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

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

its definition of an act of terrorism, and to its credit they consulted diligently and fully on many aspects of this review. But the government has yet to act, and even if it does, it is unlikely to do so before the ‘Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Attack on Christchurch Mosques report’ is released. A clear understanding of what the strategy document means by these key terms is essential – and while it does provide definitions of them, they are in the small print (somewhat out of place as a footnote on page 4), reflecting an assumption that discussion about them is not needed. Vandenberg and Hoverd provide a useful discussion on the use of these terms in detail (in this volume of National Security Journal) stressing that considerable thought and discussion are, indeed, necessary.

Strategy in the security realm should be, by its very nature, forward-looking and bring together the strands of a nation’s strategic environment by looking at how hidden currents today signal possible changes in future direction. This provides important strategic context that allows for a full range of future possibilities to be identified and prepared for. While this is far from an exact science, undertaking and articulating the logic upon which the strategy has been developed is essential for its successful implementation. Unfortunately, New Zealand’s strategy is almost entirely lacking in this and little understanding can be gleaned as to why it has been developed in the way it has or what foreseeable threats it is designed to address. It is of course acknowledged by the authors, that these issues are touched on, albeit inadequately, in a separate September 2019 cabinet paper.31 Flowing on from this, the strategy fails to undertake any clear form of risk assessment to ensure that any risks identified can, if possible, be mitigated.

The strategy does not provide any indication of required resources (means) – an important requirement which allows for the advocacy of the resources that are essential to ensure the strategy’s effective implementation – although there are a series of non-specific financial implication statements of the strategy in a separate document.32 Nor does the strategy provide an effective time-frame other than for a public information plan. Measures of effectiveness are similarly lacking. These are all key elements vital to ensure the effective implementation of the strategy as well as the accountability of those responsible for its implementation. Their absence is of considerable concern given the potential impact on the longer-term security of the nation. This is particularly so with the onset of a global recession that will see government resources stretched. If no thought to resourcing was given previously, it may be extremely challenging to pitch for them in the post-COVID 19 economic environment. If this happens, terrorism and counter-terrorism in New Zealand will revert back to its former position of being a largely neglected concern. That is until the next attack.

Finally, in terms of the core elements of the document, the strategy provides little in the way of implementation guidance (ways) other than the broad sweeping statement that “We will achieve our aim by: working in partnership, ensuring as a nation that we connect with each other, supporting the efforts of the international community, and focussing on prevention.”33