NZ Army Officer Cadet School July 1998 Graduating Course Waiouru

  • Max Bradford

The New Zealand Army - A Proud Tradition and a Challenging Future

High Commissioners for Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Honorary Consul for Vanuatu. Chief of General Staff, ladies and gentlemen.

This proud occasion is a time to reflect on the legacy of one of NZ's greatest soldiers who recently passed away - Lieutenant General Sir Leonard Thornton.

This great loss follows the passing away last year of another inspirational leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Charles Bennett, commander of the Maori Battalion.

As graduates you will be following in the footsteps of these great leaders.

Their legacy is kept alive today through the professionalism and dedication of New Zealand Defence Force personnel undertaking many varied tasks around the globe.

UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, mine clearance operations in Asia and Africa, the Bougainville Peace Monitoring Group, and through the many contacts with the armies of our allies and friends in the course of normal training and exercises.

The performance of the Army shows that NZ has and can play a role in world affairs that is out of all proportion with our size.

The role we play is recognised. Our contribution may not be large when compared to larger nations, but when you are faced with an overwhelming number of tasks like those faced by the British in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and now through K Force in Kosovo, the help of only a troop of Kiwis takes on great significance.

The presence of our flag alongside others tells of New Zealand's commitment as a nation to peacekeeping around the world.

The United States is aware of the role we play and is appreciative of the part we play in world security.

It was the subject for my recent meeting with Secretary of Defence Bill Cohen - the first such meeting between a New Zealand Defence Minister and a US Secretary of Defence for over 20 years.

While we still have unfinished business over our nuclear legislation, the performance of our service men and women has cemented in the fact it is in the interest of the United States to support New Zealand in maintaining an effective defence force.

That is why Secretary Cohen told me at our recent meeting that the US is willing to relax some of the current restrictions on our defence relationship.

This will involve such things as increased access to training courses. As graduates you will be benefactors of this improvement in our defence relations.

Better access to the experience and resources of the world's leading military power, and to the most important player in the security of our part of the world is just one of things the Government hopes to achieve through its commitment to maintaining a Defence Force capable of living up to its rich heritage.

This commitment includes, as a priority, the $500 million re-equipment programme for the Army.

New area and point defence weapon systems, a new fire and forget anti-armour weapon, new tactical communications gear, anti-air missiles, and a whole range of surveillance and night observation kits have already been approved by Cabinet.

Last month I announced that $212 million was to be spent replacing Armoured Personnel Carriers and retired Scorpions. By mid-2002 there will be a minimum of 80 infantry mobility vehicles and 24 fire support vehicles in service.

The aging Land Rover fleet is also in the process of being replaced

And let's not forget the commitment to increase personnel numbers by two extra rifle companies - up to 400 additional men and women.

These aren't vague promises; they are firm commitments. The funds are there and the equipment is being purchased or sought as we speak.

There has been some media speculation about the future of Waiouru as a result of the Defence National Real Estate Review.

I want to assure you all today that none of this valuable training land we see around us will be sold.

There will be some re-organisation of units such as the Queens Alexandra Mounted Rifles as the Army moves towards the doctrine of motorised infantry and introduces new equipment, but the long term future of this camp remains secure.

Another issue that has been debated in the media and at Parliament is the narrow focus of opposition parties on what they term a niche Defence Force - a large army tailored to peacekeeping supported by a small coastguard navy and air transport service.

Such a debate is healthy and I welcome it. But Labour, the Alliance and ACT are clearly not in touch with the real world, and haven't learned from the media coverage of the Kosovo conflict, the Gulf War or even the Falklands War.

While virtually no conflict is won without ground forces, the majority of modern wars are fought by a joint force strategy, with air and sea phases often preceeding and supporting any ground phase.

Air power is more - not less - important today, particularly in support of ground forces.

Under National New Zealand will maintain a sensibly balanced, flexible Defence Force which can make a meaningful contribution to security in our region, and as a by-product, perform international peacekeeping, search and rescue and disaster relief.

This National-led Government isn't foolish enough to think it has a crystal ball and can fortell the future defence needs of our nation; not many forsaw the collapse of the Berlin Wall or the Asian Economic crisis.

It's no use just having a large army if the next conflict is a maritime one; no point in taking a knife to a gunfight.

It's better to be safe than sorry, and like fire insurance for your house, a flexible Defence Force working in concert with our allies and friends is the only credible insurance against uncertain world events.

I am pleased to tell you that last Monday Cabinet approved the 10-week deployment of five military observers to East Timor, to be led by Colonel Neville Reilly.

These New Zealand officers will assist in liaising between the Indonesian armed forces, the militia and independance factions in the lead up to the August ballot on the future of East Timor.

Cabinet also approved a three month deployment of our newest frigate, HMNZS Te Kaha to the Gulf in September to join the multinational interception force policing United Nations sanctions around Iraq.

Future Governments will probably call on you to serve your country more than has been the case in the past.

Close to home we have the situation in Bougainville that will require our troops for some time to come.

The current situation in the Solomon Islands is worrisome, and we are faced with the prospect of a significant United Nations operation in East Timor.

Further afield, the role of the military in bringing peace to the Balkans fills our television screens.

The need for an international military presence in the Middle East and Africa has not diminished.

More ominous has been India and Pakistan equipping themselves with nuclear weapons, raising the stakes as they escalate their conflict over Kashmir.

The armed and very dangerous stand-off on the Korean peninsula is as volatile as ever. Last night a North Korean vessel was sunk.

While the challenges facing you are daunting, it is also an exciting time.

In addition to operating the new equipment I mentioned, you will be grappling with the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs.

In this sense you will have the unique opportunity of becoming pioneers. It will be your job to shape the Army of the future.

This Army, your Army, will no doubt bear little resemblance to the Army of today and the armies of the past.

But you will not be starting with a clean sheet.

You have the advantage of drawing on the rich legacy left to you by General Thornton and Colonel Bennett and the other inspiring leaders of the past and present.

Your challenge will be to live up to these traditions and the legacy that you inherit as commissioned officers in the New Zealand Army.

It gives me great pleasure to see graduates from neighbouring defence forces on parade today.

You will be making an important contribution to security and stability in our Asia-Pacific region. An important part of your presence in New Zealand is the interaction between different nations. It is all part of confidence building in the region.

New Zealand values it formal defence relationships with Australia, Fiji, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, but to an even greater extent we value the close friendships of colleagues in arms forged through such challenges as this year long Officer training course.

It is with genuine pleasure that I want to wish you all well for your careers. Every New Zealander owes you a debt for being prepared to defend the peace the rest of the community benefits from so greatly.