New Zealand to boost Pacific defense capabilities to protect interests
New Zealand released new details in late October 2019 on how it plans to boost defense capabilities in and around the Pacific region to protect diplomatic and military interests as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues attempts to wield influence in the Pacific.
While the 32-page report, “Advancing Pacific Partnerships 2019,” does not mention the PRC, New Zealand says it plans to protect its interests and tackle regional issues that include transnational crime and geopolitical competition.
“The Pacific is evolving, with increasing connectedness to the broader world bringing both opportunities as well as security challenges, including transnational crime, resource competition and a congested strategic environment,” the executive report said. “New Zealand’s Pacific Reset, announced in March 2018, responds to regional challenges with a lift in our strategic ambition and investment in the Pacific. Recognizing the erosion of our influence and the need to continue to strive to have a positive impact in line with our values, the Reset underscores the importance of our enduring partnerships in the region. It represents a commitment to build deeper partnerships with Pacific island countries and other key partners and institutions in the region.”
New Zealand’s renewed focus on the Pacific centers on its long-standing defense partnerships. The report calls New Zealand’s defense community its “single greatest asset” and praises its cultural intelligence and bonds built to provide a strong foundation for Pacific engagement. (Pictured: New Zealand Defence Force Soldiers join the Armed Forces of Tonga, Australian Army, New Caledonian Armed Forces and U.S. Marines for Exercise Tafakula at Taliai Military Camp in Tonga in August 2019.)
Specific plans call for growing the New Zealand Defence Force by 1,500 service personnel. The New Zealand Army will also see an increase of 6,000 personnel to focus on providing better and more sustainable services to New Zealand and the Pacific.
A dedicated Southern Ocean Patrol Vessel is slated to deploy sometime in the mid-2020s to focus on the South Pacific and changing requirements of New Zealand’s maritime domain.
New Zealand also intends to enhance its Pacific presence through people-to-people ties, regional security architectures and operational presence. That will include enhanced regional intelligence and security frameworks and improved partner capability through training.
“While the Advancing Pacific Partnerships framework is designed to be long-term and enduring, our approach is also informed by a sense of urgency, as transnational challenges and competition intensify,” the New Zealand report said. “We have a strong stake in contributing to regional security and cooperation with likeminded partners in this critical regard. A material lift in our approach to the Pacific requires material investment that is sustained and enduring over time.”