The Changing New Zealand National Security Environment: New Threats, New Structures, and New Research

Author: Hoverd, W.J.
Published in National Security Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 2019

significantly impacts our researchers’ abilities to access and generate primary data from which they can advance knowledge. Nevertheless, I continue to argue that there are two primary approaches to national security research that occur in New Zealand: 1) Agency ori­ented critique and 2) Objective critical assessment.74 Agency oriented critique occurs “when a researcher is located within, or is sponsored by an agency”.75 Whereas objective critical assessment is the type of research that occurs from a researcher located outside a security agency.

Agency insider researchers have the ability to access and generate authentic evi­dence-based insights to national security, but they have to carefully monitor that their work is open source and sustains rather than conflicts with their role as an employee of that organisation. A recent NZDF People Research Conference offered a vibrant and diverse portfolio of interdisciplinary research and researchers engaged with various aspects of the human dimensions of defence in New Zealand. Other recent agency re­lated initiatives see security agencies sponsoring predefined research projects or topics through the mechanisms of New Zealand Police’s Evidence Based Policing Centre76 or the Multi Agency Research Network at Massey University. Both mechanisms are yet to publically deliver substantial outputs, but if and when they do, the evidence base of these products should benefit from the unique access to primary data that they offer. Nevertheless, we must also be aware that there is a politics to these mechanisms as they have an industry focus. Damien Rogers has warned that there are risks associated with this type of research, in that agency sponsorship could discourage critical analysis and will only resource research that is of “interest” to those agencies.77 This means that university researchers engaging with these mechanisms must be alert to potential chal­lenges around their Education Act mandate to be a critic and conscience of society, and align their research priorities accordingly.

By contrast, objective critical assessment occurs when a researcher approaches the field of national security from the outside. “The scholarship’s purpose is to deconstruct the object of study into its constitutive parts to create and reveal a broad understanding of all the perspectives contained in its parameters.”78 The approach treats security dis­course as constructed and contestable and it can often be quite critical in nature. The methodological challenge for objective critical assessment approach is in its evidentiary basis. Gaining access to primary data without security agency support is extremely dif­ficult. This means that this type of research when done well tends to focus on theoret­ical and/or discourse analysis (studying the words of government through policy and statements) approaches to knowledge. Even when done well, these types of approaches must mitigate two challenges: 1) a tendency towards criticism which, with the benefit of hindsight, the research points simply to shortcomings, and 2) that this type of research is often looking back into the past and risks a disconnect from current contemporary concerns. In the worst cases, when objective critical assessment lacks a robust eviden­tiary basis, this type of research can