Mark Burton: "Defence Policy after East Timor"

Published: Thu 17 Feb 2000 01:39 PM
Embargoed until 9.45am Thursday
17th February 2000
New Zealand Institute Of International Affairs
Open Discussion on "Defence Policy after East Timor"
Opening Address
Hon Mark Burton, Minister of Defence
17 February 2000
I would like to thank the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs and the Centre for Strategic Studies for bringing together today's discussion on "Defence Policy after East Timor". It is a timely seminar, taking place as the transition from INTERFET to UNTAET is occurring in East Timor.
It is particularly fitting that I should be giving my first formal speech as Minister of Defence on this topic, as my first overseas trip as Minister was to lead a Parliamentary delegation to East Timor to observe what was happening on the ground.
This Institute, under the leadership of Sir Frank Holmes and Bryce Harland, plays an important role in fostering an awareness of, and appreciation for, international affairs, including defence and security issues. This is particularly important for New Zealand, where the significance of some world events can sometimes pass us by, even if the consequences do not.
Throughout the day you will be looking at how we think our involvement with East Timor will impact on defence thinking. In doing so, you will canvass:
Ø the international situation leading up to the deployment of military forces on East Timor;
Ø the lessons this deployment has taught us; and
Ø what all this might mean for New Zealand's defence and security policy and the Defence Force's mission and capabilities.
From the Government's perspective, the INTERFET deployment to East Timor has been very successful. The United Nations-backed international peace support operation, under Australian leadership, has fulfilled its mission by quickly restoring order, thus facilitating the safe distribution of much needed humanitarian relief.
At its peak, New Zealand contributed 830 troops to INTERFET. With naval and air support, at one point we had more than 1100 personnel in theatre. This is the largest deployment by the New Zealand Defence Force since Korea.
This has been a major undertaking for us and we are learning a lot from it. It is an excellent basis for an examination of some fundamental issues about defence and security. These include how we see our Defence Force being used, how it should be equipped and trained, and the capabilities it needs.
We must be careful however, about reviewing defence solely through the prism of East Timor. We need to ask ourselves whether East Timor is typical of future defence engagements.
So, I hope you will look too at other major defence and security operations in which New Zealand has participated in recent times, especially Bosnia and Bougainville. There are lessons to learn from all our peace support operations. We need to analyse what we have learnt, so that we can build on our understanding of how to best contribute to peacekeeping activities.
Because belief in the maintenance of world peace and security through the United Nations has been an enduring characteristic of New Zealand foreign policy, we felt we could not stay on the sidelines over Bosnia. We did not send our troops to a far away place to be in the midst of what was a difficult conflict because our own security was at stake. We did it because of our vital interest in the preservation of the United Nations as the arbiter of world security through collective action, and in recognition of the suffering of the people of Bosnia.
Like East Timor, Bosnia was a deployment that enjoyed considerable cross-party support and wide public acceptance. Like East Timor, it was dangerous and we were fortunate that none of our personnel were killed or injured in combat.
Bougainville, on the other hand, was of a different order. Here was an island in our region struggling with the issue of national identity. It was racked by civil war. It was desperately seeking a lasting peace but was unable to find a way to achieve this. The protagonists had to be kept apart long enough to allow negotiations to begin. A regional peacekeeping force emerged as a very real solution. The island, and the PNG Government, accepted this solution as a way to restore a sense of normality. New Zealand was happy to play a leading role. Our soldiers on this occasion were unarmed, relying on their personal skills and training, rather than the force of arms.
So what can we expect for future defence engagements?
Mark Twain once advised that "prediction is easy providing you steer clear of the future". That is another way of saying there is no one certain answer.
We may look to past deployments as a possible source of guidance. But the ever-evolving nature of conflict and international behaviour provides scope for a range of views and opinions as to what we might next expect, not simple answers. What we do know is that, since the end of the Cold War, there has been a notable shift from fighting between states to localised intra-state issues, often driven by historical ethnic, cultural or religious differences. Each has its own characteristics, but the common bottom line is civil disruption and humanitarian concerns. Defence forces are usually needed to restore stability and provide a secure environment for other organisations to work in.
