Wednesday, March 29, 2017

You either accept a rules based international order or you act like the NZDF

Nicky Hager's latest book "Hit and Run" seems to be following Nicky's usually excellent book marketing strategy. It starts with an accusation, usually followed by an angry denial and then weeks of to and fro until all the books are sold and the media loses interest. I wish my books could use that formula. But then I'm not the poster boy of the left, I'm just an annoying person who calls things as I see them.
So far Hager's main pressure point has been calling for some form of inquiry into 'war crimes' perpetrated by the New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS). This article by Alison Cole [https://www.vice.com/en_nz/article/could-new-zealand-be-heading-to-the-international-criminal-court-for-war-crimes-in-Afghanistan] states that if New Zealand doesn't carry out an inquiry then the International Criminal Court can. This article from Martyn Bradbury in the Daily Blog [http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2017/03/27/latest-developments-in-hager-stephenson-nz-war-crime-allegations/] deals with the specifics of the case and relates the announcement by Deborah Manning and QC Dr Rodney Harrison that they will launch legal proceedings against the Government.
For many New Zealanders Edmund Burke's famous words "We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would harm us" about sums up their attitude to the NZSAS. They are a bit like the All Blacks but with guns. But no matter how capable the NZSAS troopers may be, like any military unit their actual performance depends very much on who leads them.
And that's the problem.
Because troopers wouldn't be talking to Hager and Stephenson if they were happy with the decisions that were made that night in the Tirgiran Valley. There is clearly something wrong and some people believe the rules were broken.
Does that matter? Afghanistan is famously known as a nation that lives for "hospitality and revenge" as part of the Pashtun code of Pashtunwali [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pashtunwali]. If the Kiwis didn't kick some arse they might lose mana. As one very large politician once said, "you can't make an omlette without breaking some eggs." Maybe the other guys (the US) were doing it too?
The problem is the US doesn't believe in the International Court and refuses to accept its jurisdiction. New Zealand is not the US,
Besides all of those reasons are very thin excuses. The NZSAS are not meant to act like some gang of heavily armed thugs. They are meant to be soldiers in the New Zealand Defence Force and the NZDFs main reason for being (direct from the NZDF website) is: "Acting in a lead role or in support of other New Zealand agencies, Defence contributes to the following national security interests:
◾A safe and secure New Zealand, including its border and approaches;
◾A rules-based international order, which respects national sovereignty;
Note that "rules-based international order". That rules based international order includes institutions such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court. That means for everyone, all the time. You can't just have a rules based order when it suits you. Nor does a rules-based international order get bent because of operational exigensies; because it might prove embarrassing; or because a particular military unit is the All Blacks with guns. A rules based international order goes from top to bottom, theoretical to particular, private soldier to brigadier-general. Either you serve a rules-based international order or you are no different to a bunch of Pashtun gangsters.
As is so often the case the response from Defence Headquarters is defensive, self justifying and highly evasive. They assume the role of defendant, police and judiciary. So far the most the general staff have had to say is that Hager and Stephenson got the names of the villages wrong. It turns out, so did the NZDF [http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11827661]. Logically this is of no consequence,because it fails to address the core question of war crimes.
And this does matter. Why? Because as information technology increases the precision and reach of governments the vital question becomes who is following rules and being transparent and who isn't. Because with power comes the temptation to bend the rules (like the People's Republic of China which has a bunch of secret police who come in the night and drag people off to be tortured). If the NZSAS are going to start doing that regardless of the rules it matters.
That's why a proper independent investigation and proper judicial process (including the assumption of innocence) is necessary. Because if the NZDF can't be trusted to follow rules and be transparent when in Afghanistan then it can't be trusted at all. Because otherwise you don't have a rules-based international order - and its not much of a step before you don't even have a democracy. Because the only thing that seperates New Zealand from Fiji is that the NZDF is trusted to follow the rules and a key part of that is being open to scrutiny by those who police them. You can't have a rules-based international order unless you accept that you are subject to those rules and that you may be inconveniently investigated for breaching them.
So of course New Zealand should investigated potential war crimes. Either by an independent commissioner or by Police, if this falls within their legal jurisdiction.
I say this knowing nothing I say matters a damn to the NZDF. If you are happy to spend up large on misbegotten and overpriced war toys without any concern for the economic welfare of people of the country you serve simply to preserve your professional sense of self worth then you probably don't really give a shit about lying to protect officers who deserve to be outed. But next time NZDF readers are looking down their noses on the Fijian or Indonesian military perhaps they should just remember the rot always starts somewhere. Either you have principles or you don't. Either you follow the rules or you don't.

