Trade for all? Peace groups question the NZ trade strategy of investment in a homegrown weapons industry

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.

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Air New Zealand assisting war crimes in Yemen

“The shocking revelations that Air New Zealand has been assisting the Saudi military in the war on Yemen must prompt a wider inquiry into the Crown’s involvement in the arms trade,” said Peace Action Wellington member Valerie Morse.

“It is absolutely not credible for the Minister of Finance to say that this is an operational matter. This is a national security and foreign affairs issue, and the government cannot avoid taking responsibility for it solely by blaming Air New Zealand.”

“The war on Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Our national airline is implicated in a naval blockade that has led to the mass starvation of millions of people. It is beyond comprehension. At the same time, that the government was unaware that a company in which they are the majority shareholder is undertaking this kind of work shows a level of negligence which is unacceptable in the extreme.”

“While the actions of Air New Zealand are shocking, they are not surprising to us. We know that the New Zealand government has been pursuing international weapons sales and services as a trade strategy for nearly two decades. There are other crown institutions and government agencies that are deeply involved in the international arms trade.” 

“It is time to put a stop to this. It is morally bankrupt and indefensible to profit from war, death and human misery. The New Zealand government should move to ban any and all contracts with militaries that commit human rights abuses. This is not hard.”

“We are calling for a wider inquiry into the actions of Air New Zealand and all crown institutions involved in the arms trade. At this stage we know that this includes New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, Callaghan Innovation, University of Auckland Uniservices, the NZ Superfund, University of Canterbury Geospatial Research Institute and ACC. We are sure that there are more.”

Peace Action Wellington report Profiting from War on the New Zealand arms trade:

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Jacinda on War and Peace

In the final lap of the election cycle, it is critical to examine the government’s record on war and peace over the past three years. It isn’t a subject that swings elections like healthcare or taxes, but it has a much greater potential impact on everyone’s lives. In our interconnected world a full-blown war would be devastating and widespread. New Zealand is also at a dangerous juncture because its closest relationships – the political/military one with The Five Eyes (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States) and the economic one with China – are currently deeply antagonistic towards each other.

Each subject area has been categorised in the following ways.

Start – activities are those things the government are likely to begin doing in the next cycle.

Stop – looks back at the previous term to identify which things didn’t work and should cease.

Continue – identifies things that worked in the previous cycle and need to be part of the government’s core activities.

STOP: New Zealand’s longest war

Labour PM Helen Clark joined the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. It is our longest running war. Prime Minister Ardern tried to justify renewing the deployment in 2018 by saying, “The instability in Afghanistan has remained”, without acknowledging the contribution of the NZDF to that instability (see Operation Burnham). It is time for New Zealand to withdraw the troops and support civilian efforts to support the Afghan people and end the war.

START: Making the Minister of Disarmament a meaningful role

The Minister of Disarmament role is hardly a peacenik’s advocacy position, held as it is currently by Winston Peters, and most recently before that Phil Goff, who served in the role simultaneously with his role as the minister for the military. It could be so much much more. When the last National government disestablished the role, it was a clear indication that weapons disarmament was not even on their radar. It was also a cynical move to dissolve any remaining NZ state identity with the successful nuclear-free movement. a disturbing proposition given the rapid growth of nuclear weapons stockpiles and increasing number of states that have them. The restoration of the role could be accompanied by the creation of a Ministry of Peace with a broad agenda of demilitarisation and decolonisation in the Pacific.

STOP: Extending the troop deployment to Iraq

NZ troops have been in Iraq off and on for 17 years (2003-2020). The final deployment returned in June 2020, due to Trump’s recklessly provocative assassination of Iranian General Suleimani on Iraqi soil endangering all foreign troops stationed there. The Prime Minister could have ended the deployment earlier as Labour had opposed the 2014 deployment under National.

START: Civilian accountability of the military

On 11 April 2018 the Attorney-General announced that an inquiry would be held into Operation Burnham, the horrific nighttime raid by NZSAS soldiers in Afghanistan that was the subject of Hit and Run, an expose by journalists Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager. There had been sustained public pressure to hold this inquiry including three separate petitions to Parliament, and the government had little to lose since the Operation occurred under the previous National government.

That inquiry has just finished, and despite the fact that there were at least seven people murdered, twice as many injured and a culture of cover-up and denial, not a single person is actually being held responsible for any of it: not a minister, not an officer, not a soldier. No one. The government has accepted the four recommendations to improve civilian oversight, but lest we forget, this isn’t even the first NZSAS raid in Afghanistan where there were civilian casualties and people handed over to be tortured. With this history, an extension of the NZDF deployment and no talk of compensation for the victims, it hardly feels like justice.

