New Zealand 28th (Maori) Battalion Haka WWII




10 NOVEMBER 2020

Ka tae atu te karere ki te rōpū toa rā

Tena koe minita. Congratulations on your appointment as Minister of Defence. It is one of the most important roles in New Zealand’s government. It is inevitably going to become more significant in the context of changes we are seeing in the world.

The Ministry of Defence and the New Zealand Defence Force will provide you the traditional ‘BIM,’ or Briefing to the Incoming Minister. These are good documents that show the essentials of the role necessary for managing the transition between Ministers and the first few months of activity. The purpose of this Additional BIM is to set out what you won’t be told through official channels. It is structured as follows:

  1. International Context – Much worse than official documents describe it.
  2. New Zealand Society – How ‘Lest We Forget’ has been conflated with good defence capability.
  3. The Limitations of current national security governance.
  4. Structure – Many headquarters but ‘hollow’ front line units.
  5. Defence Culture – Strong but with plenty of room for improvement.
  6. Finance – Accrual accounting is crippling Vote Defence Force.
  7. Personnel – Not keeping up with workforce trends in society.
  8. Legislative changes needed
  9. Defence Estate – Significant change is overdue.
  10. Defence Industry – Opportunities for growth

Nothing in my observations about the New Zealand Defence Force should be taken as a criticism of any individual nor a reflection of the quality and commitment of the NZDF’s personnel. They do an extraordinary job, often with limited resources and little thanks. I served for twenty five years in two different services as a full-timer and part-timer as well as several years as a defence civilian teaching command studies at university. I have been on operational deployments twice, trained in many countries and worked as Senior Ministerial Advisor to the Associate Minister of Defence (Hon Heather Roy) 2008 – 2010 during the period of the development of the 2010 Defence White Paper. The comments below are, therefore, based on wide-ranging experience of the Defence environment. It is no coincidence that this briefing paper is released in line with Remembrance Day, 11 November 2020. UNCLAS is NZ’s only national security blog and publishing company.

International Context

The international security situation is deteriorating. The rules-based order and traditional alliances are unravelling. The main reason for this is that we are approaching the end of a seventy-five-year period where the United States of America was the undisputed dominant power in the world and was prepared to use that power to deal with aggressive nation states or ideologies. While the Trump presidency has accelerated the decline in US hegemony, it has been evident since the end of the Cold War thirty years ago. A simple comparison of defence capability shows that US forces today, while well equipped, trained and experienced in combat, are half the size they were in 1990.

While our geographic location has historically been a defensive advantage, that is no longer the case. Neither can we assume that the US will come to our aid. They are no longer capable of fighting and winning more than one theatre of war. Australia has recognised this and is taking action. It’s time we did too. The final battle in the defence of New Zealand will be fought on the northern shores of Australia.

The NZDF lacks the mass, lethality and sustainability to do even the tasks currently expected of it. Successive Governments have repeatedly ignored major issues like our inability to fight on land in Antarctica, our ‘sea blindness’ (despite being an island nation) and our inability to exert dominance over our own airspace.

There are a multitude of problems closer to home such as in West Papua (which is shaping to be East Timor 2.0). Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea and its aggressive behaviour to neighbouring nations in that region will inevitably have an impact on our ability to import and export goods. COVID has given us just a small taste of the potential impact of loss of shipping – from liquid fuels to pharmaceuticals and manufactured goods, we are dependent on and therefore vulnerable to maritime shipping freedom. All it takes is the threat of war anywhere on sea lanes we depend on for cargo ships to become uninsurable and therefore not sail here.

New Zealand Society

Every ANZAC Day, increasing numbers (pre-terror attacks and COVID) attended commemorations. They wear their grandfather’s medals with pride, just as you did when delivering your maiden speech. They solemnly say ‘lest we forget.’ And then for most, they do forget for the next 364 days.

