Opinion – Strategy has to move forward

A KEY factor in New Zealand’s defensive posture is its geographic isolation.

While Australia’s air-sea gap from potential aggressors has also been cited as a key defensive asset, that gap has become less reassuring.

Pundits are speculating whether rogue Marxist state North Korea’s latest rocket technology could deliver nuclear weapons to Australia.

How far that rocket could reach into the Australian mainland and whether North Korea’s erratic technology could actually successfully detonate a nuclear device are simply speculation.

In all that speculation, New Zealand as a potential target is never mentioned.

Acres of trees have been sacrificed by defence planners and staff college students who have written endless treatises on defence of the Australian mainland.

These will now have to address whether Australia possesses or should acquire the appropriate defensive missile technology to counter a North Korean missile threat.

Australian defence strategists once subscribed to the Domino Theory, that as Asian states were allowed to fall to communism, they would tip neighbouring states as well.

The Domino Theory was topical in the immediate World War II aftermath when it took six weeks by sea to travel to England, but only seven days by flying boat.

In 1945 RAAF transports regularly plied the route from Australia to PNG through Indonesia to Borneo and The Philippines and return, a journey over several days.

It was reasonable to assume then Australia had sufficient time to react to a southward thrust, though it was thought better to deal with any perceived threat in its country of origin.

The argued response was forward defence, which involved wars in Korea, Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam.

Various US, UK, Australian and NZ alliances saw troops stationed in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand but as the Domino Theory lost credibility, standing foreign forces were gradually withdrawn from South-East Asia.

Some token remnants remain, such as the Australian Rifle Company at the Malaysian Air Force base at Butterworth, a force whose intent over many years was the defence of RAAF assets based there, particularly as a ready reaction force during what is now acknowledged as the second Malaysian Emergency.

Long a security problem, radical Islam has since replaced communism as the dominant regional threat, particularly in southern Thailand and in the southern Philippines. Modern transport and communications make travel between distant lands let alone our nearest neighbours quick and simple.

Despite strict security controls over international travellers including those moving illegally, borders are porous.

Additionally in poorly supervised international waters it is nigh impossible to prevent illegal movement between jurisdictions.

While NZ can afford to be complacent in its splendid isolation, the southern Philippines and North Borneo are contiguous states. The ability of Islamic State aligned individuals to move freely between them is of serious concern.

Australia’s decision to commit RAAF surveillance aircraft to the region and the possibility ADF advisers might assist Philippine forces are sensible precautions.

Forward defence still has its considerable merits, particularly when offence is often the best form of defence.