• Chief of Army Lieutenant General Simon Stuart being briefed by Major Josh Sullivan (NZDF) on the training of Ukrainian recruits, as part of an international effort to train 10,000 Ukrainians. (Defence)
    Chief of Army Lieutenant General Simon Stuart being briefed by Major Josh Sullivan (NZDF) on the training of Ukrainian recruits, as part of an international effort to train 10,000 Ukrainians. (Defence)

Australia’s Defence Strategic Review (DSR) is set to have an impact on New Zealand’s own defence review, the first two parts of which are due to be published this year.

But with the DSR taking the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in a different direction and becoming more closely intertwined with US war plans for the Indo-Pacific, Wellington will have to decide how to respond.

New Zealand Defence Minister, Andrew Little, told ADM that he had received a briefing on the DSR from Australian Defence Minister, Richard Marles, prior to its release on 23 April.

“Australia is New Zealand’s closest partner and only formal ally, and we are following the Strategic Review with interest,” he said, adding “We understand Australia will be working through the implications of the DSR and I look forward to engaging constructively with my Australian colleagues on the future direction of both our defence forces.”

Some controversy erupted during a visit by the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) chief, Rear Admiral David Proctor to Hawaii on 26 April when he told the NZ Herald newspaper that China was an “increasingly coercive state” and that New Zealand “can’t stand aside and say ‘nothing to see here’,” stating these comments reflected the thoughts of Little.

However, in his comments to ADM, Little distanced himself from Proctor’s words: “New Zealand and Australia both want a stable and secure region. New Zealand agrees that the collective objective needs to be the delivery of peace and stability and the preservation of the international rules-based system in our region. We have a long and positive history of working together on these matters.”

Also on 26 April, New Zealand Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins acknowledged to local media the country has “some big decisions ahead” of it “in terms of the capability we have in our defence force”.

However, this does not mean the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) will follow the ADF down the route of developing a focused force with Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) capabilities. Hipkins emphasised the need to respond to natural disasters, especially across the Pacific region.

Professor Robert Ayson, professor of strategic studies at Victoria University in Wellington, told ADM that although Canberra and Wellington may agree on the wider strategic threats New Zealand would find it “challenging, if not impossible” to replicate the DSR and would not be developing A2AD or strike capabilities as this “does not make sense”.

Ayson said that Pacific Island fragility and vulnerability to climate change “is not going to go away” and that in the next few years both Australia and New Zealand “are more likely to be responding to non-state security challenges including natural disasters than they are an actual conflict situation.”

He added that when looking at the security needs of the Pacific in the next five to 10 years “that’s the sort of area where there is still scope for the New Zealand-Australian relationship to be really quite significant.”

Therefore, capabilities for the NZDF that give the New Zealand government usable options in this environment will be the priority in the coming years. Some major decisions to acquire the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and C-130J-30 transport aircraft for the Royal New Zealand Air Force have already been taken leaving little scope or budget for additional changes.

Ayson said that the question becomes how a smaller and more balanced NZDF can operate with a much larger and more combat-focussed ADF.

However, the DSR could influence the NZDF’s only other major future procurement decision: the replacement of the RNZN’s pair of ANZAC-class frigates. “The frigates are the big one. The replacement issue is going to be a really challenging situation for a new government,” Ayson said.

He believes that for the Pacific theatre, alternative vessels such as multipurpose ships like the existing HMNZS Canterbury may be suitable, but if there is a need to deploy further afield - such as to South East Asia and beyond - then the idea of replacement frigates becomes “more attractive”.

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