Postscript: And it  gets worse. It appears that the only report into the lessons learned by the NZDF in the Afghanistan campaign was shredded so the media couldn't get to it![ http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11825881]. I mean seriously? What is this? The defence force is being run like a citadel for its own self aggrandizement. No criticism is tolerated, no weakness can be admitted to, no officer held accountable. All so it can try and perpetuate this myth itself.  You can't have armed people acting like this! The entire headquarters needs investigation.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Good Lord! Labour is waking up!

News that the Labour Party is waking up to the insane defence force spend-up proposed by the Defence White Paper 2016 is naturally welcomed by defencecosts.nz. Andrew Little's clear statement of priority is not only good politics, but also common sense. Defence Minister Brownlee has claimed that $20,000,000,000 is needed to ensure Defence is "fit for purpose", but that claim bears no scrutiny whatsoever.

Defence is engaged in an orgy of spending as much as it possibly can, relying on American diplomatic pressure to see defence spending bumped up to 2% of GDP. That's what we spend on roads, and most people make far more use of them. There is no rational justification for us to spend 2% of GDP on defence. And if the Minister doesn't know that he bloody well should. Of course Minister Brownlee's main concern is sucking up to the right people, and in this case the right people is President Trump, not the taxpayers of New Zealand.

For while the Labour Party's declaration is a step in the right direction it doesn't go far enough. The fundamental problem with the defence force is structural, and until the structure is changed career officers are going to spend their time trying to find ways to fund their outrageously expensive careers.

For example No.5 Anti Submarine Warfare squadron will want the best kit for ASW, even though there is no need for ASW capability. There are no submarines to fight. The difference in cost between an excellent ASW aircraft and a servicable EEZ patrol aircraft is about US$250 million each. That's quite a lot over six aircraft!

I should stress here that the target of most of my concern is not the Army. The Army has, in my view, been sadly underfunded (except for the ridiculous $700 million overspend on the useless LAVIIIs). The Army is also poorly structured and probably too large. But, in a time of asymmetric warfare, the Army (and bio and cyber defence) is where New Zealand's main defence focus should be. In this day and age armies must be much more police-like and land combat is only one of the capabilities needed. My real concern is with the utter fiscal irresponsibility of the Navy and the Air Force. Neither have great track records.

Back in the 90s the Navy bought two ASW frigates which today cost a third of a billion a year to operate and whose sole purpose seems to be sailing around exercising with other navies. They are too expensive to use in EEZ patrol (effectively stealing resources from it), too small for helping much with humanitarian disasters, and not ice proof enough for patrolling the Antarctic in the depths of winter. What they are really good at is hunting submarines. But as ISIS doesn't have any, and there are very few submarines in the Pacific that could reach our waters, that hasn't been much use. Over twenty years these giant money pits have chewed up resources that could have been better spent elsewhere.

HMNZS (A11) Endaevour

Now the Navy is replacing its most efficient ship (Endaevour, worth at most $5 million after depreciation) with a $500 million monster. The capital charge on the "biggest ship in the Navy" as its being billed, will be huge - once again limiting what it can be used for efficiently. It's a move of breath-taking arrogance.

Not to be out done the Airforce has built a helicopter force which does far less than commercial New Zealand helicopter companies do. The RNZAF never flew in Afghanistan but the Helicopters New Zealand Global (Canadian Helicopters division) did. The RNZAF helicopters cost taxpayers $200 million a year while HNZ Global makes $200 million a year and pays tax for, among other things the RNZAF to waste. That might be OK if the RNZAF helicopters were all high technology Apache attack helicopters (the US Army bought an extra 35 for US$591 million in 2015) armed to the teeth and solely useful for killing people and blowing things up. That obviously isn't a capability that civilian companies are allowed. But the Air Force's 8 NH-90s (which we bought for US$533 million) are not only the most expensive helicopters of their kind, but are also unarmed transport helicopters little different to the capability a civilian company might buy if they suddenly had more money than sense. In short the RNZAF helicopters are a giant waste of money compared to commercial operators and deliver less, rather than more value to New Zealand.

The same could also be said for the RNZAF's latest acquisition. They spent a $150 million on non-NZ made Texan II air trainers (we do make air trainers at Pacific Aerospace in Hamilton) used for initial pilot training of military jet fighters. The RNZAF doesn't have, and couldn't use, jet fighters. Most of the Air Force's fixed wing planes are multi engine turboprops needed for the vast ranges in the Pacific. The only possible target inside any conceivable New Zealand based jet fighter's combat radius is French owned New Caledonia or Australia's Norfolk Island. Neither are rational targets. Nor does the RNZAF need to train new combat pilots with high performance single engine aircraft given they will spend their careers in multi engine aircraft. Especially when there is a plethora of commercial air training operators in New Zealand who can offer the capability far cheaper. So what are these Texan IIs for? Air shows and displays! Really! That's $150m not spent on Police or schools but spent on air displays by the Air Force. Unbelievable!

