The future of New Zealand peacekeeping is under increasing scrutiny as it bids for a seat on the United Nations Security Council at the end of a decade of peace support operations in Afghanistan, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands.

In recent weeks that scrutiny has intensified. The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has launched its defence capability plan and the Cabinet External Relations and Defence Committee has released its review of peace support operations (PSO).

Security personnel and officials attended the non-government organisation (NGO) community's civil-military forum to discuss guidelines for civil-military co-ordination when delivering humanitarian aid.

These developments tell us something interesting about sites of tension and compatibility in thinking about New Zealand's future security efforts.


The capability plan emphasises the core task of the NZDF as conducting military operations. The rationale is not direct military threat but the importance of engaging with allies and friends amid the "uncertain nature of the international strategic environment".

Much more interesting are the other roles the NZDF may be tasked with. A key target of the capability plan is "meeting the Government's security objectives in New Zealand's maritime zone and the South Pacific" as a starting point for selecting New Zealand's military capabilities.

Meeting these objectives has encouraged the development of NZDF initiatives such as the Joint Amphibious Task Force and a new Deployable Operational Health Service Support. It requires close engagement with government agencies such as the Ministry of Primary Industries and Customs and civilian organisations.

This is also reflected in the PSO review which notes the centrality of the NZDF but says a "whole-of-government approach is desirable".

It continues: "Where appropriate, operations involving a combination of military, police, diplomatic, policy and development expertise would provide the most effective outcomes." This is welcome but more could have been done to initiate structural changes.

In line with the emphasis in the capability plan, the PSO review notes engagement in the South Pacific is "non-discretionary" and suggests "peace support deployments beyond" should not degrade the NZDF's capacity to deploy within the South Pacific.

Furthermore, the review initially suggested two options for considering future deployments: retaining the "wait and see" approach or adopting a new "more active approach to seeking opportunities with the UN and others".

In October 2013, the Cabinet committee adopted the latter, meaning New Zealand could pursue other, presumably non-traditional, defence partnerships "where the security environment allows".


Also campaigning for space at the table is the NGO community. The Council for International Development's (CID) annual civil-military forum addressed draft guidelines for NGO agencies working with New Zealand military and police in response to natural disasters and humanitarian crises.

The guidelines emphasise an NGO-first approach based on independence of action and demanding respect for humanitarian space. NGOs are seeking to shape the environment within which defence and security planning for operations takes its interests into account and develop a code of conduct when engaged in humanitarian action.

Ultimately, the capability plan, PSO review and CID forum all advocate greater co-ordination, more coherent strategy, and a more nuanced understanding.

Developing dynamic and responsive inter-agency guidelines will be critical if New Zealand is able to meet the obligations of a non-permanent UN Security Council seat.

The authors are senior lecturers at Massey University, Dr Greener at the school of people, environment and planning and Dr Powles in security studies at the Centre for Defence and Security Studies.