Internal Defence Force briefing warning of 'much worse' strategic environment removed from public website

Former NZ army officer Ellen Nelson volunteers long hours lobbying the government on behalf of families hiding in fear in Afghanistan. These are families who assisted the New Zealand Defence Force during their operations in Afghanistan.

A private Defence Force (NZDF) briefing outlining a “much worse” strategic environment was published online for anyone to see.

The seminar – outlining the 2021 Defence Assessment – was removed from a professional development website after questions from Stuff.

The Defence Assessment is produced by the ministry and defence force to provide the government with its views on the global strategic landscape and to provide advice on shaping the country’s defence policies and activities. The government has received the latest assessment.

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Michael Swain, deputy secretary of defence policy and planning at the Ministry of Defence,​ said the presentation had been prepared for an internal audience attending a seminar, but was put up on an external website. He did not confirm if that was a mistake.

The ministry was preparing to release the report to the public before the end of the year.

‘Much worse’ strategic environment

Some details from the report – titled He moana pukepuke e ekengia e te waka/A rough sea can still be navigated – are covered in the presentation by Adam Norrie​, from the ministry’s policy team.

Norrie says the report predicts a considerably worse global situation impacted by strategic competition and climate change.

“New Zealand’s strategic environment has become substantially more challenging, and that this trend is likely to continue and further accelerate in coming years,” Norrie​ said in the now deleted video recording. “New Zealand faces a future strategic environment that will be much worse than that of the recent past.”

He noted it found this competition will play out most acutely between the United States and China but will also involve other countries, including New Zealand.

New Zealand is facing a much more challenging strategic environment.
Kerry Marshall/Getty Images
New Zealand is facing a much more challenging strategic environment.

As China’s economic and military reach has grown in recent years relations between China and the US in particular have worsened. Concerns have grown in particular about China’s machinations in the South China Sea and its intentions for Taiwan.

Climate change increases the risks of severe weather events, particularly for neighbouring Pacific countries. The NZDF would likely need to respond to these, Norrie said.

Although strategic competition and climate change would play out globally, their impacts would be most significant for New Zealand in terms of defence interests in the South Pacific.

“New Zealand’s defence policy approach should shift from a predominantly reactive risk management-centred approach to one based on a more deliberate and proactive strategy, with explicitly prioritised policy objectives.”

He noted the assessment recommends that activities in the Pacific will increasingly require the use of sophisticated military capabilities that have been previously considered more appropriate for operations further afield.

“But this is not to the exclusion of activities elsewhere. Defence will need to operate further afield where it aligns with New Zealand’s values and interests.”