No one is going to be able to say the Prime Minister has rushed New Zealand's response to the terrorist threat posed by Islamic State (Isis).

On the contrary, John Key has kept the country waiting for weeks for a decision on the nature and extent of any New Zealand contribution to Operation Inherent Resolve - the Pentagon's name for the American-led military campaign against the Iraq and Syria-based militants.

With New Zealand lacking any air strike capability, everything points to the contribution being something akin to a Hercules transport aircraft flying military supplies and humanitarian aid into Iraq, or some other logistics function far away from the front-line.

Yet there will be no such announcement in what Key has billed as a major speech on national security which he will deliver today. The speech will concentrate on the pending rewrite of the law to block locals wanting to fight for Isis from leaving New Zealand.


However, the speech is expected to assess the options for New Zealand's participation in the American-led coalition. Those range from deploying SAS special forces - Key's "least preferred option" - to doing nothing other than dispatching humanitarian aid. Key has softened up the public to expect some kind of deployment. So why the delay in an announcement?

One thing will be nagging away in the Prime Minister's mind. Previous contributions to such American-led campaigns have tended to be temporary.

The war against Isis looks like being prolonged. Key knows that this is a war that cannot be won by air strikes alone, given the fanaticism and tenacity of the militants and the woeful condition and morale of the Iraqi armed forces. At some point, the pressure is going to go on coalition participants to commit ground troops in what would become a really nasty war.

The possibility of New Zealand soldiers taken prisoner and appearing in beheading videos does not bear thinking about, let alone electorally. Yet coalition forces packing up shop and leaving Isis to wreak even more havoc is not an option either. Key wants buy-in to any decision from both the country and other parties in Parliament, especially Labour. He has got it from the latter on the crackdown on local would-be jihadists.

Labour is far more hesitant about endorsing any military-related deployment. But neither does Labour want to be accused of shirking international responsibilities and breaking the tradition that New Zealand military personnel go to war knowing the country is behind them.

The politics are extremely delicate - on all sides of the House. Little wonder then that the Prime Minister is moving very, very cautiously.