Saturday, January 8, 2011

Karl du Fresne: Scandal seems a mild word in this context

The wretched saga of New Zealand’s Skyhawk and Aermacchi air force jets is limping toward its inevitable, shameful conclusion.

Not only are the RNZAF’s Skyhawk fighter-bombers destined to end up as museum pieces, but undefined “engine issues” now mean its Aermacchi jet trainers will not be brought back into service as defence officials originally hoped. Defence Minister Wayne Mapp is quoted in today’s Dominion Post as being “optimistic” that the 17 Aermacchis could be sold to offset costs, but experience tells us to take this with a grain of salt. For years we were strung along with assurances that the Skyhawks would be sold in going condition; now they are permanently mothballed and virtually worthless. Experience tells us to brace ourselves for an announcement in a couple of years’ time that the Aermacchis will be used as landfill.

It would have been more humane all round – and spared us a lot of expense, bullshit and prevarication – if the Skyhawks and Aermacchis had been blown up on the government’s orders when Labour came to power in 1999. At least we might have enjoyed the spectacle.

I agree with Lance Beath, a senior fellow in defence studies at Victoria University of Wellington, whom the Dom Post quotes as saying the Defence Force now completely lacks international credibility. Beath says he is tempted to use the word “scandal” to describe this travesty, but why hold back? “Scandal” seems mild in this context.

We are left with one of the world’s most toothless air forces, which is just as Labour wanted it. The party took office led by pacifists and idealists who cut their political teeth in the anti-Vietnam protests of the 1960s and 70s and remained gripped by a mindset that regarded any sort of offensive military capacity as bad. Hence the Clark government’s decision (one of the most lamentable of its nine years in office) to cancel a deal under which the air force would have cheaply acquired 28 F-16s to replace the Skyhawks, which even then were nearing the end of their operational life. Labour wanted a defence force with a nice smiley face: one that could undertake peacekeeping missions, rescue the occasional lost Tokelauan fisherman and fly relief operations, but never shoot at anyone (heaven forbid).

Helen Clark justified this touchy-feely, Defence-Lite approach with her famous pronouncement in 2001 – in justification of the decision to axe the air force’s combat wing – that we lived in an “incredibly benign strategic environment”. That was four months before 9/11. It’s interesting to square Clark’s statement against the reality today, when the entire planet has been destabilised by Islamic terrorism, an ascendant China is flexing its military muscles and any number of flashpoints (Pakistan and Korea being two of the more obvious examples) could ignite at any time.

Until the 1970s, New Zealand was led by politicians with bitter, painful memories of the Second World War. Many senior politicians - among them Robert Muldoon, Jack Marshall and Duncan MacIntyre - were ex-servicemen. The defence portfolio invariably went to a senior cabinet minister (no longer the case today) and the RSA, whose members and their fallen comrades had paid a high price for the Allies’ lack of preparation for war, was arguably the country’s most powerful lobby group. But as old soldiers died and memories of the war grew dimmer, defence slipped down the priority list. This helps explain why, in 2011, the air force is still flying Hercules, Orion and Iroquois aircraft purchased in the 1960s, when I was still at school (I’m 60 now).

In 1999, I wrote a column suggesting there would be a public outcry if the police were still driving around in Holden Belmonts, yet we expected our defence forces to get by with planes from the same era. More than a decade later, the Iroquois helicopters are finally being replaced but otherwise, all that’s changed is that more band-aids have been stuck on the Hercs and Orions to keep them flying.

Our half-hearted approach to defence means that we risk being seen by allies as freeloaders. National governments have been almost as much to blame for this state of affairs as Labour, though through passive neglect rather than outright ideological aversion.

At the time of the debate over the F-16 purchase, opponents made much of the fact that the RNZAF’s Skyhawks had never been used in combat and the F-16s probably wouldn’t be either, so why spend millions on them when the money could be better used elsewhere? This entirely missed the point, as I’m sure the critics knew. Most strike planes are never used in combat, but their mere existence greatly lessens the risk that combat will break out. Their value lies in the fact they are a deterrent to potential belligerents.

This is why New Zealand, by dispensing with its combat wing, lays itself open to the accusation that it’s not pulling its weight in defence terms. If every democratic government took the complacent, Utopian view that it should scrap its combat planes (or warships, or whatever) because they were unlikely to be deployed in warfare, belligerent states would very quickly be on the march.

The preservation of peace depends on the existence of international defence arrangements that pack sufficient punch to persuade would-be belligerents that it’s not in their interests to attack others. This in turn requires all countries that value freedom, such as New Zealand, to make a contribution commensurate with their resources. Can we be said to be doing that, when we no longer have an air combat wing capable of making even a token attempt to defend our own sovereignty before calling on others for help? I don’t think so.

First published on Karl's blog at


michael Palmer said...
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NZ no longer has a credible air combat wing. Our island isolation means an invasion or even a nuclear attack is logistically difficult for an aggressor if we have a credible air defense force. Given that our likely enemies have nuclear capability it is insane to denude our selves of this natural, low cost, defense advantage.

England’s island fortress was secure against the Nazi air attack and they only had the English Channel. We’ve got the entire Pacific. Talk about bang for your bucks. To quote Churchill: “never was so much owed by so many to so few”. In NZs case the deterrent of distance and a credible air combat wing would ensure security.

Abdicating our primary defense advantage is therefore a sinister act of treason particularly in this time of international economic and political uncertainty. Some US states face bankruptcy, the Chinese bubble threatens to burst and in Europe countries like Hungry are targeting billions in private pension funds to fund their deficits.

International capital is looking for havens that are safe and secure. An effective defense force would help reassure overseas investors and thus represents a safe investment.

