From 2015 until 2018, peace groups spent a considerable amount of time working to shut down New Zealand’s annual weapons expo, an event sponsored by Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest arms dealer. In 2018, in spite of a reported $250,000 security budget and a gargantuan police operation including a two-metre high blackout security fence and public ‘no-go’ zones of dubious legality around the Palmerston North event venue, the local war industry held the last of its in-person conferences.
It was the peace movement’s direct action tactics that brought an end to these “Defence Industry” events, but there has never been any wider social license for a homegrown military-industrial complex. As a general rule, people don’t think it is OK to profit from war. The furore – and demands for divestment – over shares held by the NZ Superfund and Kiwisaver funds into weapons businesses shows the strength of feeling across the country.
Yetthe recent release of a large cache of documents shows that development of a weapons industry is precisely the trade strategy currently being pursued by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE), supported by the the Ministry of Defence and the Defence Force (NZDF).
These agencies along with the industry lobby group, the New Zealand Defence Industry Association (NZDIA), have been promoting and working for the inclusion of New Zealand companies into Australian military projects. One of these projects, the construction of nine new warships, is being built by BAE Systems, a British arms company with a long history of corruption, that is supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia used in the war in Yemen, and that is producing components for nuclear weapons.
In 2018 and 2019, these NZ agencies joined forces, so to speak, to mount trade booths at two Australian arms fairs, hosted a lavish breakfast event at one, provided media tips and business advice, and set up meetings with large weapons dealers and military procurement personnel..
The Land Forces conference (2018) is a bi-annual “a showcase for manufacturers, systems integrators and maintenance and logistics specialists operating across the full spectrum of land warfare,” while the Indo-Pacific (2019) conference is a bi-annual trade show for naval armaments and maritime technologies.
On 31 August 2018, in advance of the Land Forces conference, a senior staffer at NZTE emailed NZDIA and NZDF staff attending the conference to say that “Tony from BAE will be at the stand about 12:30…(he) is a good advisor on how to access opportunities in BAE, particularly their shipbuilding programme.”
One senior NZTE staffer emailed the collaborating organisations following the 2018 Land Forces conference, saying “I would like to acknowledge the excellent collaboration around Land Forces last week. It was a great NZ team effort – government and industry pulling together to project New Zealand onto the stage in Adelaide. Our customers have benefited from the profile gained and have many business leads to follow up on. I was pleased by the very genuine level of interest shown by Primes and by ADF (Australian Defence Force) and ADOD (Australian Department of Defence) people who were at the show.”
Primes refers to “prime contractors”, the very large weapons companies that undertake to build whole weapons systems such as warships, fighter jets, bombs and missiles. These Primes – companies like BAE and Lockheed – typically sub-contract hundreds, even thousands, of other companies to supply component parts.
One NZ company, Tactical Solutions, got assistance with setting up meetings with an ADF Colonel to sell night vision, thermal imaging, weapon sighting systems.
At the Indo-Pacific 2019 conference in Sydney, Jon Finderup from the Ministry of Defence and Commander Murray Tuffin of the Navy were the speakers at the NZDIA lunch-hosted lunch. In appreciation NZDIA chair Jenny Vickers wrote, “thank you to NZDF and MOD. We are very appreciative of the level of engagement, and quality of support from NZDF and MOD to industry, which made New Zealand stand out.“
The cosy relationships between the weapons lobby group – the NZDIA – and government departments evidences the growing infrastructure of a military-industrial complex. While domestic production is of interest given the $20 billion military capital spend up started under the last National government, it is the much more lucrative overseas markets, particularly Australia and the US, that are of growing interest.
Yet in none of these documents does any ethical or even strategic consideration arise about what such a goal actually represents: a New Zealand government willingness to participate in a regional arms race; a strong endorsement of Australia’s military build up, and a complicity in strengthening the power of global weapons companies.
