New Zealand’s Counter-terrorism Strategy: A Critical Assessment

Authors: Battersby, J., Ball, R., & Nelson, N.
Published in National Security Journal, 23 June 2020

various methodologies have come to opposite conclusions, often using the same evidence. Much research attention has been given to the National Firearms Agreement which overhauled arms control in Australia following the mass killing in Tasmania in 1996. Many claims have been made, but no conclusive outcomes have resulted despite over 20 years of research.54

A key limitation of these studies is the absence of comparisons between nations undertaking arms control measures and nations not doing so at the same time. New Zealand did not undertake any firearms reform similar to Australia’s and maintained after 1996 effectively what Australia changed – and yet, firstly gun crime in New Zealand remained low as Australia’s did, secondly New Zealand homicides continually declined into the 2000’s to historically low levels, as did Australia’s, and finally, New Zealand had no mass shootings after 1996, until 2019.

Researchers generally approach the issue of gun control as a crime (specifically gun crime) reduction measure. None have considered it as a counter-terrorism measure, most likely because a gun buy-back has not been applied anywhere specifically as a terrorism mitigation response. Norway did not ban semi-automatic weapons in 2011, although decided to do so in 2018, but has not yet implemented it.55 Canada has just announced a ban on MSSA’s in the wake of its most recent and worst mass killing, but again not as a counter terrorist initiative.56 New Zealand’s application of a gun buyback as a plank in its counter-terrorism strategy is stretching into unexplored territory, hoovering up a populist government reaction – which like Canada’s – appears optically decisive in a time of crisis but to date it lacks the evidential foundation to be placed confidently into a national counter terrorism strategy.

Under the heading – “Terrorism and violent extremism language resource” the strategy document shows DPMC in charge of creating:

a one-page resource for government agencies, media and public commentators to support the use of consistent and appropriate language around terrorism and violent extremism – in particular that does not incite or stigmatise[.]

The subsequent heading looks at developing strong relationships with the media and ‘content specialists’ to better understand the roles of the government, the media and the public. The pre-determination of “one page” being a “resource” sufficient for any purpose continues the questionable belief in brevity already discussed above. The comment on “consistent and appropriate language” and strong relationships with the media and “content specialists” (whatever a “content specialist” is) suggests an attempt to control not only what independent experts may say, or be reported as saying, but attempting to govern the language they use in saying it. There is a great deal of debate globally about the nature of terrorism, extremism and violent extremism, radicalisation and securitisation and there is much disagreement among a great many perspectives grappling with this wickedly complicated set of phenomena. Is it the role of DPMC to decide on what “consistent and appropriate” is, in relation to media, academic, other independent expert or “content specialist” commentary on these subjects? Or should various alternative perspectives be encouraged in an effort to develop useful and, potentially, counter intuitive insights into how New Zealand might best address the threats posed by contemporary terrorism?