The main reason why governments can get away with a sub-optimal (in capability not in terms of the people) defence force is because the people allow it to happen. That’s because most Kiwis conflate being on the winning side of two world wars with a belief that there won’t be another or, if there is, we’ll have plenty of time to get ready.

As part of what is referred to as the ‘Western’ world, we were very lucky twice. Most people don’t understand  that, in WWII, it was only the massive industrial capacity of the US and our ability to crack Axis codes that made the difference in the end.

It will take us twice as long to rebuild our forces to undertake anything more than ‘Wars of Choice’ (eg Iraq and Afghanistan) as current threat actors need to achieve relative military parity with the US. A responsible government can change that. It can accept, also, that the New Zealand public is naïve and complacent about threats to this country and choose to do something about that. Not everyone loves Kiwis. We represent many things that significant other groups resent. The Christchurch mosque shootings were a reminder of that.

The rumblings of some groups toward the end of COVID lockdowns show that our society has very little capacity to deal with the long-term deprivation that the effects of even a regional war elsewhere will impose on us.

National Security Governance

The current committee-based system for governing national security has worked adequately for one-off events. Officials from various departments and ministries meet ‘on event’, choose a leader and set about the planning to submit recommendations to a committee of Cabinet Ministers. Therein lies the problem. This process is reactive. It is too slow to deal with a fast-moving, multi-facetted threat. Little to no stress-testing of plans is done which was evident when COVID-19 hit our shores. There was a plan from 2002 but little else.

The Prime Minister holds the warrant for National Security but, according to Hon Andrew Little, there is no funding or agency beyond that found in DPMC. The answer lies in a standalone National Security Agency that would have legislative responsibility for developing and testing an overarching national security strategy. The head of this agency, the National Security Advisor, should be an Officer of Parliament, like the Auditor-General and Ombudsman.

Too many believe that national security is the responsibility of the NZDF. It that were true, they would also be responsible for strategic fuel reserves, the establishment of pharmaceutical manufacturing capability and much more. However, once the ships stop arriving in our ports, the NZDF in a conflict situation will be without ammunition, fuel and spare parts in a matter of days or weeks rendering them little more than a disciplined civil defence force. Despite this fact, there is no meaningful war reserve or contingency reserve stock of combat items.

A similar discussion is currently taking place in Australia and I commend to you and your staff the speeches, papers, presentations and podcasts on Australia’s national security by the Liberal Senator and retired Major General Jim Molan AO DSC which can be found at

Defence Structure

The NZDF is structured for the wrong war. It is basically the degraded version of the capabilities we had in 1945. New technologies and battlespace concepts, such as cyberwarfare, satellites and drones have been added but there has been no serious discussion as to whether other elements are still fit for purpose.

What we have left in the Army was once described as the ‘decaying carcass of a division.’ This may seem harsh but it is accurate. NZ once had main battle tanks. They were replaced with light tanks and armoured personnel carriers. The light tanks were replaced with armoured recon vehicles and finally we arrive at the current LAVIII which is actually an Infantry Fighting Vehicle. So why then do we need an armoured regiment to operate them? Similar downward capability paths can be tracked through artillery and field engineers, signals, logistics and medical streams. Why, for instance, do we persist with infantry battalions when, in 2010, it was determined that two company groups are all that would be able to be deployed and sustained. Would a series of independent company groups be a shorter path to readiness? Three brigades are now one and even that isn’t a true brigade structure so why pretend? The Reserves (Territorials) that were the bulk of the Army until the early 1990s are all but obliterated.

The RNZN have followed a similar path from two cruisers and six Loch Class frigates to four frigates (mixed class). We now have only two warships – HMNZS Te Mana and Te Kaha. In order to sustain a platform on task requires 3-4 of the same. While one is on task, one is running up to replace it. Another is in refit after the task and the fourth covers the event of catastrophic failure of any of the other three. On the upside, the Navy’s helicopters bring much more combat power to the fleet. However, they were bought second hand and their replacement is imminent. While economic recovery is important, you should be aware that a frigate without a helicopter has far less surveillance capability and only about 40% of its total potential lethality. You will need to fight hard for the funding for the Seasprite replacement and also for the planned Southern Ocean Patrol Vessel. It would be a mistake to dispose of the four inshore patrol vessels which have far greater utility than the way they are currently being (not) operated. Given that our shipping ports are a single point of failure for the economy, more thought needs to go into mine clearance capabilities.

