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New Zealand Defence Force Capability Reviews
Phase One – Land Forces and Sealift (November 2000)

The Operational Environment

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The last 10 years have seen significant changes to the nature of warfighting and peacekeeping and to the importance of peacetime support to diplomacy. This has led to a new operational environment for land forces. This section outlines these changes. It then looks at the operational environment in the context of the demands required of the land forces as set out in the DPF. This leads to a number of key operational assumptions that will need to be considered when determining the capabilities required by the New Zealand land forces to meet the Government's defence policy objectives.

The Changing Nature of Military Operations

The nature of both warfighting (i.e. medium to high intensity conflict) and peacekeeping has changed significantly in the years since the end of the Cold War. Warfighting has moved its focus from set-piece battles between major powers to what NATO has termed crisis response operations7. At the same time, the international community's management of threats to global peace and security has evolved from traditional ceasefire monitoring to a broader range of PSOs, including peace enforcement. As a result, the boundaries between the two have blurred. As Figure One highlighted, there is no practical distinction between the level of threat and the capabilities required in some PSOs and in medium level conflict.

Traditional Operations

Traditional Peacekeeping

The basic principles of traditional peacekeeping 8 were:

Traditional Warfighting

Prior to and immediately following the end of the Cold War, the West's armed forces were structured and prepared for high intensity warfighting between NATO and the Warsaw Pact or their proxies. Warfighting had a number of characteristics including:

Current and Future Operations

Changes in Warfighting

There have been changes in the strategic environment. The world no longer lives in the shadow of world war. The current relationships between the major powers are good, and major conflict is not anticipated in the near to medium term. The role of international diplomacy is to maintain and reinforce this improved strategic environment. Nevertheless, today's security environment is neither benign, nor is warfighting dead. But its nature has changed. Some of the trends associated with conflict today include:

Box 4 – Range of PSOs

Conflict Prevention involves diplomatic action and the preventative deployment of forces in order to prevent disputes from escalating into conflicts or spreading. These actions may include fact-finding missions, consultation, warnings, inspections and monitoring, military to military engagement and confidence building measures.

Peacemaking includes diplomatic actions intended to manage or resolve the conflict or to at least bring the parties to agreement, for example goodwill and fact-finding missions, the deployment of Special Envoys in a facilitatory role, the provision of good offices, mediation, conciliation, diplomatic pressure or sanctions.

Peacekeeping is the employment of an impartial military or international civilian coalition, with the consent of all parties, to monitor and facilitate the implementation of a peace agreement and to prevent a reversion into conflict. These operations could be mandated under Chapter VI of the UN Charter. Increasingly, a humanitarian aspect to peacekeeping has developed, as peacekeepers have been required to ensure civilian access to humanitarian aid.

Peace Enforcement is the coercive use of military or civilian forces to maintain or restore international peace and security when the parties have not consented to intervention, but a threat to peace, or a breach of the peace or an act of aggression, has been determined. These operations could be mandated under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. They may, however, be undertaken without a UN mandate by coalitions of the willing. The key difference between peace enforcement and peacekeeping is the level of consent given by the belligerents. This means that to enforce the operation's mandate or to uphold the principles of the UN Charter, peace enforcement personnel may need to use force and/or be exposed to combat-like situations.

Peace Building is a term of more recent origin that defines activities “to reassemble the foundations of peace and provide the tools for building on those foundations something that is more than just the absence of war.” 9 Peace building concerns actions which support political, economic, social and military efforts, aiming to strengthen political settlements in order to redress the causes of conflict. Peace-building is distinguishable from development. While the two activities may overlap, peace building involves the mending of human relations and the creation of a secure and stable environment which is conducive to better relations. Peace building, therefore, involves facilitating the transition from military conflict to normalisation and elected government. This may include assistance with demining programmes.

Current and Future Peacekeeping 12
“You can do a lot with diplomacy but, of course, you can do a lot more with diplomacy backed with firmness and force”. 13

The environment in which UN operations are conducted is increasingly different from that envisaged even 10 years ago. Operations have involved deploying into volatile, high-risk, intra-state and uncertain environments in which widespread humanitarian disaster might be the cause or consequence of conflict. As the Brahimi report 14 has outlined, UN operations are now not only deploying into post-conflict situations but also trying to create them. Peacekeeping has become part of a broader spectrum of operations the UN may wish to undertake in support of peace. These are known collectively as PSOs.

PSOs are most often conducted with the endorsement of the UN. They usually encompass a variety of military, diplomatic and humanitarian instruments which assist both intra-and inter-state peace processes. It is possible to distinguish between different elements of PSO, and these are outlined in Box 2, but to draw too clear a distinction between them is wrong. The experience of recent years shows that they often overlap. Forces deployed on one type of operation have to be prepared for it to change quickly into another. There is unlikely to be sufficient warning for forces to be extracted before the threat level changes; indeed, any change is likely to lead to increased pressure for those forces to stay. The principles that were associated with traditional peacekeeping may not apply to modern-day PSOs. Instead, the following principles are likely to prevail.

