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

Zealand has seen risks to its security arise from tensions with North Korea (nuclear and cyber), Chi­na (trade war), Iran (gulf and nuclear tensions), Russia (election interference, cyber and hybrid warfare) and internal conflicts with Iraq (Islamic State, or ISIS), Syria (civil war) and the Sudan (civil war) as well as regional concerns in terms of Papua New Guinea (security for APEC) and the Pacific (disaster relief and aid). These events and threats directly and indirectly impact our foreign policy, allocation of domestic resources and the focused efforts of our national security agencies. Internationally, the two most sig­nificant events that have changed New Zealand’s national security functions have been the physical degradation of ISIS and the deployment of global cyber-attacks that poten­tially signal a sea change in the ability and willingness of certain states to utilise and de­fend against these capabilities. This section focuses first on ISIS and terrorism, second on cybersecurity, and then a third more diffuse area of insecurity related to the rise of economic protectionism and polarised politics.

Globally, the war against the ISIS has been conducted and won, at least in terms of the territory that ISIS held in the Middle East. The threat of ISIS was a key part of John Key’s national security thinking in 2014, and it seems now with the announcement of the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) withdrawal from Iraq,6 that the threat has subsided. Nevertheless, its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi remains unaccounted for and is still potentially at large.7 For New Zealand, questions remain about the final fate of Red Cross nurse Louisa Akava from Otaki.8 Despite the cessation of open conflict, it remains to be seen how much global terror and ideology will still be spread by ISIS.

Closer to home, ISIS has had a strong regional support base in South East Asia. In the Philippines, the Moro conflict between the Government and the Islamic State Jihadists (led by the Maute brothers) deescalated after the battle of Marawai city that occurred between May and October 2017.9 This open warfare against ISIS had little publicity here in NZ, but there remain scattered remnants of these groups across the Philippines and Indonesia and, as such, these nations remain potentially vulnerable to future ter­rorist attacks. Issues such as how and whether to repatriate ISIS’s Foreign Fighters are contemporary challenges i.e., Kiwi ISIS Jihadi Mark Taylor.10 Despite the fact that ISIS has been physically degraded, it still has the ability to inspire terrorist acts. The recent Sri Lankan bombings, demonstrate the ongoing potential for catastrophic terrorism related damage that might occur within the region.11 Critically, the degradation of ISIS does little, if anything, to mitigate the ongoing threat that lone wolf actors can pose to nation states. i.e., the March 15th 2019 Christchurch mosque attack. Terrorism, whether ISIS inspired or not, remains a present global threat and is now more consequential in NZ than we could have ever guessed it would be.

Globally, cybersecurity is a growing threat. Two severe global cyber-attacks were deliv­ered by nation states in 2017. The cybersecurity threat should be understood as present and as dangerous as terrorism, if not more threatening because of its potential scale. The recent WannaCry (2017) and NotPetya (2017) malware crypto worm cyber-