Forget about the UN for defense. It is now a predatory coalition of bankrupt states seeking to impose a corrupt Marxist world government. It supports Maori sovereignty, Islamic terrorism and is successfully implementing a global regime of eco fascism that at its core desires to cleanse mother earth of humanity.

NZ’s administration and its judiciary uses more and more UN law to override our democratic legislative and case based common law. This is what makes our defense inadequacies so sinister. By abdicating the responsibility of self-defense you abdicate your sovereignty. Our administrative bureaucracies are usurping this sovereignty to expand their empires to raise taxes, eco-fees and micromanage every aspect of life at a time when economic rationality dictates that their parasitic existence be curtailed.

Anonymous said...
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I believe the prime function of any government is the welfare of its country's citizens. Uppermost in that is defence of the realm. The current situation with defence is both sinister and laughable at the same time.
Successive governments have continued disestablishing defence forces to the point where they would be hard pressed to contain a civil war here.
On the other hand, the nature of warfare has changed significantly since WW2 and strike aircraft may be more of a showpiece than an effective weapon. They do however have considerable effect on local citizenry. They are a visible sign that the Government has everything in control.
As we are unable to defend ourselves legally in our own homes, I don't see our government giving our defence forces the equipment they need to defend our borders any time soon.
Borders on treasonous.

Brian said...
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The “wretched saga of New Zealand Skyhawk & Aermacchi air force jets” scenario is but a small part of the disgraceful attitude towards defense by all NZ Politicians over the last 50 years. As far as finance goes to use an Air Force phrase “It is the tail end Charlie” to be ignored, altered generally mucked about by people who have little or no concept of what “real” war is about.

One might add that they consider any form of defense as a total waste of money, as our former P.M. so decided when she scrapped our run down Air Force…run down over years of failing to realize that, as Chairman Mao so rightly observed

Real power comes from the barrel of a gun.!

In dismantling our once proud Air Force Helen Clark in reality has abandoned the defense of our troops on the ground. In any surprise attack they would be massacred, and what is grossly offensive no politician will NEVER have to stand trial for such a gross dereliction of duty.

N.Z. of all Western Countries (I assume we still are considered a Western Democracy?) must be considered the Pariah of the Pacific; as Karl du Fresne so rightly observed “We are freeloaders”, seen as expecting our country to be defended to the last drop of Australian and American blood.

I agree with paragraph seven, Yes, World War 11 has slipped into history, and the new generations are systematically brained washed by an Education system designed to further this country into a 1920 to 1940 Communistic ideal. When I was at school during war, (I am 81) the Dunkirk spirit was alive and well, even after the war finished when I did my military service there was no talk or any action to deplete the armed forces and at that time Britain was bankrupt.

Yes this Defense-Lite attitude (I prefer to called it “Inspired Socialistic planning”) especially the phrase “Benigh Strategic Environment”, allows governments to spend the defense savings on vote catching electioneering. Or in the case of our former Prime Minister; gaining a lucrative high ranking post in one of the world’s greatest and costliest bureaucracies.

At least Neville Chamberlain for all his faults discreetly faded away from the 1940’s scene.

Today the world is faced with as Karl mentioned the tidal wave of Islam, China’s world wide policy of advancement, the nuclear powered State of Pakistan about to succumb, and the ever lasting conflict of Israel verses Terrorism.

I look forward to Karl’s next blog on what we as a nation “should do” to rectify our military capacity, and more importantly, how we can educate an apathetic population into realizing that our “allies” will expect a firmer and better response from us in the future.

Being alone and independent sounds great, but it sure as hell can get very lonely at times!


Douglas said...
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One of the key reasons to have a strike force is maintain a skill and experience base on which we can build when the environment becomes less benign. It is not nearly so big a job to upgrade to new aircraft and equipment from such a base as it will be to build a strike capability from scratch.

K M Findlay said...
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In English the word defence is a noun and defense is a verb.

In American English the word defense is both a noun and a verb.

In New Zealand we speak and write in English.

See also licence and license.

If the Government does not want to have an Airforce and we do then why don't we just organise one. (that would be organize in American English).

Robert Miles said...
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The opposition to the cancellation of the F-16 order and the withdrawal of the Skyhawks and Aermacchis did usefully slow the progress of the Clark Labour plans. She was forced to keep servicing and maintain the viability of the Skyhawks till 2004 and the Aermacchis to 2008. This made it much more difficult for Clark to move effectively against the Orions which was certainly more than in her mind.
Clark was at least interested, informed and up to date about defence and prepared to spend real money on some useful defence hardware all these things are extrodinarily rare and unknown in any postwar National Party politicians. Part of the problem is that Thompson, Gill and Mcintyre really had no understanding of sophsitical post 1950s defence issue and Muldoon saw it from a WW2, trade and RSA vote issue, ( that may be a bit unfair as Rob was a hardline supporter of the Vietnam war and would have sent the Canberrra's).
NZs significant defence purchases on the Leander frigates, Orions and Canberra were made simply because the USA and UK absolutely demanded their purchase in the 1960s and NZ's cabinet had no real choice and no real understaning at all of what they for and indeed it was the Mountbatten and McNanamara policy by that time that Kiwi cooperation dependended on NZ civilians knowing nothing and that was Clarks attitude.
Nevertheless Clarks failure to agree to the upgrade of the Orions a/s systems and the lack of even the minimal offshore air strike ability that a squadron of armed reengined 339Ds would provide is disastorous.The real value of the stike force was that it maintained a high tech base and a large intelligent conservative RNZAF.
But if you reflect on it, an even more daring wedge would for Shipley to have accepted the two 15 year old FFG-7s with SM1 and Harpoon as was the deal and for them to have worked up with the standards with Angel star launches on the US West Coast and arrived at devenport 2 days before the 1998 election. I supported the F-16 deal but thought the FFGs impractical but politically

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