Credibility in PSOs

Given the shift in peacekeeping principles, and the likelihood for the need to enforce mandates, defence forces need to be trained and equipped for combat level. The warring parties must believe that the international community's commitment to the operation is such that it will be prepared to use military means as well as diplomatic. They must believe that the international coalition will stay intact and will employ their forces if the mandate or the principles of the UN Charter are violated. They must also believe that conflict with UN forces would not succeed.

Thus, peace enforcers must ready themselves for combat, mainly for the purpose of not having to engage in it. Rather than being focussed on the traditional concentration of decisive force, their aim is the presence of decisive force. This has now also been recognised by the UN as an important principle:

“When the UN … sends its forces to uphold the peace, they must be prepared to defeat the lingering forces of war and violence, with the ability and determination to defeat them. It means bigger forces, better equipped and more costly but able to be a credible deterrent threat, in contrast to the symbolic and non-threatening presence that characterizes traditional peacekeeping”. 15

Defence Diplomacy

New Zealand must be able to respond to relevant crises and conflict when they occur. But the best crisis is the one that never happens. Prevention is clearly far preferable for those who would otherwise suffer the consequences of conflict, and is a less costly option for the international community than military action, emergency humanitarian relief or reconstruction after a war has run its course. In this context there is an important role for armed forces in providing support to peacetime diplomacy and development, as part of the comprehensive approach to security. This role can be called Defence Diplomacy. 16

Defence Diplomacy encompasses all the varied activities undertaken by the NZDF to promote peace and security through constructive engagement and confidence building. Its aim is to dispel hostility, build and maintain trust, and assist in the development of democratically accountable armed forces, thereby making a significant contribution to conflict prevention and resolution.

In short, the aim of Defence Diplomacy is to disarm the mind. It involves bilateral and multilateral activities, constructive involvement in regional multilateral fora and support for the UN.

In terms of the NZDF, bilateral activities range from close co-operation with Australia to the work of Defence Attaches particularly in smaller countries in the South Pacific.17 Bilateral activities also include the provision of training and assistance to their armed forces under the Mutual Assistance Programme, to bilateral exercises, training and exchanges with countries in South East Asia and beyond. It also includes support to other government departments, in pursuit of Government objectives overseas. For example, support to the overseas development aid programme is given through transport and the provision of specialist expertise.

Constructive involvement in regional multi-lateral fora including the ASEAN Regional Forum, Pacific Forum and FPDA helps to build confidence and security. The ASEAN Regional Forum and Pacific Forum can be used to address issues such as arms control and proliferation. New Zealand's small size, geographic isolation, and image of neutrality, in particular among South Pacific and South East Asian nations means that it is able to take an active role in leading dialogue, for example concerning Bougainville.

There is also much that can be done with and through the UN. New Zealand has a long history of support to the UN, and NZDF personnel are currently deployed on eight UN operations18. United Nations Transitional Authority East Timor (UNTAET) has demonstrated New Zealand's willingness to make a substantial contribution to UN operations, where appropriate. As well as contributing to UN operations, the NZDF must work closely with other Government Departments to help the UN strengthen its peace operations capability.

The Operational Environment

In this new operational environment, where the boundaries between warfighting and peacekeeping have blurred, a number of themes can be observed. These have implications for the types of operation in which the NZDF might be employed and the capabilities they will need to operate successfully. They are outlined below.

Assumptions For The Employment Of The New Zealand Land Force

Several assumptions can be made given the new operational environment in which the land forces must operate. These assumptions need to be addressed when considering the capability requirements of the New Zealand land force in order to meet the Government's defence policy objectives. These assumptions also need to be set alongside the principles outlined in the DPF for guiding and rebuilding the NZDF21. The principles are that the NZDF should be:

In addition to these principles, the following assumptions must be taken into consideration.

Most deployments by the NZDF will be based on joint and combined operations

The NZDF cannot achieve, nor is it expected to undertake, operational missions or tasks by itself, beyond those in New Zealand and the South Pacific that call for independent action. The NZDF must, therefore, be structured for, and plan on being part of, combined operations.

The emphasis is on working collaboratively with like-minded partners, especially Australia. New Zealand's membership of the FPDA is a signal of its commitment to playing an appropriate role in maintaining regional security.

There is a growing acceptance that defence forces must be based around joint operations. The three Services remain as ‘basic building blocks' for the professional skills of their specialist Service, but the focus is on the synergistic strategic, operational and tactical relationships that they have together as well as that with other agencies. This implies that the doctrine that underpins the use of land forces must also be joint in nature.

