Reflections on the Second National Security Conference

Line of Defence Magazine, Winter 2018

Centre for Defence and Security Studies - National Security Conference
Massey University's Centre for Defence and Security Studies hosts biennial National Security Conference.

Dr William Hoverd, Senior Lecturer at Massey University’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies, is guest editor of this 2018 National Security Conference special issue of Line of Defence. He offers his reflections on the CDSS-hosted conference, highlighting the big questions it’s raised in relation to New Zealand’s national security.

The proceedings of the first National Security Conference in 2017 were published by Massey University as an edited volume. The second conference built on this framework and sought to broaden the notion of national security away from traditional issues. Indeed, explicit discussion about defence and policing issues were notably absent.

The conference began with Hon Andrew Little giving his first official speech as the Minister with responsibility for the GSCB and NZSIS. Minister Little starts by emphasising that New Zealand national security matters tend to be approached by the Government in a bi-partisan manner, before outlining his view of the function of security intelligence, the need for transparency, the limits of transparency, oversight and the role of the Security Intelligence Act 2017.

The Minister concludes by pointing to the two largest threats facing the GCSB and NZSIS: cyber threats and counter-terrorism respectively.

Dr Bryson Payne of the University of North Georgia notes the global trend for expansion of cyber-defence capabilities in national security systems.  He demonstrates that the domain of cyber-attack can now impact individuals, governments and corporations indiscriminately and discriminately.

Phones, televisions, fridges, banking systems, power grids, and government IT infrastructure can all become victims to catastrophic attacks that ransom, subvert or destroy their ability to function. Cyber-attacks can originate from individuals, nation states or organised criminal groups. Terrifyingly, these sources of threat can target globally.

Payne concludes his review of the contemporary cyberthreat landscape by stating that “a comprehensive national security strategy for the next twenty years must address not only the technologies and the processes involved in each of the components of national security, it must include cyber training and education for the people working across those areas as well.”

For Payne, the only effective way for internet-enabled liberal democracies to protect themselves from transnational cyber-attack will come through active engagement between individuals and governments to protect themselves.

Dr John Battersby (CDSS) contests the notion that New Zealand has been relatively insulated from acts of terrorism. He points to a series of politically motivated domestic bombings, assassination attempts and violence that have occurred in the last 40 years to argue that these events would now be likely represented as terrorist acts rather than the isolated acts of crime they were previously portrayed as.

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Battersby worries that a form of collective amnesia combined with Government secrecy around historical counterterrorism actions creates an ‘optical illusion’ that obscures the ability for real progress around the weaknesses in New Zealand’s legislative environment when it comes to creating effective counter-terrorism measures.

Dr Reuben Steff from Waikato University turns the discussion to the potential nuclear threat posed by North Korea. He looks to the progress of the recent discussions between Pyongyangand Washington before asking what it means for New Zealand. Specifically, he places the discussions in relation to the great power competition taking place in the deteriorating relationship between China and the US and asks what that might mean for stability in the Asia Pacific region.

Josie Pagani (Director of the Council of International Development) and Andie Fong Toy (FormerDeputy Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat) both reflect upon the impact and challenges of the New Zealand Government’s Pacific reset.

For Pagani, additional government aid results in increased spending for vulnerable pacific island communities, which ultimately represents spending on promoting a secure region. She points to New Zealand’s relative neglect of the region, its infrastructure vulnerabilities, and the emergence of China and Russia as matters of New Zealand concern.

Fong Toy highlights cross-border Pacific Islands human security concerns, including, “climate change, rapid urbanisation, unemployment, food insecurity, depletion of natural resources, violence against women, and post-conflict reconstruction.” She is of the view that the reset is a move in the right direction, but that it will need to address some currently unaddressed critical issues, including building trusted relationships with Pacific Island leaders, pension portability, biosecurity rules for Pacific produce, and the extension of visas on arrival to Pacific Island tourists.

Crucially, she worries that the Pacific reset must be driven by a real concern for the stability and prosperity of the region, as well as a real engagement with the effects of climate change, rather than a politics where New Zealand might be losing ground to China and Russia.

Dr Scott Hauger of the Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies outlines the risks of climate change for the Pacific region, pointing to the increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide and its effects on global warming.

The south pacific region can expect rising levels of water to impact on coastal areas, resulting in increased natural disasters. For New Zealand, there will likely be increased competition over resources resulting from climate change. In particular this might mean a challenge to Antarctic territorial claims.