STOP: Expanding the Security Intelligence Service

The slogan on the NZSIS website still says “Providing security and intelligence services to keep New Zealand and New Zealanders secure”, and can not be viewed as anything other than a sick joke after the Christchurch Mosque killings. The submission to the Christchurch Inquiry from the Islamic Women’s of New Zealand to the Royal Commission of Inquiry states – “Yet almost nothing was in place by the time of the mosque shootings. No nationwide strategy, no co-ordinated or linked up protection programmes by police or SIS, no register of hate crimes.” Their submission continues that they “had to engage with a civil service containing, to a large extent, poorly trained, unprofessional and uninformed officials, and slow, unmotivated, uninterested agencies.”

The NZSIS still does not view white supremacists a threat because the agency’s job is to protect the existing political order in NZ which is itself deeply unequal and racist. Anything or anyone that is outside of that – like Muslims, Māori Sovereignty and left-wing political activists – are considered a threat to be monitored and disrupted. 

This agency is a danger to civil liberties and its approach to the safety of all New Zealanders has been a telling failure.

STOP: Denying Tino Rangatiratanga and allowing the destruction of Aotearoa’s history 

The Māori land at Ihumātao, some 32 hectares, was stolen. It has since been in private Pākehā ownership for about 120 years until it was sold to Fletcher Building for the purposes of a residential housing enclave. Instead of showing up and facing up to the Crown’s history of theft and giving it back, Ardern failed to show at the whenua. Ihumātao, and many other places like it around Aotearoa, remain the open wounds of colonial confiscation and will fester until a full and proper remedy is made available. 

CONTINUE: Passing gun reform

The Labour-led government responded to March 15th with urgent legislation to ban military-style assault rifles and large magazines of ammunition, and establish a gun register. 

This was solid progress given the Christchurch terrorist was a legal gun owner, and the police had a list of longstanding and sensible demands for gun reform it had been unable to get passed into law. Gun reform is a key ingredient of a peaceful society to reduce interpersonal violence and the availability of lethal weapons. The legislation, however, contained inconsistencies, and does not go far enough. Meanwhile, NZ First and the gun lobby are doing everything they can to gut it.

STOP: Rewarding the NZDF and enriching US weapons companies

Instead of fundamental reform of the military that has committed war crimes and sought to cover them up, that has an institutional problem with sexual assault, that engaged in surveillance of and slander of a journalist, that poisoned local ecosystems across the country with PFAS firefirghting foam and failed to tell communities about it, and refused to front to journalists time and time again, this government has instead rewarded them with a massive expenditure on new weapons including 

 $2.4 billion on four Boeing P-8 Poseidons, a figure that equals all Treaty of Waitangi claims to date

$1 billion on new five Lockheed Martin C130 troop transport, a contract that was not even open to competitive tender, and

$100 million on 43 armoured vehicles

rather than spending money on our underfunded school and health system. Spending this money on expensive boondoggles to keep so-called allies like the United Kingdom and the USA costs New Zealand lives every year.

“The United States has insisted that its NATO and other allies spend 2% of their GDP on defence. In theory this is so that the US need not shoulder so much of the defence burden. But in reality US defence spending is increasing, not reducing. In fact what the US is doing is increasing the market so that it’s vast arms industry can profit from it. To give in to such a policy is a sacrifice for New Zealanders health for US arms industries profits. No responsible New Zealand government should countenance such nonsense.” – Peter King from Responsible Defence

STOP: Sending troops to RIMPAC and hosting war games

Sixteen of the twenty-six invite countries pulled out of the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) war exercises this year. It was an easy opportunity for NZ not to be the US’s lackey, not to validate their utter disdain of international law and not to participate in this provocative display of US imperial might. But why take up peace when practicing war makes good pictures? Oh and that whole global pandemic thing, obviously not a worry despite rampant infections in the US military.  Minister Ron Mark wouldn’t miss the chance to suck up to the US.

Meanwhile the NZDF will be continuing its own homegrown war games – Exercise Southern Katipo  – hardly essential business in the time of an international health emergency.

STOP: Violating human rights

APEC has been cancelled due to Covid but Labour was very enthusiastic about hosting this capitalist love-in even after the intended venue went up in flames. APEC is an annual trade meeting of the leaders of countries that rim the Pacific ocean. Included in this are the US, Russia, and China. The major aim of APEC is trade liberalisation. In practice, this means prying open economies for corporations to exploit, combined with the loss of workers’ rights, indigenous rights, land rights, environmental protections and democratic accountability. The APEC security law was passed to ensure that anyone trying to protest this event would be shut down and shut up quickly, and gave police vast new powers to conduct searches and surveillance. Instead of passing ever more surveillance and security laws to protect global gangsters like Trump, Xi and Putin, the government should have been strengthening rights to protest and protections for journalists.