The principle of joint land operations implies that the capability plans will not just cover Army elements, but the full spectrum of all force elements within the ‘area of operations'. This would include a range of capabilities such as tactical airlift, utility helicopters, naval support and naval combat, and close air support and interdiction. It is likely that a New Zealand contribution to a combined operation would involve more than one Service.

Box 5 – Units of an Army

Company - A group of 100-150 infantry soldiers commanded by a major. A company normally consist of 3 –5 platoons, a small headquarters and a small logistic organisation. For some very small-scale operations it may be appropriate to deploy a company group, which would be a company reinforced with those capabilities necessary to allow it to operate independently.

Battalion - A battalion consists of 3 – 6 companies (including a reconnaissance company), a headquarters and a logistic organisation, and is usually commanded by a lieutenant colonel. A battalion may have pooled combat support assets used to reinforce companies. A battalion is capable of conducting independent operations, usually as part of a larger formation. A battalion, as well as all units below it, is normally of one specialty, for example infantry, armour, artillery or logistics battalions.

Battalion Group - A battalion group is a (for example, infantry) battalion that has been reinforced with engineer, logistic, medical and signal capabilities so that it is able to operate for an extended period of time independently of the support a brigade would provide. Some operations may also require an artillery capability.

Brigade - This is normally the first level at which units of different capabilities are brought together. A brigade will comprise a headquarters, 3-5 battalions of different specialties (armoured, infantry, artillery, engineer, logistics), 3-5 separate companies (signals, reconnaissance, medical), 1-2 independent platoons (military police) and other assets such as helicopters. Brigades are commanded by a colonel or a brigadier, depending on the size and task of the formation. The brigade can be the tactical building block of a large force or may be employed for medium size operations independently.

New Zealand must have the ability to provide to a combined operation a battalion group that is self-sufficient to perform its primary tasks

Any NZDF land force contribution at the battalion 22 level will need to be able to slot into a larger multinational structure. It will need to be self-sufficient 23 at the tactical level, that is, it should be able to accomplish tactical tasks assigned to it without assistance and meet its responsibilities to protect itself and any others under its care. This requirement, along with the peculiar characteristics of an operation, will help to determine the appropriate level of fire support, command and control, logistics support and information, as well as the level of interoperability required.

Given the terrain in which New Zealand land forces may have to operate, the capacity to assign rotary wing lift to New Zealand forces is essential. This focus on a self-sufficient tactical unit also suggests that the NZDF land force component will be ‘task-tailored', and hence will need to be modular and adaptable to integrate into a combined force. New Zealand may decide to contribute a tactical unit at a lower level than a battalion, such as a company. A company would not be logistically self-sufficient but would slot into a battalion led by another nation. Here the focus would be more on interoperability.

Any New Zealand contribution will be dependent on a combined force's operational-level capabilities

A New Zealand contribution of a battalion, while self-sufficient in its area of operation, will be dependent on a range of combat and non-combat capabilities. These will support the battalion's operations and provide deeper force protection. They will be held on a pooled basis at a higher operational level.

These capabilities will be provided by the participating nations. Some will be provided as composite elements, where several nations pool their own contributions to form a complete unit (such as artillery batteries into a regiment). Other capabilities or groups of capabilities may be provided by a single nation.

The dependence issue may create tensions within the coalition arrangement about burden sharing. Such tensions can be reduced through New Zealand being able to contribute a share of these capabilities. New Zealand forces will also need to be able to work with these operational-level capabilities in theatre when (because New Zealand may choose not to have them) the NZDF is unable to train with them on a national basis. This increases the requirement for exercising with other nations.

Any contribution by New Zealand must add value to a combined operation

New Zealand's contribution to a combined operation could come in all or any of three forms. First, as outlined above, it could be in the form of a self-sufficient tactical unit. Second, it could be a smaller dependent unit, such as a company or troop, that fits into a battalion unit. And third, it could be by providing a share of the capabilities held at a higher level. The key factor is that any contribution must add value to the operation.

New Zealand could contribute these operational-level capabilities as stand-alone units or as components of a composite multi-national capability. It is most likely to hold capabilities that also have utility for other tactical purposes, or are used in other roles supporting its interests.

When New Zealand is working within a large multinational effort, involving many and larger nations its contribution may be small. The contribution could consist of combat, specialist or non-combat elements. In operations where Australia and New Zealand are the two key participants, however, New Zealand will be expected to share the load of providing operational level support. This is particularly relevant as Australia itself has limited capacity to assume significant tasking on behalf of others.

