New Zealand will be under pressure to beef up its peacekeeping deployments if it wins a seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2014, defence analysts say.
Speaking at a public symposium on the future shape of the defence forces Victoria University international relations expert David Capie said the last time New Zealand had a seat on the council in 1993-94 it committed troops to Bosnia after a UN resolution.
If the current bid was successful it would again be under pressure to "walk the walk".
It was now normal for UN mandates to include the protection of civilians.
Paul Sinclair from Victoria University's Centre for Strategic Studies said New Zealand also needed to lift its peacekeeping profile. With just 13 personnel it was rated 92nd for its peacekeeping contribution - just ahead of Samoa but behind Tajikistan.
"This is not a good place to be as we bid for a seat on the Security Council."
But Professor of Strategic Studies Robert Ayson said a seat on the council should not be New Zealand's most important foreign policy goal.
One lessons from past missions was that they can last longer and be more challenging than they first appear and New Zealand needed to be hard-nosed and know its limits.
'The opportunity to deploy is not enough of a justification" even if partners wanted to, he said.
A one year deployment could easily turn into a 10-year commitment.
There was also a need to be "modest" about what force could achieve. Turning military gains into political progress had proved difficult in Afghanistan and it often depended on local actions.
Using force could also freeze the existing political situation and intervention could lead to what was "possible" rather than what was ideal.
The focus would now shift from active operations to the force's potential and to exercising and training with regional partners.
Relations with the United States had been enhanced by New Zealand's role in Afghanistan and the mission to East Timor had convinced Australia of New Zealand's usefulness.
But reputational benefits such as these were not necessarily linked to the success of the mission.
So if Afghanistan turned sour after the the withdrawal of international forces, New Zealand would not suffer any harm to its reputation.
But the country's reputation was linked to success in Solomon Islands and East Timor.
Ayson said the future shape of the defence force should recognise the need to operate independently in New Zealand's sphere of influence.
Capie said New Zealand also needed to improve links with regional defence forces, such as Malaysia and Singapore, that had already been strengthened by cooperation as part of the provincial reconstruction team in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.
Most speakers down played the risk of war in the South China Sea and the difficulty for New Zealand in balancing relations with the United States and China.
Although a clash between China and its neighbours over disputed islands could not be ruled out it was likely to be the result of "inadvertent action", Capie said.
- Fairfax Media
Who do you think will 'win' tonight's debate?Related story: Leaders' debate: And the underdog is....