STOP: Passing new terrorism laws

This Labour-led govenrment has followed on from the last Labour-led government in producing extremely dodgy new terrorism laws. With help from the Greens, the Control Orders law passed largely to deal with one man, Mark Taylor, a New Zealander who had travelled to fight in Syria. The Privacy Commissioner lashed out at this law that imposes restrictions on returning New Zealanders, describing it as “obnoxious”, “fundamentally flawed”, and an “affront to the principles of due process”. This government, like the last government has failed to remedy the well-documented problems witht the Terrorism Suppression Act. What is further terrifying is that the Inquiry into the Christchurch massacre is likely to recommend more terrorism legislation – this should be resisted absolutely. 

START: Supporting engagement with constitutional transformation

Matike Mai explores the idea of constitutional spheres of rangatiratanga and kāwanatanga, and a way forward for joint decision making. There is an open invitation for non-Māori to consider these ideas and the government should be looking for ways to support this important discussion.

In 2015, before he was Minister of Treaty Negotiations, Andrew LIttle said, the Waitangi Tribunal finding that Ngā Puhi did not cede sovereignty should not be dismissed and that models of indigenous self-governance and law-making around the world should be explored. A Treaty settlement process that was not dictated by the Crown would be a great place to start.

Valerie Morse is a member of Peace Action Wellington.

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Shelly Bay and Ihumātao shown support in Wellington

On Saturday, Wellingtonians gathered for an action on Cuba Mall to support two important Māori land struggles at Ihumātao (Auckland) and at Murukaikuru (Shelly Bay, Wellington) and to push for political solutions. Mau Whenua member David Tawhai-Bodsworth told the crowd that they will never give up on their struggle for land at Murukaikuru Shelly Bay. Mau Whenua are Taranaki Whānui who believe in kaitiakitanga and holding onto the land at Shelly Bay.

“Peace Action Wellington and Pōneke Solidarity Alliance have come out on the streets to stand with Tangata Whenua in Wellington who are fighting to save their land ,” said Valerie Morse spokesperson for Peace Action Wellington.

“It was great to see Wellington show up and sign the letter to Mayor Andy Foster asking that the Council refuse the sale of a critical piece of land that would enable this unjust land theft to continue. There is a Council vote on the land sale in October and we call on the Council to do the right thing,” said Morse.

“There is growing unease amongst Wellingtonians about the Shelly Bay deal given that the majority of iwi members voted against the land sale, and that thousands more were unable to vote. Frankly this is a dodgy deal,” said Morse

“As part of the action today, a statue of William Wakefield was pelted with water balloons and demolished. We were drawing the links between Wellington’s original land theft by the New Zealand Company and this contemporary land deal with The Wellington Company owned by Ian Cassells.”

“Today we were also drawing links with the struggle at Ihumātao which remains unresolved.”

“We believe that there can be no unity or future for Aotearoa while these festering injustices remain. Ignoring history and papering over past wrongs is not the way to build a solidly peaceful and democratic country – instead it is piling hate and further deprivation on Māori who have sought a genuine partnership based on Te Tiriti for 180 years.”

Download, print and distribute our Mau Whenua leaflet: we need to mobilise Wellington!

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Operation Burnham Inquiry: Disestablish the NZSIS & A fundraiser for the Victims

“The disturbing findings of the Operation Burnham Inquiry released today require the NZ government to take decisive steps to disestablish the NZ Special Air Service (NZSAS),” said Peace Action Wellington member Valerie Morse.

“After nearly a decade of denials and outright lies, the truth about Operation Burnham has been exposed: war crimes committed by NZ forces in Afghanistan. This inquiry found that the NZSAS murdered civilians, that these were not investigated and senior military leadership lied to the government about these actions. The National Party Minister of Defence of the time Wayne Mapp continued these lies to the public despite having been fully briefed.”

“It isn’t enough to reform the NZSAS and the NZDF. This inquiry finds deep and systemic problems. We need to remember this isn’t even the first case of NZSAS illegal and immoral conduct in Afghanistan. Author Jon Stephenson documented the raid of  Band-E-Timur including the death of a child and the handing over of 50-70 men to be tortured by Afghan forces at Bagram Air Force Base. The NZDF lied about that operation for years, and slandered the journalist.”

“While the recommendations of the report are useful, they are woefully inadequate. The problems with the NZSAS go beyond those outlined in this report; a special forces unit is unnecessary and dangerous in a democractic country.”

“Frankly, this report just adds to our knowledge of a myriad of other issues within NZDF including ongoing sexual assault. We demand that the government go much further than these superficial recommendations. The disestablishment of the NZSAS is the proper course of action given this report today.”

“Given the role of Wayne Mapp in covering up what had happened and his conscious decision to mislead the NZ public about war crimes, there should be legal consequences for him as well.”

“Peace Action Wellington has started a Give-A-Little Fundraiser for the victims of Operation Burnham. We encourage people to give if they are able. The link is here:”

“We acknowledge that this will not undo the damage done in our name to these families. We intend this donation as both a respectful apology for our complicity in these deaths and injuries and as a message of solidarity to the people of Afghanistan. We demand an end to NZ complicity in wars in Afghanistan and around the world.”


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