Minister of Defence: Speech for the Shangri-La Dialouge; Singapore

  • Hon Ron Mark

Good afternoon colleagues, my fellow panellists, ladies and gentlemen.

My thanks to our Singaporean hosts for their warm hospitality, and to the International Institute for Strategic Studies for the invitation to speak.

Positive and constructive regional security cooperation is important to New Zealand.

As a small country, we are a great supporter of multilateral and cooperative solutions to regional security challenges.

We value being part of a regional security architecture framework that promotes dialogue and cooperation, whether that be the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), East Asia Summit (E.A.S), ASEAN Regional Forum (A.R.F) or ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (known as the A.D.M.M-Plus).   

The threats facing us, individually and collectively, are becoming increasingly complex and challenging.  The international rules-based order is coming under significant pressure. 

This pressure has its roots, first, in geo-strategic competition, as we have seen increasing efforts by some states to pursue greater influence over others, in ways that challenge international norms and, at times, the sovereignty of smaller states.

Pressure on the rules-based order also stems from intensifying trans-national challenges, such as climate change, trans-national criminals and other malicious non-state actors, and cyber threats.  Across geography and domains, challenges once conceived as “future trends” are becoming present realities. 

This complex reality is difficult for one country to manage alone. As such, it is critical we take every opportunity to build trust through openness and transparency and dialogue.

Addressing the direct and indirect impacts of terrorism; human trafficking and people smuggling; transnational crime; climate change and natural disasters all demand our effective cooperation.  

I’m echoing Secretary Mattis’ remarks at last year’s Shangri-La Dialogue when I say “only working in concert can take us forward”. The importance of regional cooperation, including supporting the broader regional security architecture centred on ASEAN and APEC was further emphasised by Secretary Mattis this morning during his announcement of the US’ Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy.

New Zealand has a critical interest in peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and a particular strategic interest in our Pacific neighbourhood. My colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters, noted at a recent speech to The Lowy Institute, that, “it is appropriate that all countries in the region focus on legitimate defence, but we do not want to see military competition in the region.”

Regional security cooperation helps to manage competition.

It is only through partnership, dialogue, preventive diplomacy, consultation, and cooperation that we will be best able to collectively manage and respond to our future security challenges.

The ever growing complexity of our strategic environment is one of the reasons why New Zealand has, over recent months, been reviewing our strategic Defence policy settings. 

We want to ensure our Defence policy settings reflect our new Government’s priorities and respond to the challenges we see in the evolving strategic environment.

New Zealand’s updated Defence policy settings will be published later this month in a new policy statement, but I wanted to share with you some of our thinking on the strategic environment and highlight the value we place on regional security cooperation.

New Zealand’s Defence policy statement will reinforce the priority placed on the New Zealand Defence Force’s ability to deliver a range of operational effects in New Zealand immediate neighbourhood, stretching from the South Pole to the Equator.  New Zealand is a Pacific nation, and the New Zealand Government places substantial importance on our ability to work with our Pacific partners.

The policy statement will also reiterate New Zealand’s long-standing commitment to contributing to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific and further afield.

As security cooperation in our region is expansive, dynamic and diverse, there are both heightened risks from competition and more opportunities for cooperation.

I would like to propose five principles to manage regional security competition, and guide effective and coordinated cooperation.

First, adherence to and promotion of the international rules-based order.  This order underpins productive cooperation, stability, good governance and collective security.  We all benefit from the regulation and coordination that comes from this contract between states.

Perhaps one of the best examples in the Defence realm is the ASEAN Defence Minister’s Meeting Plus, which you may know as the A.D.M.M Plus.  ASEAN-centric forums such as ADMM-Plus provide exemplary frameworks for practical and effective cooperation.

For the eighteen member states, the ADMM-Plus has provided a prescriptive structure that underpins well-coordinated and targeted cooperation, across a range of disciplines including maritime security, counter-terrorism, peacekeeping, cyber security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, military medicine, and humanitarian mine action.

In the maritime domain, the adoption and application of “CUES” – the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea – by members of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium in 2014 and ADMM-Plus countries in 2017 is a very positive step and a good demonstration of cooperation that helps to manage the risks arising from a more competitive region.

Especially in the congested waters of the Asia-Pacific.

The second principle I would propose is that, in this increasingly complex and challenging security environment, more engagement and cooperation, not less is the key to avoiding duplication, miscalculation, and misunderstanding.

This is why New Zealand established the South West Pacific Heads of Maritime Forces Meeting in 2017, as endorsed by the South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting.  This brought together representatives from Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, Australia, France, Cook Islands, Niue, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Zealand maritime forces to facilitate cooperation and coordination on maritime security in the South Pacific.

But more engagement does not necessarily mean an expansion of forums and meetings.  This can stretch already stressed organisations and confuse or complicate.  Instead, we should work within existing multilateral forums and organisations where we can.

For example, in 2017 Pacific Islands Forum Leaders usefully decided to strengthen and expand their existing commitments to regional security cooperation, including the Biketawa Declaration signed in 2000.  The idea is to improve what we already have. In its expanded form the so-called “Biketawa Plus Declaration” will foster targeted cooperation to address emerging, newer threats, and be the basis for deeper cooperation and inclusive regional cooperation.

As a third principle, we encourage countries and organisations to identify their strengths and champion areas of niche expertise.  It’s about knowing what you’re good at, and delivering targeted cooperation that plays to your strengths. For New Zealand’s part, we focus on working cooperatively with other nations on areas such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; women, peace and security; and building capability through training.

For example, in Asia, New Zealand has provided training and conducted lessons learned with the Viet Nam Armed Forces Peacekeeping Centre. New Zealand was also pleased to recently send two senior officers to participate in the Indonesian Armed Forces’ hosted the 1st Asia Pacific Military Women Seminar 2018.

Fourth, a principle that is so often forgotten is inclusivity. This is not only about membership, but it is importantly about valuing and promoting a diversity of perspectives and enabling a range of voices to be heard.

Finally I propose a fifth principle that as a region we must be forward looking and future proof our cooperation.  We need to turn our attention to geostrategic, environmental and technological changes now, and think carefully about how they may redefine future security cooperation.

We know that due to climate change natural disasters are going to increasingly test us with their severity and frequency. We should continue to prioritise humanitarian assistance and disaster relief cooperation so that when disaster strikes we don’t have to play catch-up but have the systems in place to respond appropriately and effectively. We also have to build resilience in the face of such challenges and ensure we translate dialogue and exercises into practical outcomes.

In summary, a collective commitment to counter threats more effectively and efficiently should be at the heart of our cooperation. 

Bringing an open and honest mind-set to the table.  

Being inclusive, future thinking, adhering to our international obligations and championing areas of expertise will set us on the right path.

Thank you.