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[In keeping with the mission of bringing news, views and analysis to readers of the Mönch Online News (MON) channel, we will increase the number of interviews and guest commentaries appearing online. Some will be linked to the print magazine, others – where appropriate – will stand on their own merits.

Under the series title Leadership Leanings, we will provide occasional views and commentary from political, military and industrial leaders, focused on regional, global and strategic issues of planning, policy and development. Kicking this series off in an interview with Ron Mark, New Zealand’s Defence Minister, is Tim Fish, reporting from the region for MON. – Editor]

During the last three years, Ron Mark has embarked on reforms that are re-focussing efforts towards the Pacific, recognising China as the reginal threat – as highlighted in his 2018 Strategic Policy Statement. He is also driving modernisation of the New Zealand Defence Force under the 2019 Defence Capability Plan, which will better place the services to meet 21st century challenges.

MON: What are New Zealand’s principal defence and security challenges?

Minister: The challenges are coming to grips with the implications of those things we outlined in the Strategic Policy Statement [SPS], which have not changed, just been complicated a bit more. It is about us facing complex disruptors in the South West Pacific, that New Zealand should play a role as a reliable and responsible strategic partner and standing by our principles of human rights, civil liberties and freedom of passage. We understand we have a responsibility for 11% of the planet’s surface with [our] Search and Rescue [SAR] and Humanitarian and Disaster Relief [HADR], roles and for the first time ever we are identifying the risks of climate change – physical and natural and the security risks that come with that.”

MON: What does the Pacific Re-Set mean for defence priorities?

Minister: With COVID it was satisfying that I had already launched Defence on a task of looking at other angles of climate change such as bio-security and bio-protection – what the threats and risks could be, not just to NZ but with Pacific Re-Set to the Pacific island community of nations as well. New Zealand doesn’t just have responsibility for protecting New Zealanders on the mainland but also other areas such as the Ross Dependency in the Antarctic, territorial claims in the Kermadec islands and SAR for Fiji in their waters along with other Pacific island nations who are very close to us.

MON: What new approach is Defence taking to the Pacific nations?

Minister: We are talking about developing and assisting with leadership to grow their defence forces; we have acknowledged we must help them to grow their economy and protect their resources in a way that also protects their sovereign rights and we do not impede on that. Any assistance we offer and whatever exercises and projects we undertake are done with Pacific island nation based on their priorities, while responding to their cultural requirements and value sets – not talking at them or telling them how to do things.

MON: What kinds of assistance is being provided to Pacific island nations?

Minister: With the Ministry for Foreign Affairs we have increased the amount of regional aid assistance funding that is available and we have increased the number of HADR deployments and exercises – whether responding to measles outbreak in Samoa, putting military dentists into the islands to deliver services, or putting engineers into Papua New Guinea to deliver projects identified as fundamentally important to their nation. We have also deployed a new Defence Attaché to Tonga and new defence advisers to Fiji.

Tim Fish in New Zealand for MON

Ron Mark, New Zealand Defence Minister. (Photo via author)

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