Why indeed Rhenium? This is my 75th post on unclas.com and, in the spirit of the Hunger Games, I thought something a bit different was appropriate. Rhenium is, in fact, the 75th element in the periodic table and one of the last stable elements to be discovered. Its chemical symbol is ‘Re’ which conveniently starts blogesque words like ‘Read’ and ‘Repost.’ It is one of the rarest elements in the Earth’s crust. Rhenium has the third-highest melting point and second-highest boiling point of any element at 5903 K. It’s used in jet engines. All in all, this makes it a perfect pet element for the blog.
Why blog? And particularly why blog on New Zealand national security? I’ve had a few people ask me that. In this post, I’m going to set out my answer.
First, I’m a writer. I like public speaking and teaching as well but find my interest in that waning, particularly as university students become more transactional – if it isn’t going to be examined, they generally aren’t interested. Most audiences want to be entertained rather than challenged. I write because I enjoy it. Ideas can be fully developed, truncated or presented raw. It leaves a definitive legacy – words can never be ‘unwritten’. My father wrote several fiction books. None were published commercially but I have his self-published works. He is gone but his words remain.
This blog currently consists of 75 articles totalling around 90,000 words. They’ve had over 21,000 views from all over the world. However, this is only a fraction of what I write. In my work as a business simulation designer, I’ve written thousands of pages of scenarios, briefs on countries, products and governments. While working with computers, I’ve written thousands of lines of code as well as website content. I wrote hundreds of Ministerial speeches while working in Parliament. Add a dozen songs and a few poems. Throw in a Masters and a PhD thesis in the 90s. Two books have been published (and several unfinished) and many academic articles as well. I regularly present at national security conferences and publish those words as well. I have a chapter in the mix for an upcoming defence book. There’s a short story trilogy (A Poke In the Fifth Eye) on Amazon Kindle under my fiction nom de plume of Simon Roberts that presents an attack scenario on NZ. I’m about a quarter of the way through writing a full-length novel which will tackle a range of national security issues and have begun to post podcasts/Vlogs. I comment on several social media channels (as myself – no pseudonym).
In reality, this blog is only a very small part of my writing life. However, it’s an important small part because of the material that it covers. National security is essential to our way of life but, unfortunately, it doesn’t get talked about very much until something goes horribly wrong. As a country, we need a better approach to this and that has to begin with engaging everyone in the conversation. That is precisely why unclas.com exists – to keep the conversation going. My TorquePoint business partner, Heather Roy, covers a broader mix of politics, including national security on her onesock.nz blog.
It would be great if main stream media were more engaged in this subject as well but, with the paring back of resources, the idea of having specialist reporters has been lost. To the best of my knowledge, there are no other blogs or similar resources covering NZ national security in its broadest sense.
For decades, politicians have applied the economic model of ‘satisficing’ to defence and security – spending just enough money to quiet the hawks while not fluffing the peace doves feathers too much. What this has resulted in is a progressively smaller, less capable, politicised Defence Force and gaping holes between silos in security agencies generally. As the fifth gradient of warfare unfolds upon society, we find ourselves woefully unprepared. Many capabilities that New Zealand will need to survive take 10 years or more to develop. In most cases, nothing is being done to offset these limitations.
A former Army colleague asked me why I was always ‘sniping’ at Defence Minister Ron Mark. I replied saying it wasn’t sniping, it was maintaining continuous pressure which is exactly what has to happen to get action out of any politician. The hungry person fights for resources with much greater energy than the one feeling comfortable. It’s not personal to Ron Mark. It’s the portfolio that has to remain under pressure.
The quality of the conversation that does go on in society is also of concern. There’s much backslapping, for instance, over our nuclear-free status with the cheerleaders claiming it means we won’t be targetted for having American warships visiting our ports. The same voices are excited about NZ company RocketLab bringing Kiwi ingenuity to the world – by launching US military satellites from NZ! I’m not against the launches – just the illogic of the masses.
Blogging is a useful tool for a writer. It enables me to get thoughts out of my head quickly and succinctly. Some topics, such as the recent restrictions on ANZAC Day parades, are temporal. They can’t wait for a long discussion and peer review before publication. I don’t need to worry about style guides and footnotes etc and can write in an informal tone. I can hyperlink across the web with a couple of clicks and entertain myself choosing provocative headlines and featured images. With other subjects, I can run a series (such as the one on reservists) which usually begins with Official Information Act (or Local Government equivalent) requests. By and large, these are the result of OSINT and I already know some or all of the answers to my OIA questions. Some ministries and ministers’ offices have worked this out. Others spend a lot of time dealing with the Ombudsman’s Office through trying to avoid complying with the law.
Some have pointed out that disallowing comments on the blog is inconsistent with my argument for a better conversation about national security. That’s true but irrelevant. It would be a waste of my writing time to have to moderate comments here and, unfortunately, there are always trolls who are just out to cause trouble. My blog posts auto-publish on Twitter and LinkedIn and I manually post to Facebook. That’s where the conversations take place and the various perspectives tend to be self-cancelling. If all some plonker has to add is “Isn’t this the guy that had some security clearance issues in 2010?” then nothing productive is going to come from engaging with them. Oh, and in my memoirs, dear readers, you will find out what actually went on with Rodney Hide and co in the self-destruction of the ACT party in 2010. Be patient!
What next? I hope to see an independent National Security Advisor in NZ before long. That should facilitate the creation of a national security strategy which will underpin the redevelopment of national capability and start breaking down silos between agencies. At a personal level, I’d love to be doing this work full-time so if anyone’s sitting on a fortune and looking for a good cause – an independent national security think tank is right on the money!
Blatant Advertising Bit: Have you read my short story trilogy “A Poke in the Fifth Eye”? It’s available in Kindle format for only 99c. A ripping good yarn about dirty bomb drone swarms in Wellington New Zealand, a couple of destroyed spy bases, an air force base on fire and only a hastily assembled bunch of Kiwi reservists standing between the terrorists and their ultimate goal.