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

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

The authors note that these strategies are not immune to criticism, and the extent to which they meet the above requirements of sound strategy do vary one from another. Suffice to say, that reading these strategies from cover to cover takes time, and while the description and detail varies and approaches differ, they are full and informative documents that leave the reader clear on the direction each nation is taking and why it has taken that direction. The reader is well informed on what the end state is intended to be, and aware of both how, and with what, each nation proposes to obtain it. They provide a useful comparison for New Zealand as to how other nations strategies meet the framework established above.

New Zealand’s Countering terrorism
and violent extremism national strategy

New Zealand’s ‘Countering terrorism and violent extremism national strategy,’ unlike its much more robust Five Eyes partners, comprises a meagre six pages. Each page is dedicated to a separate topic – (1) an Overview, (2) Aims, (3) Counter-terrorism handbook, (4) Counter-terrorism work programme (5) Counter-terrorism coordinated public information, and (6) Public information action plan. Other than on page 1, none of the headings include the term ‘violent extremism’, and this rather important aspect of the policy seems to ebb and flow erratically throughout. The pages are presented in landscape orientation, with much of the space taken up with graphic illustrations. Rumelt tells us that a sign of “mediocrity and bad strategy is superficial abstraction—a flurry of fluff—designed to mask the absence of thought” by presenting a “generous sprinkling of buzzwords that masquerade as expertise.”21 New Zealand’s strategy document risks this criticism. The sparse explanatory text is spread out in formatted blocks, stretched to occupy what appears to be, due to the paucity of information presented, an over generous allocation of space. By comparison to our Five Eyes partners’ strategy documents, New Zealand’s strategy looks like it is still in its conceptual state – a ‘work in progress’ rather than the finished product.

It is entirely appropriate that strategy in the national security realm is drafted and coordinated by national security staff – in New Zealand’s case the Counter Terrorism Coordination Committee (CTCC) housed at DPMC but reporting to the Security and Intelligence Board (SIB). As DuMont22 notes, to ensure that the strategy drafted is an accurate reflection of the government’s intent, and to have the gravitas to ensure its effective implementation, it must have the authoritative approval of at least one senior government official, and ideally the head of the government. Not only does this confirm approval at the highest political level, it also signals a willingness to ensure the strategy is adequately resourced to ensure its effective implementation. While its official release at the Otago Foreign Policy School in February 2020 was accompanied by the Prime Minister, her signature is starkly absent from the document itself. As referred to above, leaders (or responsible Minister in the case of Canada) of New