New Zealand's military will be able to go after illegal fishing vessels and launch its own cyber attacks as a result of a $20 billion increase in funding, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee says.
Following in the footsteps of its international partners, New Zealand confirmed plans yesterday to increase its spending on defence in response to what Prime Minister John Key called "increasing uncertainty and instability in the international environment".
Though Mr Key identified Islamic State (Isis) and tensions in the South China Sea as growing threats, the long-awaited Defence White Paper focused mostly on matters close to New Zealand's shores. In particular, the navy and air force's capabilities in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica would be enhanced with a new ice-strengthened patrol vessel and replacement Orion aircraft.
Mr Brownlee said the Government hoped the new assets would be better equipped for tackling poachers.
"I think every new generation of ships is more capable than the one that preceded it, so we would expect that."
In early 2015, the HMNZS Wellington tracked down three illegal fishing boats near Antarctica.
The navy collected evidence for prosecution, but was unable to board the run-down, ageing vessels and was eventually outlasted by them - an embarrassing defeat which led to concerns about the offshore patrol vessel's effectiveness.
The funding increase also covered replacements for the air force's ageing Hercules and Boeing 757s and the navy's frigates, though the absence of any detail on potential replacements prompted Labour's defence spokesman Phil Goff to dismiss the White Paper as a "list of generalities".
New frigates and airlift options would cost billions, he said, and "decisions need to be made now".
In a new development, the paper outlined plans to defend against the growing threat of cyber attacks, which Mr Brownlee said were now "as effective as a bomb".
The Defence Force's beefed-up cyber security would include the new ability to launch attacks on other forces as a deterrent to interfering with New Zealand's defence operations.
Professor Alexander Gillespie, from the Waikato University Law Department, said New Zealand's spending on defence - equivalent to 1 per cent of GDP - was "the minimum amount" needed to keep pace with its international partners. Australia spent 1.9 per cent of its GDP on defence and the US 3.3 per cent.
US Ambassador to New Zealand Mark Gilbert, who attended the Defence White Paper launch in Wellington yesterday, said the US Government thought 2 per cent of GDP was a "minimum" for defence spending.
"But different countries in different regions have different threats," he said.
Professor Robert Ayson, from Victoria University's School of Strategic Studies, said the paper carefully balanced New Zealand's ties to the United States and China.
"We've got a bit more evenness than the Australian White Paper does," he said.
However, New Zealand also sent a clear message to China over its activities in the South China Sea, saying that it expected all countries to adhere to an imminent ruling by the Hague on territorial claims in the region.