In this respect, Bosnia, Bougainville and East Timor have some common elements. Are they enough for us to be certain of what lies ahead? I will be interested in your views on that.
What I hope might be achieved from today's seminar is the identification from our East Timor deployment, and other peacekeeping missions, of any factors which you think should influence future defence planning. I will give you my own views, based on my recent visit there. But before I do that, I would like to share with you some broader thoughts on the Government's thinking about the planning issues relating to the future direction of our defence force.
I'd like to start with the strategic environment, as that defines in large measure how our Defence Force could be employed.
Over the past decade we have seen significant change, both internationally and regionally. Since the end of the Cold War, developments affecting security in our region have included:
Ø the Asian economic meltdown,
Ø tensions on the Korean Peninsula and between China and Taiwan,
Ø changes in the relationships in North Asia,
Ø constitutional change in Indonesia, including East Timor,
Ø Cambodia,
Ø nuclear developments on the Indian sub-continent, and
Ø problems in Bougainville, the Solomon Islands and Fiji.
Some of these issues are deep rooted and long-standing. Others have had a briefer, sharper, impact. As to whether this collectively has resulted in a more threatening or more benign region is debatable. In Australia the view is decidedly gloomy. According to some commentators there, South East Asia has become for them "an area of instability"; it is no longer seen as a strategic shield. It is understandable that Australia might hold this view. It has an unsettled Indonesia and an equally unsettled Papua New Guinea as its near northern neighbours.
In my view, we are now dealing with an environment that is less predictable and more complex, but not necessarily more dangerous. The management of security risks is certainly more challenging and we need to put considerable effort into developing the tools to do that, including considering how the regional security architecture might be redesigned.
But there are positive signs as well. Neither South East Asia nor the Pacific faces an external security threat; the damaged Asian economies are recovering; and in some troubled areas, collective action is helping to lower tensions.
Defence Policy
In developing its defence policy, the Government has taken into account both the security environment and the generally accepted views of Parliament's Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee as set out in its report, Defence Beyond 2000. The work of the Select Committee involved extensive public consultation and much of the report enjoyed considerable public acceptance.
The Government believes that defence and security issues are integral components of foreign policy and not ends in themselves. While defence capabilities are one way of contributing to a secure external environment, they are not the only way.
We believe that international and regional security can well be promoted through positive measures such as multilateral diplomacy, and through the building of trade and cultural links.
We intend, therefore, to place defence within a broader strategic framework in order to make the right choices, balancing our use of the various foreign policy instruments we have available.
We will maintain a nuclear free New Zealand and the South Pacific. Our nuclear free legislation is not open to renegotiation.
In addition to its two primary functions - that of protecting New Zealand's interests, including the Exclusive Economic Zone and meeting our responsibilities in the South Pacific - we think that the New Zealand Defence Force has a key role to play in supporting international relations policies.
This includes working closely with Australia with which we have our closest and most important defence relationship - and our continuing involvement in the Five Power Defence Arrangement.
This also involves contributing to resolution of conflict and maintenance of stability, both in regional peace support activities such as in East Timor and Bougainville, and more widely, under the auspices of the United Nations. And it means working with other like-minded countries in multilateral diplomatic endeavours.
The Government will ensure that the New Zealand Defence Force continues to be credibly resourced and properly equipped to handle the security roles it has been given. Our capital investment programme will focus on concentrating defence resources in a range of affordable and sustainable military capabilities that meet our commitments and our strategic interests.
Our core requirement is for well equipped and trained land forces, supported by the Navy and Air Force. We will, therefore, ensure that the acquisition and maintenance of essential equipment receives priority. We think the greatest needs are:
Ø to upgrade the Army's mobility, communications, surveillance, and fire-support capabilities;
Ø to improve the maritime surveillance and airlift capabilities of the Air Force; and
Ø to provide an effective naval sealift capability.