There will be an increased focus on using the NZDF in defence diplomacy – shaping the regional environment to help prevent conflict

Defence diplomacy is not a new idea. The NZDF has a proud record of providing support to peacetime diplomacy, as well as contributing to PSOs. New Zealand's image of impartiality means that it is trusted by nations around the world but particularly in the South Pacific and South East Asia. NZDF personnel are also widely recognised for their ability to relate easily to those they have to work with. But there is scope for doing more.

There will be an increased focus by the NZDF on the skills and capabilities required to shape the operational environment

The importance of shaping the environment is not restricted to conflict prevention. It is also a crucial role prior to, during, and after an operation. It involves situational awareness, intelligence, information operations and all efforts to change behaviour and encourage consent. Its aim is to create and maintain the conditions where the mandate can be implemented, and where the use of force will be unnecessary. This is a high-level task that should be co-ordinated by the lead nation in any operation, but it will have to be implemented at the unit level. It is, therefore, important that New Zealand plays its part. There is, accordingly, a need for a greater focus on those capabilities that will help the NZDF to shape the environment.

New Zealand's military commitments to PSOs will be discretionary

New Zealand has both special obligations to Pacific neighbours and specific security interests in South East Asia. This will inevitably mean that there will be strong reasons for New Zealand involvement in any PSOs in these regions. Further afield, the Government will base its regional and global engagement on active support for, and participation in, UN and appropriate multi-national PSOs24. Essentially New Zealand's involvement and the nature of the commitment are matters of choice but this means that the Government must equip the NZDF to be able to act in the situations where the Government wants to act.


The nature of PSOs has changed significantly over the past 20-30 years. The principles of consent, neutrality and legitimacy have been overshadowed by the realities of modern-day operations. Instead PSOs have broadened considerably with blurring across Peacemaking, Peacekeeping and Peace Enforcement. In addition, the principles underlying such PSOs have changed to include the need to nurture consent, the move to principled impartiality and legitimacy.

For the NZDF this changed environment presents new challenges. The DPF identified seven principles on which the NZDF was to be rebuilt. In addition to these, a number of operational assumptions can also be identified. These include:

It is important to note that the focus on PSOs does not detract from the combat nature of military operations. Rather, it is a change in the way operations are conducted essentially demanding a great degree of flexibility and skills by commanders. As has been identified in terms of involvement in multinational peace operations,

“The most pressing tasks for the Army are not changes in procedures, doctrine, force structure, organisation or training, but in attitudes. Army leaders at all echelons must understand peace operations. When peace operations are a valued part of the Army's function, then changes in procedures, doctrine, force structure, organisation and training will flow naturally and smoothly” 25.

These principles and assumptions will provide the framework for the development of NZDF land capability consistent with the DPF.

In the light of the above, it is now possible to discuss the development of capabilities for the NZDF.

  1. NATO's Strategic Concept published at the Washington summit on 24 April 1999 listed as one of its tasks “to engage actively in crisis management, including crisis response operations”.
  2. For a definition of peacekeeping see Box 4.
  3. Brahimi Report, p3.
  4. Charter of the UN, 1945. See chapter VI, Article 38 and Chapter VII, article 42.
  5. For a definition of peace enforcement see Box 4.
  6. Much of the following builds on the paper “The Changing Nature of Peacekeeping – Observations for New Zealand Defence Policy” New Zealand Ministry of Defence, 15 March 2000.
  7. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan made this remark in the context of Iraq in 1998.
  8. The Report of the Panel on UN Peace Operations published in August 2000 has come to be known as the Brahimi report after its chairman, the former Algerian Foreign Minister, Lakhdar Brahimi.
  9. Brahimi Report, p9.
  10. The term ‘Defence Diplomacy' was coined in the UK's 1998 Strategic Defence Review. But recognition of the increased importance of using armed forces in this capacity is widespread. For example, the Australian Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Barrie has talked of the Australian Defence Force's dual role: to “actively work for peace as well as prepare for war”.
  11. New Zealand currently has Defence Attaches based in: Australia, Canada, China, Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pacific (based in Wellington), Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, UK and USA.
  12. The eight UN operations are UNTAET (East Timor), UNTSO (Middle East), UNAMSIL (Sierra Leone), UNMOP (Croatia), CMAC (Cambodia), UXOL (Laos), MADP (Mozambique) and UNMIK (Kosovo). NZDF personnel are also deployed on a number of operations that are supported by UN Security Council Resolutions or statements.
  13. Operational environment can be defined as all aspects of air, surface, sub-surface, land, space and the electromagnetic spectrum that encompass the area of operations.
  14. Brahimi Report, p xi.
  15. DPF pp12-13.
  16. Descriptions of the different units in the Army, including the battalion, are provided in Box 5.
  17. The definition of self-sufficiency and area of operations is covered in the later section on Land Force Capabilities.
  18. DPF p7.
  19. Page 4, Schook, 1997.

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