The Australian government has committed $90 billion for new shipbuilding alone. Their massive military build up is part of a wider Pacific arms race that is unfolding. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute notes that the region that received the largest volume of major arms supplies in 2015–19 was Asia and Oceania, accounting for 41 per cent of the total, and that it was second only to the Americas in global military spending, at $523 billion (27 per cent of world spending).
A Pacific arms race is not an abstract idea, but an already unfolding reality – one that New Zealand should be doing everything it can to stop. The US military Pacific “pivot” started in 2011. The Chinese government has embraced an aggressive plan of island building in the Pacific to host its naval fleet. Aotearoa and our Island neighbours will be at the epicenter of any Pacific war.
Meanwhile, Australia has become the fourth largest importer of weapons in the world, behind only Saudi Arabia, India and Egypt. In this environment, one NZTE senior staffer notes, “The New Zealand Government and our companies are proud to support Australia’s ambition to build a world-class defence industry.” There are numerous references within NZTE conference documents emphasising the long and strong Australia-New Zealand defence relationship. A 2.5 hour Auckland presentation by NZTE & Thales (a French nuclear weapons company) about business opportunities includes notes that this programme is intended, “To support a muscular approach to Australia’s interests in the Indo-Pacific region.”
Yet by helping to arm Australia, the NZ government compromises New Zealand’s own security and makes a confrontation and regional war more likely. It also gives tacit approval to the Australian government’s defence policy, which has included a brutal, militarised response to the arrival of refugees including forcing boats out of Australian waters to run aground on remote islands and detaining people to be imprisoned in offshore detention centres.
Perhaps most worrying is the lack of concern expressed by these agencies in seeking work for NZ businesses with global weapons companies. Companies like Lockheed Martin are not just passive suppliers to willing customers. Instead, these companies create demand for their products by lobbying for aggressive military policies and new wars.
In the US, UK and Australia, there is a revolving door for high-ranking military personnel in lucrative jobs at private arms companies. President-Elect Joe Biden’s new secretary of defence, retired four-star General Lloyd Austin joined the board of Raytheon Technologies, the fourth largest arms dealer in the world, in April 2016 after a career in the army. As of October 2020, his Raytheon stock holdings were worth roughly $500,000 and his compensation, including stock, totaled $1.4 million. Now he is returning to ‘public service’ directing US military policies and procurement.
More evidence of the role of weapons companies is that their stock prices frequently soar on news of potential wars. In early January 2020 as Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and threatened war, Lockheed Martin saw its stock price spike to over $416, a jump of seven percent almost overnight.
In recent statistics on actual military sales, SIPRI again notes “Nineteen of the top 25 arms companies increased their arms sales in 2019 compared with 2018. The largest absolute increase in arms revenue was registered by Lockheed Martin: $5.1 billion, equivalent to 11 per cent in real terms.”
For a government that is nominally committed to a ‘Trade for All agenda, the development of a home grown arms industry seems strikingly odd. ‘Trade for All’ is meant to replace the decades long, aggressive neo-liberal trade strategy of free trade deals, overseas investment and deregulation pursued by both Labour and National. This nicer, kinder, if you will, trade strategy resulting from consultations and discussions with Māori and communities across Aotearoa, reflects some of the real concerns, such as labour standards and climate change, of the many ordinary people who took to the streets repeatedly to protest the TPPA in the years leading up to Labour’s quick signing of that deal in 2017.
Along with those critically important concerns, we can be sure that the same NZ public would be deeply alarmed at trade that encourages militarisation of the region and that supports the growth of the global weapons giants.
These same weapons fairs are being held in 2021 and 2022 respectively. We know that our friends in the Australian peace movement are working to stop these events from happening. We don’t yet known if these New Zealand agencies will again host booths to promote New Zealand involvement in the Australian arms industry.
A transformative government, a government seeking ‘trade for all’ and other positive social outcomes, should not be banking upon the lucrative world of weapons dealing for New Zealand’s future prosperity. Trade for all cannot reasonably include profit for those who trade in death and human misery, and benefit from the waging of wars.