The RNZAF lost a major capability with the closure of the Air Combat Force. What is doubly concerning is that no thought went into other ways to dominate our airspace such as land-based surface to air missiles. While there have been positive developments in the announcement of replacements for P3s and C130s, we know from our experience of the F16 fighter deal that incoming governments can and do change existing plans. That may become a defining battleground for your tenure as Defence Minister. The P-8A Poseidon is a very capable aircraft but it’s not what you would use to fly round our territorial waters. The RNZAF needs a short to medium range utility aircraft that can be configured to operate as a multi-role aircraft. The P-8 needs its full complement of armaments and the unmanned aerial systems designed to operate alongside it if we are to realise its full capability.

The NZDF is top heavy. Too many staff officers in a multitude of headquarters and too few sailors, soldiers and airmen/women at the sharp end. Arguably, the entire rank system is in need of modernisation. More on that in the personnel section. While there is talk of extending the term of government in order to achieve more, little is said about the fact that NZDF service chiefs only get appointed for three years at a time. By comparison, Public Sector chiefs get five years. This makes it very difficult to achieve much. Incoming governments have often extended the CDF by a year while they get their feet under the table. That leaves those officers effectively as ‘lame ducks’ unable to effect much more change in the short period of extra time. My advice is to not do that but rather extend the six most senior commanders in the NZDF (whose terms all expire in a matter of months) for another two or three years (staggered) as a priority.

Successive political actions have driven much of this change for the worse. These include politicisation of senior commanders’ roles, politically motivated ‘reviews’, funding restrictions and outright interference such as the disbandment of the Air Combat Force and cancellation of the remaining ANZAC frigate options.


The NZDF/Te Ope Kātua o Aotearoa culture in 2020 is vastly better than the post-Vietnam War force that I joined. There are initiatives (some award-winning) to support women, the rainbow community, veterans and families that have made a real difference to many and improved the organisation dramatically.

Bi-culturalism is thriving in the Army in particular. The Ngati Tumatauenga initiative to blend the British and Maori warrior traditions has been hugely successful. Despite this, it still has its detractors and along with the RNZN / Te Taua Moana o Aotearoa and RNZAF / Te Tauaarangi o Aotearoa progress in this space has to be guarded and constantly refreshed. During te wiki o te reo, I wrote of the opportunities of bilingual ranks and drill commands along the lines I have observed in Canada and Ireland.

Despite these positives, there are entrenched cultural problems which I liken to the issue of entrenched racism in New Zealand. While we can put on the cultural glasses of another group, we can never take off the glasses we were brought up wearing. These relate to many facets of service life. A significant number of people (and not just older ones) still openly espouse the view that there is no place for women in combat units and ‘queers’ should be kicked out. The derisive attitude of most full-time personnel toward the Reserve Force goes well beyond professional pride and is often straight-out arrogant. Similar attitudes prevail toward defence civilian personnel.

The bottom line is that the behaviour you walk past is the behaviour you accept. While commanders at all levels continue to walk past these conversations without saying something, the attitudes will be passed on to another generation of service personnel. The current CDF is a strong supporter of equality and equity but there is much work to do and the impetus could be lost with a simple rotation of service chiefs. Only prolonged ministerial oversight will ensure that progress continues in this area.


If you asked the average person in the street about defence funding, they would tell you that the NZDF got billions from the last government and is in the best position ever. Others, if asked about spending more would reply “Haven’t we spent enough already?”