Hauger argues that the security sector will have to increasingly respond to the impacts of climate change because the onus for preparing for prevention, mitigation and adaptation efforts will land on them to prepare and deliver increasingly extensive humanitarian assistance regionally and domestically.

Dr Germana Nicklin, (CDSS) asks what the concept of ‘national security’ means for New Zealanders. She highlights examples where there is a divergence between government national security priorities and the ways in which New Zealand society might consider the concept. Nicklin, argues that it will be a research priority to reconcile sections of the community and government policy.

Ailya Danzeisen’s article challenges us to envisage New Zealand civil society in a different way. As a Muslim community member, she ponders why it is that New Zealand Muslims have been relatively insulated from terror and violence since the rise of ISIL.

For Danzeisen, our society offers a model of citizenship that has been relatively successful at integrating Muslims. She argues that the ‘Kiwi difference’ is the Government and community’s willingness to invest in people.

She sees this typified in the Maori proverb: He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata – What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people. For Danzeisen the proverb provides an ethos for a model of integration that can be extended to the super diverse populations developing in our major cities.

The conference speakers saw the biggest threats to New Zealand national security as:

  1. Cyberthreats
  2. Terrorism
  3. Major Power Competition
  4. The Pacific Reset
  5. Climate Change
  6. Maritime threats
  7. Biosecurity

Biosecurity and maritime threats are not directly discussed by the conference participants included in this special issue, but at the conference these were identified as mycoplasma bovis, Kauri dieback disease, illegal fishing, transnational crime, sea level rise, mass arrivals, and pollution, among others.

Absent from the conference discussion, but worthy of future discussion are the risks to national security arising from disease outbreaks (eg. influenza pandemics) and consideration of the impact of the New Zealand Space Agency on our national security landscape (in terms of territorial claims, liability and protecting the supply chains for rocket launch technology).

An unanticipated discussion focused on the need for more thinking about the role of civil society. One product of DPMC’s ‘whole of society’ definition of national security is that it also places responsibility for security onto the population.

In certain cases, a partnership is sensible – such as in the evolution of New Zealand’s cybersecurity strategy – which necessarily integrates government, business and individuals. It might make sense for civil responsibility for security to extend to biosecurity and climate change concerns as well. In the more traditional national security areas, the enforcement of a ‘whole of society’ definition could lead to concerns about restrictions on personal freedom.

So where do these conversations about national security leave us?

First, we should envisage national security as more than a concern with external threats from nation states. Second, security threats are interconnected across a number of domains, and it is the risk of harm to the population and economy which links them. Third, broader notions of threat extend governmental responsibility for meeting them to include more government agencies, such as the Ministry of Primary Industries.

These changes necessitate new thinking about national security. For government, this involves the creation and maintenance of effective mechanisms for reacting to threats and deciding upon thresholds for prevention of threats. For civil society, questions will inevitably arise about the acceptability of government approaches to national security.

For academics tasked with researching national security there are questions arising out of the conference that need to be asked, including:

Big Questions

  1. What is it exactly that we want to protect and why?
  2. How much national security is enough?
  3. To what extent does including non-traditional security issues as matters of national security impact on the balance between freedom and security?

The Role of Civil Society

  1. What is the role of civil society in considering the big questions of national security?
  2. What would the logistics of a whole of society approach to national security look like?
  3. How can criticism, scepticism and alternative views contribute to a robust national security discussion?

The Mechanisms of National Security

  1. To what extent is there a shared understanding and practice of ‘national security’ across all levels of government?
  2. The New Zealand National Security system is effectively reactive in nature – what are the thresholds required for implementing long term threat prevention and mitigation planning across government?
  3. What are the evidence bases being used for national security decisions? Are we learning from our previous experiences?
  4. How do our security mechanisms build trust and confidence from the public that they are making robust decisions for New Zealanders?
  5. Given that the Intelligence and Security Act 2017 reaffirms the oversight mechanisms for the intelligence agencies; do we need other oversight mechanisms & similar legislation for the national security decisions being made by other agencies, especially those with intelligence functions?

It is these types of questions (and our inevitable criticism of such questions) that drive research agendas and inform teaching. They also guide our responsibility as critics and the conscience of society to engage with civil society, students and the government to address such questions to the best of our abilities.