister, office - tel 471 9998, fax 473 3579; Jim Anderton, Deputy Prime Minister, office - tel 471 9011, fax 495 8441; Mark Burton, Minister of Defence, office - tel 471 9715, fax 495 8465; Phil Goff, Minister of Foreign Affairs, office - tel 471 9370, fax 495 8444 or address your letter to the relevant person and post to them at Parliament Buildings, Wellington (no stamp needed).

* Ideally you should send a copy of your correspondence to Matt Robson, Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control, office - tel 470 6659, fax 495 8462; Keith Locke, Green Party Spokesperson for Defence - tel 470 6709, fax 472 6003; and a copy of your correspondence and of any replies to PMA for use in further updates.

b) write to the national / nationally distributed press: Christchurch Press, fax (03) 364 8492,; Dominion, fax (04) 4740257; Evening Post, fax; (04) 474 0237,; New Zealand Herald, fax (09) 373 6434,; Sunday Star Times, fax (09) 309 0258; Press Association, fax (04) 473 7480; Radio New Zealand, fax (04) 473 0185; Listener, fax (09) 360 3831,

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