Thinking behind NZ defence strategy revealed

Dan Eaton, director for defence policy in the Ministry of Defence, speaking to staff and students at Massey University with colleagues Dr Adam Norrie, Henry Curtis and Justin Allan.

The enduring values that drive New Zealand’s behaviour on the world stage are at the heart of the 2018 Strategic Defence Policy Statement released in July – an insight shared by Ministry of Defence director for defence policy, Dan Eaton.

Mr Eaton, who lead the Strategic Defence Policy Review which shaped the statement, spoke at Massey’s Manawatū campus last week. 

He and his team were invited by Massey’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies to speak to staff and students about both the policy process and how the statement was created, and to discuss the main content. Defence personnel from the Linton and Ohakea military camps were also present. Mr Eaton was joined by Ministry of Defence principal analyst Dr Adam Norrie and senior analyst in policy development, Henry Curtis, as well as New Zealand Customs Service principal maritime policy advisor Justin Allan. 

Centre director Professor Rouben Azizian says the document is considered by many academic commentators to be the most interesting policy statement on New Zealand’s defence for quite some time.

Mr Eaton described the strategy as a “factual and dispassionate” statement that reflects a change in the strategic environment and priorities and capability decisions under the new government elected last September.

He was keen to stress that while the media had focused on the strategy’s references to China’s growing influence and confidence, the document does not assert a “tough line” in any specific area and is not a response to any sense of crisis. 

The single biggest threat facing us, he says, is the “accelerating erosion of a global rules-based order we rely on”, such as the ones set through the United Nations and a host of treaties we are signatories to that underpin foreign affairs and trade. 

Mr Eaton noted that the Statement’s broader assessment of challenges to New Zealand security interests includes protectionist tendencies and uncertainties in the current United States administration’s policies as well as the rise of populist and nationalist movements around the world.

Pictured after their talk on the background to the Strategic Defence Policy Statement, (from left) Justin Allan, Dr Adam Norrie, Dan Eaton, Henry Curtis and Professor Rouben Azizian (Director, Centre for Defence and Security Studies).

New research opportunities for Pacific and maritime security

Dr Norrie, one of the statement authors, said the strategy embodies the “Pacific re-set” theme through a new set of principles and expressions that frame defence policy around “community, nation, world”. Key issues of concern in creating the document were: the importance of delivering value to New Zealand communities, New Zealand’s role as a Pacific nation, and security issues linked to climate change and protecting the natural environment.

Defence principles he highlighted in the strategy include: being combat capable and flexible; having highly trained personnel; having the resources to meet the strategy’s operational priorities; operating in a way that maintains public trust and confidence; ensuring New Zealand values are upheld and promoted; and being a credible, trusted international partner.

Dr Norrie talked about the challenges to an open society such as New Zealand, and “complex disrupters” such as cyber and technological threats, climate change, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, space-based systems and transnational organised crime.

Mr Curtis discussed his cutting-edge work on considering defence within the Living Standards Framework being explored by Treasury. While national security policy is inherently linked to wellbeing, discussions on wellbeing and public policy seldom include reference to traditional national security agencies, he said. 

Mr Allan told the audience there was ample opportunity for further research on issues relating to maritime security in the Pacific region.

Professor Azizian thanked the Ministry of Defence team for their briefings and expressed hope that such visits to Massey would become regular in the interests of students in the defence and security studies programme and given the significant presence of defence personnel in the region.   

The policy can be viewed at

The views of 10 Massey academics on the strategy have been published on the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and Massey University’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies websites: read here.

Related articles

Symposium marks foreign affairs’ 75 years of service
Opinion: Defence strategy reveals new priorities and tensions
Nukes to cyber war – NZ security in focus
Ambassadors gain insights into Pacific regional security

More related articles

Massey Contact Centre Mon - Fri 8:30am to 4:30pm 0800 MASSEY (+64 6 350 5701) TXT 5222 Web chat Staff Alumni News Māori @ Massey