While some work is already underway to improve these capabilities, we cannot do everything we need to overnight. Sensible prioritisation of projects against available resources is essential.
This Government wants to ensure that our defence dollars are spent wisely. We are a small country with limited means and we cannot do everything. If we spread ourselves too thinly by trying to do too much, we will end up not being able to do anything very well.
Because of competing defence priorities, we have commenced an immediate review of the costs and benefits of proceeding or cancelling the F-16 acquisition programme. The Naval Combat Force study initiated by the previous Government will continue, but on a different basis. It will no longer be premised on the requirement that New Zealand maintain a three-frigate Navy. Rather, given the requirements for the Navy also to provide transportation, initial base operations support and logistics support to the Army, the Review Team will consider alternative types of naval vessels which might be more appropriate to New Zealand's wider needs, and look at naval sealift requirements.
Other reviews of particular aspects of Defence acquisition and operations, will be undertaken during the course of this year.
The key message I wish to leave you with today is this: the Government is of the view that our defence forces are spread too thinly and are not sufficiently well equipped for what we want them to do. We intend to set priorities to ensure money is spent where it is most needed and not on every opportunity to buy that comes along. The urgent task we have before us is to be clear about our objectives, set priorities and achieve them.
Lessons of Timor Deployment
Now let me turn to some of the lessons of the East Timor deployment.
As I mentioned previously, I recently I had the opportunity to take a multi-party group of Parliamentarians to visit our forces on East Timor. This was a particularly useful and informative visit. I will share with you some of my key impressions:
Ø I was appalled by the magnitude of the destruction we saw in Dili and Suai, where our New Zealanders are located. In Suai, 95 percent of the town has been destroyed and those who were not killed were transported to West Timor. All of this damage occurred after these people had voted for independence from Indonesia. It was deliberate, organised, systematic, cold-blooded revenge. The perpetrators have much to answer for.
Ø People are now returning. They need a lot of help. The New Zealand forces in INTERFET have secured the environment. It is, for the time being, relatively safe. But rebuilding a society, replacing the infrastructure, and shaping governance will take a long time. We will be engaged in this new country for a long while ahead.
Ø Our defence personnel have done a magnificent job in the harshest of circumstances. I am very proud of them. Strong leadership, solid training, Kiwi ingenuity and resourcefulness have characterised the deployment. The New Zealand Defence Force is a highly professional organisation and well suited to the international peacekeeping role.
Ø The morale of the troops was very good. Most of them have been in East Timor now for four months. Despite the relatively harsh conditions, they have kept their spirits high. I am aware that we are asking a lot of them to sustain their enthusiasm over a nine month deployment. Therefore the Commander, Defence Forces and I were pleased to announce last week a re-organisation from two rotations to three. This effectively reduces the deployment period from nine to six months. With the onset of the monsoon season and the further deterioration of conditions, this will indeed be welcomed by our personnel and their families.
Ø The deployment has demonstrated the merit of a joint defence approach. Army, Air Force and Navy, each important in their own right, are working well together. I think we need to further develop this doctrine and thinking.
Ø There is no doubt that the sooner the Army gets its new equipment the better. I saw the equipment it has. While I have admiration for the fact that the Army is managing to operate with it, the reality is that many of the vehicles and the radios are obsolete and long over due for replacement or major refurbishment. The new Holden Rodeos, however, have generally worked well.
Ø East Timor has underlined for me the fundamental importance of New Zealand being able to slot quickly into any other such military operations with the right equipment and right training. Our forces worked very well with other members of INTERFET, and particularly with their Australian, Canadian, Irish and Fijian counterparts.
Ø This confirmed for me that none of our partners in this engagement were able to completely stand alone. New Zealand's considerable contribution was complementary to, and complemented by, the resources of Australia in particular, and also the other the other nations participating with us. In refining, over the coming months, the priorities for the New Zealand Defence Forces, this balance of a highly qualified, highly skilled and well equipped force that can complement that of our defence friends, and particularly Australia, will be an important consideration.
