Ten questions with Wil Hoverd and Deidre McDonald


Q1: What is the greatest threat to New Zealand’s security?

WH & DM: Undoubtedly, climate change is one of the greatest threats to the security of New Zealand, and the security of the Pacific region. Events like Cyclone Gabrielle show that the country is not prepared for the devastation that extreme weather events can cause, and that there are some extreme weather patterns that it would be difficult to prepare for. Global warming and sea-level rise are going to cause increasing damage to our country, our economy, our biodiversity and simply the way that we live.

DM: Climate change will also increasingly challenge food security in Aotearoa, as well as put pressure on public health as disease outbreaks could increase with global warming. In addition, there are serious threats to agriculture, horticulture and biodiversity from pests and diseases arriving from offshore, and these global threat situations occur all too frequently. Here we are talking about the multifaceted impacts of non-human actors on national security, directly and indirectly. The National Security Strategy document talks about these impacts because they have the potential to magnify core security issues in far-reaching ways that are no less disruptive to Aotearoa’s resilience.

Q2: And what’s coming down the line that we need to be aware of? Should we be worried?

WH: Currently, the big scary future proposition is Great Power Competition and the prospect of war. Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has brought war to Europe and tensions are rising between Russia and NATO. China’s military is expanding and acting aggressively toward Taiwan, opening the prospect for invasion and subsequent conflict with the United States. Conflict can be avoided with good diplomacy, but tensions are high and these nations are arming themselves.


Q3: We seem to be in a particularly volatile time internationally. And when was the last time international tensions were this high?

WH: Yes, it’s certainly an accurate assessment. The last time tensions were this high was in the Cold War. All our authors see turbulence and uncertainty in the international environment in ways which they have not seen before. There is heightened language around risk and threat
arising from the ongoing war in Ukraine and the tensions between the United States and China. And let’s not forget that Australia, our only military ally, has been having a particularly challenging time with China over the last couple of years.


Q4: The book raises some tough questions, including about the decisions New Zealand needs to make about our foreign and trade policies in response to the US-China Great Power Competition.

WH: Several chapters are dedicated to the effects of this Great Power Competition on the choices that New Zealand must make over the next few years. Reuben Steff and Justyna Eska write about New Zealand’s foreign policy options, Terence Johanson looks at the ramifications for our defence force, while Germana Nicklin and Steve Hoadley examine the consequences for our supply chains and maritime security.


Q5: And not surprisingly Russia’s invasion of Ukraine features in many chapters. It’s a long way away — what effect does the war in Europe have on our national security?

WH: I think this is a good question. Everything and nothing. Nothing, in that the only thing that most New Zealanders might have noticed is the price of bread and fertiliser rising. Everything, in that a nation state has disregarded international law and invaded another state; and in doing so has killed thousands, creating untold hardship and pain and humanitarian disaster. Do other nation states simply stand by and let such things happen? And then potentially happen again? The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is explicit that the invasion is illegal and a breach of international law.

DM: Rouben Azizian’s chapter speaks to how we might see the invasion of Ukraine as being relevant at home and within the Pacific, and he links the situation more broadly to ongoing issues of indigenous self-determination and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


Q6: Does the new government’s National Security Strategy address any of the issues raised in the book?

DM & WH: Yes, it sets out 12 core national security issues and a number of broader issues having implications for national security, some of which defy easy categorisation. Commonly known core issues include terrorism and cybersecurity. Others are broader and relate to issues discussed in various chapters in the book: ‘Strategic competition,’ ‘Economic security,’ ‘Pacific resilience’ ‘Maritime security’ ‘Border security.’ Two core issues that are less known are ‘Space security’ and ‘Emerging, critical and sensitive technologies’. Phil Holdstock and John Moremon’s chapter shows how vulnerable New Zealand’s internet infrastructure is, while Madeline Marshall, Jodie Chapell and Deidre McDonald discuss the role of artificial intelligence in biosecurity.


Q7: Who oversees all the complex elements of New Zealand’s national security? And how well are they doing?

WH: For a long time, New Zealand’s national security system has appeared from the outside to be relatively ad hoc, with various agencies taking responsibility for leading on certain security issues and then engaging with others as required. The National Security Strategy doesn't really change that agency responsibility, but what it does do is offer a single source of information and vision for all New Zealand’s national security issues. What is difficult to tell from the document is what success looks like and how it will be measured. One of the challenges in national security is that sector success is the absence of an event or threat. Prevention therefore is success, but we can’t see it; rather all we tend to see is the reactive aspect of the sector when things go wrong.


Q8: In 2017 you edited a similar book on New Zealand’s national security. What have been the major changes and/or challenges since then?

WH: In 2017, the war on terror was in its final throes and New Zealand saw its main threats as terrorism and cybersecurity. Both were to be subsequently realised with two domestic terror attacks and a series of high-profile cyberattacks. Back then, Great Power Competition was in relative abeyance, war was very localised and was primarily focused on counterinsurgencies, and it was a time of global economic prosperity. Today, Great Power Competition is increasing, conventional warfare is occurring (and threatened elsewhere), and economic insecurity has been on the rise, both in Aotearoa and across the globe. I think things have become less secure.


Q9: Prior to the mosque attacks in Christchurch in 2019 there was a feeling among the public that we were immune from this kind of event. Has this changed and are our security services doing anything differently as a result?

WH: I think many of us felt that we were immune from such events, and that they wouldn’t happen here. In his chapter John Battersby notes that if we look closely New Zealand has had a long history of terrorism but that it was not labelled as such. In terms of the Christchurch Mosque attacks, in the introduction we argue that they fundamentally changed the New Zealand national security landscape. The government committed to acting upon all the recommendations from the subsequent Royal Commission of Inquiry and the recent National Security Strategy is one such contribution. The state does not specifically talk about its counter-terrorism capabilities, but government language about it has become more obvious and there has been a clear focus on trying to create a socially cohesive society. But no one quite knows what social cohesion looks like, and certainly last year’s Wellington protest suggests deep divisions exist in our society.


Q10: The book also looks at some of the non-human threats around Aotearoa’s biosecurity but does not really touch on the environmental side of security, something the National Security Strategy does talk about.

DM: The book includes a wide range of contemporary content, deliberately touching on some key security issues that Aotearoa is facing. However, there are issues that have been mostly left for another publication, and these include climate-change impacts on the environment and protecting indigenous biodiversity. These non-traditional security interests are an important part of the conversation (and are directly referenced in the National Security Strategy). There is innovative research happening in this biosecurity space that is grounded in te ao Māori (a Māori world view) that connects environmental wellbeing with human wellbeing (see, for example, the Environment Aotearoa 2022 report and Te Mana o te Taiao — Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2020). I would like to see national security conversations evolve to a point where the natural and human worlds are woven together.