Options for New Zealand’s National Security Posture

Dr Simon Ewing-Jarvie is a business consultant, Defence commentator and military fiction writer.  He served 25 years in the New Zealand Defence Force, including two operational deployments, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel (Infantry).  He works at TorquePoint.co.nz where he designs business war games and provides Red Team services.  He was Senior Lecturer in Command Studies at Massey University (NZ) and Senior Advisor to the NZ Associate Defence Minister.  He writes on NZ National Security at unclas.com.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

National Security Situation:  Options for New Zealand’s national security posture.

Date Originally Written:  May 27, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  September 2, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author is a critic of New Zealand’s lack of a national security strategy.

Background:  As a former colony of the United Kingdom (UK), New Zealand (NZ) has traditionally been politically and militarily aligned with the West, more specifically, the UK. This alignment shifted from being UK to the United States (U.S.) during the Vietnam War as did NZ’s major military platforms. The alignment was breached in deed when NZ declared itself nuclear free, effectively ending its part in the 1951 Australia, New Zealand, U.S. Security (ANZUS) Treaty [1]. However, while the potential for great power conflict and regional insecurity grows, NZ seems unwilling to invest significant resources into national security capability, instead opting for the ‘umbrella’ protection of its traditional allies in the Five Eyes (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and U.S.) intelligence sharing arrangement [2].

Significance:  Current friction between the U.S. and China has significant economic implications for NZ. China is the country’s largest trading partner, accounting for nearly 25% of NZ’s total exports [3]. There has been controversy over Huawei’s involvement in NZ’s 5G network [4] and NZ has been openly critical of China’s growing regional influence [5]. China is pursuing its ‘belt and road’ economic policy in the South Pacific [6]. NZ’s claim to having an independent foreign policy will be tested over these and other developments in its region.

Option #1:  NZ maintains a posture of armed alignment with current allies and partners.

Risk:  NZ will continue to be drawn into any conflict involving traditional allies. Apart from the military cost of operations, it makes NZ, its people and assets a target internationally. NZ will continue to be reliant on protection from allies. The economic harm would be significant if China was a belligerent. It would take decades to rebuild trust and levels of trade following an East/West conflict.

Gain:  This is the least expensive option for NZ. Capabilities and systems are largely aligned and existing allies remain patient regarding NZ’s lack of investment in defence. Regarding NZ’s trade, 42% is currently with countries that would likely fall behind a U.S.-led coalition [7].

Option #2:  NZ actively seeks new treaties and allies/partners more closely aligned to the protection of its economic interests e.g. Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)[8].

Risk:  The loss of current intelligence sharing arrangements (Five Eyes) would be immediate. Logistics and support for currently held military platforms and capabilities that are manufactured in the U.S., Europe, Canada and Australia would be constrained or unavailable. Trade with traditional Five Eye countries would be negatively impacted.

Gain:  New allies might be more motivated to re-equip NZ’s defence capabilities at little or no cost. Trade barriers in these countries could be lowered.

Option #3:  NZ adopts a strategy of armed non-alignment.

Risk:  This option could be seen as a lack of commitment to ‘coalitions of the willing’ and therefore have trade and other political and military implications. Interoperability with other military forces would degrade over time and a drift toward peace support operations capability would be likely.

Gain:  This option enables NZ to only pursue armed interventions that fit with its foreign policy rather than being drawn into all conflicts involving allies. This option aligns well with NZ’s usual position of only committing armed forces in support of United Nations Security Council resolutions [9].

Option #4:  NZ adopts a strategy of armed neutrality.

Risk:  No longer being a member of any treaties or alliances would make NZ vulnerable to attack and occupation. The most likely motivation for an attack on NZ is assessed as access to Antarctica. This would be the most expensive option and would require international arms supply arrangements or a significantly enhanced NZ defence industry. A transition period of up to ten years would be required to develop the enhanced capability required.

Gain:  This option would return NZ to full combat capability through dramatically increasing its funding to defence and other national security capabilities. This option could open pathways for NZ to be a broker between states in conflict in the region in a similar fashion to Switzerland.

Other Comments:  The Closer Defence Relationship with Australia [10] is a harmonisation agreement not a mutual defence treaty. The Five Power Defence Arrangement [11] is focussed largely on security events involving Singapore and Malaysia. The lack of discussion toward a national security strategy for New Zealand is an impediment to a whole-of-government approach to these options.

Recommendation:  None.


[1] New Zealand History. New Zealand Becomes Nuclear-Free. (June 8, 1987). Retrieved from https://nzhistory.govt.nz/new-zealand-becomes-nuclear-free.

[2]  Tossini, J.V. (November 14, 2017). Retrieved from https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/the-five-eyes-the-intelligence-alliance-of-the-anglosphere/.

[3] Workman, D. (February 4, 2019). Retrieved from  http://www.worldstopexports.com/new-zealands-top-trade-partners/.

[4] Griffin, P. (March 12, 2019). Retrieved from https://www.noted.co.nz/tech/huawei-5g-what-controversy-is-all-about/.

[5] New Zealand Government. Strategic Defence Policy Statement 2018. (July 6, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/strategic-defence-policy-statement-2018-launched.

[6] Devonshire-Ellis, C. (May 23, 2019). China’s Belt and Road Initiative in the Pacific Islands. Retrieved from https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2019/05/23/chinas-belt-road-initiative-pacific-islands/.

[7] Workman, D. (February 4, 2019). Retrieved from http://www.worldstopexports.com/new-zealands-top-trade-partners/.

[8] Goodman, M. (March 8, 2018). From TPP to CPTPP. Retrieved from  https://www.csis.org/analysis/tpp-cptpp.

[9] Purser, P. (November 24, 2014). Troop Deployments Abroad: Parliamentary Consent. Retrieved from https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/research-papers/document/00PLLawRP2014051/troop-deployments-abroad.

[10] Australian Government. Australia-New Zealand Joint Statement on Closer Defence Relations. (March 9, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.minister.defence.gov.au/minister/marise-payne/statements/australia-new-zealand-joint-statement-closer-defence-relations.

[11] Huxley, T. (November 8, 2012). The Future of the Five power Defence Arrangements. Retrieved from https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/the-future-of-the-five-power-defence-arrangements/.

Dr Simon Ewing-Jarvie New Zealand Option Papers Policy and Strategy