These views were reinforced and further informed by our senior armed forces representative in East Timor, Brigadier Martyn Dunne. Brigadier Dunne talked about the need for interoperability. Peacekeeping involves combined operations. We must have the skills to work with other deployed forces at a range of levels - tactical, command and control and personal. Similarly, whilst we must have the core equipment required to operate effectively, that equipment should complement and supplement that of our peace support partners. He also told me that we need to ensure that what we do, we do well, and for this we need the appropriate equipment and support for our forces.
Policy Matters
The East Timor deployment has been a major commitment by New Zealand. It has been significant in human and monetary terms. Important political, humanitarian and security issues have been at stake. What does all this mean for shaping our foreign and defence policy?
In my view there are several key things for the Government to consider.
East Timor, as with Bougainville, has demonstrated that New Zealand clearly has a role to play in helping keep the peace in our region. I believe that this role extends beyond the provision of military support. It includes assisting peace processes in their early stages through diplomacy and mediation.
We need to be prepared to provide longer term support, including basic humanitarian relief and development assistance to help restore damaged infrastructure and institutions. New Zealand has played a key role in military operations in East Timor and it should similarly play a role in its ongoing redevelopment. New Zealand has developed a close relationship with East Timor that will endure well beyond the current crisis.
Despite all that has happened, and the part that elements of the Indonesian Armed Forces must have played in East Timor's destruction, Indonesia remains a key regional player, and an important neighbour for East Timor. It is going through internal problems of its own in its transition to democracy. New Zealand cannot ignore Indonesia. We need to continue to work hard on this relationship, not set it to one side.
Finally, as the largest deployment of forces since Korea, East Timor has inevitably highlighted a number of operational issues for us to think about.
One of these relates to "warning time"; the period from when it first becomes evident that a situation requiring a military presence is developing, to the time when troops are deployed. As short warning is an increasing characteristic of contemporary conflicts, the imperative of having forces available when they are needed is similarly increasing. It would be a false economy not to have our Armed Forces equipped and trained at appropriate levels of readiness. This was an important observation of the Select Committee that was discussed in its Defence Beyond 2000 report.
Being able to bring forces to bear when and where they are most needed is dependent on deployability. This is of particular concern to New Zealand. To be able to deploy and sustain our forces, particularly when over large distances, means we need a flexible and adaptable mix of strategic air and sea lift capabilities. East Timor clearly demonstrated the limitations the New Zealand Defence Force has in this area. As I have said, addressing this problem will be a priority for the Government.
We will also need to manage our personnel and equipment more effectively to ensure that we can sustain our commitments. At present, the number of Regular Force personnel that the Government can call on for operational deployment is too low. We intend to look at if and how we can retain a larger number of highly trained personnel who can be made available for operational tasks.
There is one last point which I should mention. This is the level of public support that exists for New Zealand's involvement in peace-support operations.
An overwhelming majority of the public, and all of Parliament, supports our peace support role in East Timor. There are many views on what our Armed Forces should look like, but most New Zealanders will agree that peace support is something that we should be doing. While this agreement has always been strong, I believe that East Timor has reinforced it. This has not gone unnoticed by the Government. East Timor has reinforced for us the important and constructive role our Defence Force can play in promoting global security.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In drawing my comments to a close, I want to stress the importance at this time of setting the direction of our defence and security policy for the foreseeable future. This is because:
Ø Significant re-equipment of the Defence Force, and particularly of the Army, is required. Before we decide how we are going to invest our defence budget on equipment we need to set informed priorities and stick to them.
Ø East Timor has highlighted the urgency to ensure that we can respond quickly and effectively to security situations in a way that meets the needs of the environment, our allies and our forces. Therefore we need the resources and capability to get on with the job quickly.
I am sure that today there will be vigorous debate and discussion, and I will be very interested in hearing the results. Thank you for inviting me to present the opening address to this seminar and my best wishes for a stimulating and informative day. I look forward to receiving the outcomes of your discussions.

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