Cricket to help forge links for new attache

MILITARY TIES: Air Force Air Commodore Shaun Clarke is moving to Canberra to take up a post of defence attache for Australia and India.
MILITARY TIES: Air Force Air Commodore Shaun Clarke is moving to Canberra to take up a post of defence attache for Australia and India.

A high-ranking Palmerston North military man is planning to use cricket as a way to forge closer military ties between New Zealand and India.

New Zealand Air Force Air Commodore Shaun Clarke, who spent time as base commander at Ohakea, is moving to Canberra on April 28 with his wife Louise to take up the role of defence attache for Australia and India.

It is a three-year assignment during which Commodore Clarke will represent and advocate for the New Zealand Defence Force's views, build ties and contacts that will help the country in serious military situations and work to gain a better understanding of the military position of the two countries.

There are currently 10 New Zealand Defence Force attache roles covering about 20 countries around the world.

The three main attaches, one brigadier, one commodore and now one air commodore, are stationed at the most important strategic military locations for New Zealand.

Commodore Clarke said he would spend most of his time in Canberra, but would also spend about eight weeks a year in India.

There were a number of reasons New Zealand wanted to forge closer military ties with the rapidly growing nation, Commodore Clarke said.

India was now the biggest democracy in the world, with an emerging economy and was close in colonial history to New Zealand.

"India is like introducing yourself to another kid in the schoolground," he said. "You've always been aware of them, but you want to know them."

There was "massive future potential" for a good military relationship between the two countries, Commodore Clarke said.

"You don't find India quickly aligning themselves with countries during conflict outside the borders, that's something they're very proud of.

"But they have a very big military, even if it is mainly used for ongoing conflicts on their borders."

A sports man himself - he has been a member of the Netball Central zone board while in Palmerston North - one of Commodore Clarke's aims is to use sport as a diplomatic tool.

He has already discussed the idea of a New Zealand Defence Force cricket team touring India and hopes to make it happen in his time as attache.

"I had a look at netball over there too and briefly considered that as an option as well," he said.

The main thing Commodore Clarke would be doing in his three years in Australia would be maintaining the "incredibly complex relationship" that the two countries' militaries had, he said.

This is a particularly significant task given that his time as defence attache will include the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli.

"They know we're their better looking younger brother and we have a lot of respect for their economy and their size," he said.

"It's like maintaining a good relationship between a husband and a wife or two brothers, there's always some things that can be done around the edges."

Manawatu Standard