The fact is we do not spend enough on defence when it is viewed in the context of national security and the long lead times required to increase capability. Expressing defence spending as a percentage of GDP isn’t a useful measure. The 2% of GDP target often referred to is simply a message sent out from the US to its allies years ago to try to get NATO members to front up and not assume the US would foot the bill for everyone. We could spend twice the amount we currently do and still not achieve the desired outcome. That’s because of the ‘multiply by zero effect.’ Spending $5b annually, for instance, on the Navy without addressing other battlespace capabilities would not improve national security and would actually detract from it.

One of the biggest problems in extracting best value out of Vote Defence Force is the government’s accounting method. Observers worldwide are bemused by the fact that the money for defence is allocated then a significant proportion is taken away in depreciation and capital charge. Defence, like schools and hospitals, has to be asset heavy. They can’t just sell a ship or find other work to balance the books. In 2017-2018, over 30% of Vote Defence Force was clawed back in depreciation and capital charge. That amounted to nearly $385m. To keep the force running operationally, the Defence Minister has to go into each budget round trying to get one-off top ups which is ‘churn’ pure and simple. When Defence takes on expensive new platforms like the P-8s, they will take a corresponding hit on operating funds because of this. It’s unsurprising that the cost of holding a war reserve or back up training areas is prohibitive. If the Defence Estate (land and buildings) and a Contingency Reserve Stock were ‘owned’ by NZ Inc instead of Defence, a significant financial burden would be lifted and improved capability would result.

A progressive Defence Minister would argue for the NZDF to be exempted from these elements of the relevant legislation.

The right amount of money to spend on Defence is a function of our national security strategy – something that doesn’t exist. Is our strategy to be aligned with others and if so, what arrangements are in place for them to protect NZ? Should we be more self-reliant in case our allies don’t come? (As Australia is preparing for. Remember that, in WWII, Britain decided to defend India over Australia/NZ). Should we adopt a position of armed neutrality like Ireland and Switzerland? This would not stop NZ participating in UN peacekeeping operations. It would, however, require a much more capable force than the current NZDF. A paper is available on NZ’s national security posture options.


Many NZDF units are ‘hollow’ and, while overall numbers, including gross retention statistics are favourable, there are significant gaps in certain skill sets and rank levels. The same units and individuals bear the brunt of most deployments bringing increased pressure on families. Others have a very comfortable life, never deploying for the bulk of their service.

While the NZDF is aware of the many ways the NZ workforce has changed, it does not seem to be able to turn that knowledge into meaningful change in terms of careers. Some of these problems are functions of the organisation. You can’t just recruit the required number of sergeants, petty officers or army captains, they take 8-10 years under current training systems, to be developed.

The total defence workforce is as follows:

Limiting factors for the NZDF in addressing workforce challenges include:

  1. A lack of ‘nimbleness’ in applying lessons learned from civilian workforce trends to defence roles.
  2. Lack of acknowledgement of the role spouses’ careers and all family members educational/medical/sporting and recreational priorities have on the service person’s choices.
  3. Insufficient pathway choices for full-time vs part-time work and the cultural impediments to this being seen as a legitimate choice as discussed above. The NZDF has a primarily ‘attendance’ culture rather than a ‘performance’ culture. An average performer in the office will be preferred over a top performer working remotely in many units.
  4. The ‘over-coursing’ of personnel in order to progress through the ranks. Since ranks are tied to pay, these are seen as important but many training systems are inefficient and courses are therefore too long. When courses are cancelled, resentment grows due to an inability to progress.
  5. ‘Dead men’s shoes.’ Many top performers leave the force when they’re told that they can’t be promoted for ten years because of a log jam in their trade or branch.

