Why New Zealand Needs Intelligence Above All Else

Published: Tue 22 Oct 2002 10:15 AM
David Miller Online
Bali: Why New Zealand Needs Intelligence Above All Else
The terrorist attacks in Bali have given opponents of the government an opportunity to voice concerns and disagreement to New Zealand’s defence policy. These attacks certainly shattered the illusion that New Zealand is immune from what happens on the world stage due its geographical location. They are evidence that international terrorism can strike on our ‘doorstep’ and New Zealanders are at risk as much as anyone else. They show that the environment in which we live and travel is not benign so the question arises as to what New Zealand must do to ensure some level of security.
This column has been a frequent critic of the cuts in defence spending and posture. I still argue that if New Zealand is to remain a serious partner of the United States, Australia and other allies then it must maintain a certain degree of power projection and be prepared to shoulder our share of military responsibility. However, this is not the time to voice these concerns because even if New Zealand’s defence capability increases then it must do so in a way that deals with this new kind of threat.
Bali has placed a new set of issues on New Zealand’s defence and foreign policy agenda’s. There is the question as to the kind of war that states such as New Zealand and Australia will be fighting in the future and what kind of security measures governments will need to introduce to combat this changing trend. There has already been a marked change within conflict over the past two decades. Throughout the 1990’s it was assumed that countries such as New Zealand would be engaging more in intra-state conflict as was the case with East Timor and the Balkans and that their armed forces would have to adapt to fight a localised guerrilla movement and low level threats. The war in the former Yugoslavia demonstrated how ineffectual traditional methods of conflict management had become and that modern, high tech weaponry was often rendered ineffective against local militias who had the benefit of the local population and habitat to protect them. Hence military planning began to change. However, what we are witnessing now is that states are having to go beyond even this, and look to deal with a September 11 type scenario.
The problem facing New Zealand is that it is caught between two stools in the wake of the Bali attacks. On the one hand, it is under renewed and mounting pressure from allies such as Australia to increase its defence capabilities. Bali will only serve to increase Australia’s demands that New Zealand not be so reliant on Canberra for its own security and re-introduce offensive capabilities such as the air combat wing. This is the call from opposition parties in this country as well. Nevertheless on the other hand there is the recognition that all the Skyhawks and frigates in the world could not stop what happened in Indonesia and nor will they prevent any terrorist attacks in the future.
Intelligence and an awareness of the political trends that are developing within the East Asian region are the key weapons the government has at its disposal. Having a naval frigate permanently stationed off the coast of Indonesia or in the South China Sea will not be of any use when trying to counter the threat posed by groups calling for a Jihad to establish Islamic rule. Neither would a squadron of Skyhawks based in the Northern Territory be of use when a small group of operatives with suspected links to al-Qaeda trigger a car bomb outside a soft target filled with westerners. The point is that traditional forms of conflict are not required here. Instead, advanced warning that an attack is imminent or the possibility of intercepting the bombers will prove more successful.
Countries such as New Zealand and Australia must be prepared to increase their intelligence capabilities in response to this new threat and be prepared to share this information when it comes to light rather than squabble over the number of planes or ships one party has. I am not suggesting that this debate be swept under the carpet instead it should be treated as a separate issue and dealt with another time. It would be sad to think that New Zealand was left out of the intelligence loop as punishment for its current policy of defence or that our allies will only allow use to access their information systems if we alter our defence and nuclear policies. The need to counter terrorism is too important to overlook or to be held to ransom over disagreement of this kind.
It has been apparent for sometime that radical Islamic groups were establishing themselves across the South East Asian region and were seeking to establish a pan-Islamic state across the South East Asian belt. It is possible that some of these have links to al-Qaeda and even before Bali this region was spoken about as another front in the war on terrorism although Bali was considered safe. It is easy to be wise after the event, but a location with so many westerners grouped there was the obvious soft target. Nothing will change what happened a week ago, but we can make sure that steps are taken to prevent it being repeated. Information is the key here. It is the perhaps the only weapon countries such as New Zealand have and it must be used to the maximum advantage. Information must be gathered from local and international sources then passed to those with interests or business that involves regions such as South East Asia as to warn of any potential danger. There needs to be closer monitoring of political developments and the rise of local religious groups as to ensure the safety of our citizens and all this cannot be lost amidst the arguments and division over our conventional capabilities. These must be dealt with separately and in another context because if we do not then there will be nothing to prevent another incident like Bali.

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