Time for a National Security Strategy

Author: Rothery, C.
Published in National Security Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 2019


A New Zealand national security strategy should not be seen as insurmountable. A strategy is something very common in the private sector, and many argue that organisations without a clear path for the future face an uncertain one. Simply put, a national security strategy will guide New Zealand’s national security organisations and synchronise their actions. A national security strategy is a living document, it needs to change with the environment, nor should it be tied to a specific threat, but instead be moored and adaptable to the geopolitical situation. As threats evolve or change, then alterations can be made to the strategy. It should not just focus on the military, but on all sectors of government that deliver elements of national security. Linked to New Zealand’s foreign policy strategy, the national security strategy establishes the baseline for what New Zealand will focus on for the delivery of security, what the most salient threats are and what capabilities are needed to meet these threats. This strategy would then be used by the various government departments to develop their own specific strategies and capability plans.

The development of a national security strategy is not the end game. The national security strategy should be the lead document in the hierarchy of national security documents. It will provide the overall guidance for the agencies and provide the framework for them to base their strategies upon. It is essential for effective strategy development that the government agencies responsible for national security nest their own strategies within this overarching document, something that the current framework lacks. There needs to be a logical sequence and over-arching structure in the way in which the different agency strategies are produced. The national security strategy should also provide a timeframe for when each agency is required to release their own strategies and operational plans. The irregular manner in which agencies develop their plans demonstrates that the current national security framework is haphazard and does not have a coherent approach.

National security matters. It provides the citizens of the state with not only physical security and protection against threats, but also the feeling of security, so they are comfortable in the knowledge that there is a system in place for their safety. A national security strategy is not a fool-proof guarantee that nothing will ever happen, instead it is a method of synchronising all parts of government into a common system and focus. A strategy allows for the allocation of resources into the right areas and focuses the different parts the state’s power for a collective effort. New Zealand relies upon a responsive national security system, which to date – when tested, it has operated very well. But waiting for a crisis to occur is not a sustainable plan. A whole-of-government approach needs a whole-of-government strategy. A national security strategy needs to have an effective execution, one that continually reviews and updates the strategy where needed and one that is supported by an independent review system. We cannot be dismissive about national security, and we must make every possible attempt to strengthen ourselves and put the nation in the best possible position for risk mitigation. The first step to this is a national security strategy.