The NZDF is aware of the need to adopt a ‘whole-of-life’ approach to the workforce but are struggling to execute the changes needed. A policy of the ‘Long Handshake’ will allow this pivot to occur. The ‘Long Handshake’ means remaining in contact with an individual in some way, on their terms, so that they never lose the feeling of connectedness with the force. If they do step away, making it easy to reconnect is key. It is the concept of whanau, hapu and iwi applied to our defence force personnel throughout their entire lives, not just their main career time. An example of how not to do this is when an individual gets out of the service for a few years and then, when seeking to re-enlist, is demoted from the rank they held previously – ‘to protect those who stayed loyal.’ There is a strong case for actually promoting some on re-enlistment based on what they have learned while out of uniform. Recognition of prior learning should not be limited to course objectives.

The ‘Long Handshake’ in practice, allows personnel to move seamlessly between full-time and part-time duties in uniform or civilian roles and should include veterans. There is an opportunity for many initiatives such as a volunteer civilian (White Force) who could act as role players in exercises as occurred in the Southern Katipo exercise series. One common theme amongst ex-service personnel is the feeling of a loss of sense of purpose. There is potential for  a ‘Veteran or V Force’ along the lines of the US organisation, Team Rubicon, which engages with volunteer veterans (anyone who has served one day or more), and undertakes humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operation. Others might want to engage in think tank work on national security. Many will be happy to focus on our defence heritage as the NZ Remembrance Army does so well in caring for service graves. These concepts and more are included in my ABIM to the Minister for Veterans.

The obvious place to start building these pathways is through rebuilding the Reserve Force. I have published an entire series of articles on this topic which can be found at

Legislative initiatives needed

A significant impediment to the rebuilding of the Reserve Force is the Volunteers Employment Protection Amendment Act 2004. It was out of date the day it was implemented and a summary of its weaknesses is available.

Finally, I believe that a Defence Force Association is long overdue. The current legislative framework makes the CDF both the employer of and the advocate for every service person. This reliance on a ‘benign father figure’ is outdated. It is fraught, at best, and an unconscionable arrangement at worst. A DFA need not operate as a union like the Police Association does but would provide the living link between the current serving and former personnel. It could advocate and lobby on behalf of the force. There is nothing to stop an association of veterans forming now and moves have been made in that respect. However, for current personnel to join may require a law change.

Defence Estate

The Defence Estate is a significant asset that requires careful management. The infographic below is taken from the NZDF Defence Estate Regeneration Plan 2016 – 2030.

Summary from NZDF Defence Estate Regeneration Plan 2016 – 2030

The effect of capital charge and depreciation on these assets has already been addressed. Much of the estate is World War Two era and there has been too little maintenance and reconstruction. The previous Defence Minister, Hon Ron Mark, promised much and delivered very little as far as regeneration of the estate goes. The condition of buildings impacts health and safety, heating costs and especially the view that those required to occupy them hold of their employer.

It may be time for a radical re-think in this area. More public private partnerships are one path. There are already examples of iwi / NZDF partnerships. It is worth contemplating that all the land could be owned by someone other than defence and leased in perpetuity.

Defence Industry

The New Zealand industry, largely represented by the NZDIA, is a small but growing group of businesses that provide services and products for the NZ Defence Force. The larger companies are mostly global entities.

With further encouragement, this group can continue to grow which brings greater self-reliance to us. At present, NZ has a very limited ability to manufacture ammunition for instance. A government focussed on rebuilding the economy will find significant opportunities within the defence industry sector.

Other Matters

In order to do it well, the defence portfolio has a hefty visit and meeting element to it. I commend to you to ask the Prime Minister to appoint an Associate Minister of Defence or Parliamentary Under Secretary as happened in 2005-2006 (Dame Annette King) and 2008 – 2010 (Hon Heather Roy.)

The NZDF is decisively engaged with the national response to COVID-19. While it is absolutely appropriate that they act in a first responder capacity, the ongoing management of isolation facilities is not the reason we recruit and train warriors. They will tell you that they are doing OK and happy to continue but that is not the case. The government urgently needs to develop an exit strategy for the NZDF from this role.

Congratulations again on your appointment. I look forward to meeting you and your staff soon.

Nāku noa

Dr Simon Ewing-Jarvie

Ngati Tumatauenga