Private L29 jet operated by Double XX Aviation

While New Zealand civilians buy, service and maintain a fleet of old L29 Czech trainer jets which are the mainstay of air shows out of their own pockets, the taxpayer funds the Air Force to do the same so that its officers have something to fly.

The only way this is going to stop is to take combat capability out of the equation and convert the Navy and the Air Force into a Coast Guard. That's what Norway and Ireland have done. The career officers will make grave faces about protecting our shipping lanes (all of which are impossible to blockade) and similar bullshit. But Norway, which has a land border with Russia has a Coast Guard not a Navy. Ireland too. Both are richer than we are. If we had a Coast Guard then we would get the mix of lower cost, lower capability systems this country can actually afford.

By contrast the Army should incorporate a helicopter component (as does the US and Australian armies) and these should be armed. That way you have only one mobile combat force that is able to be deployed by sea or air. Realistically New Zealand would lose almost no defence capability, increase its industrial assistance via defence spending but reduce its overall defence expenses significantly. This could then be redeployed to social spending as Mr Little has realised.

see www.defencecosts.nz for the full story.

Friday, March 10, 2017

RNZAF vies with RNZN to waste most public money

According to Janes the RNZAF is kicking the tyres of the hugely expensive P-8A Poesidon as a replacement for the P-3K Orion. How much could that cost? Well don't expect much change from $1.5 billion.

To put that in perspective that's just shy of $1 for every $100 that changes hands every year in this country. It's a shit ton of money.

Along with the Navy's acquisition of a $500 million oil tanker I would argue that this shows that both the Navy and the Air Force are now keenly competing to waste as much taxpayer funding as they possibly can before someone works out that spending $20 billion on defence is an act of flagrant irresponsibility.

According to the National Assessments Bureau the greatest security risk to New Zealand comes from extremism. Extremism will almost certainly breed in conditions of poverty (as it does everywhere). Taking money from poor taxpayers to buy useless war toys can only make our security worse, not better. What New Zealand needs right now is better social housing, mental health services and police.

But what is a P-8A Poesidon anyway? Here's one here:


As you can see it's basically it's a Boeing 737-800 jetliner, which has been gutted and rejigged to be an anti submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft. It's the latest greatest technology which the US has built and the Australians bought into. They have a unit cost of $350 million each. Given that the sticker price on a new B737-800 is $137 million that shows that most of the cost of the aircraft is the weapons systems and radars.

So that will deal with our submarine problem then. Except that the Department of Prime Minister and Ministers of Cabinet National Assessments Bureau doesn't think there is a submarine problem. It certainly wasn't in the top six John Key spoke of in 2015. In fact even the Defence White Paper admits there isn't really a submarine problem. Why? Because since the demise of the Soviet Union we are out of range of almost every potential hostile submarine in the world.

So why do we need to spend $1.5 billion on ASW aircraft? The answer is quite simple. We have a squadron of ASW specialists and if they don't get new aircraft, what are they going to fly? Duh! This is what the New Zealand Defence Force calls logic. The rest of us call it empire maintenance.

Beause if we were to emulate Norway or Ireland and suddenly get all rational and European about it we wouldn't have a Navy or an Air Force. Why? Because navies are for fighting other navies and air forces are for fighting other air forces. The people who do fisheries patrol and search and rescue are called the Coast Guard.

You see Coast Guard vessels and aircraft aren't built for combat. They don't have to contend with the latest stealthy anti shipping or anti aircraft missiles. They just have to contend with criminals, and typically they don't get access to that kind of hardware. That makes a huge difference when you are outfitting your ships and aircraft. A cost difference.

So if we aren't actually going to hunt submarines any more, and our defence cooperation obligations largely come down to sending the SAS, then how about this. How about we don't buy a fleet of 737s armed to the teeth? How about we do this instead:

1. Use Rocketlabs to launch our own low earth satellites for surveillance and signals
2. Buy very long range UAVs that can fly for a week at a time for surveillance
3. Buy new transport aircraft and use them for SAR intervention.

It's cheaper, it's better, and it uses our own industry more leaving money in the kitty for the real things that matter for both society and defence. Stopping the conditions that lead to extremism.

For more detail visit www.defencecosts.nz