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

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

These are underpinned by five areas: legislation, governance, public information, a responsive national security system, and capabilities34 without any further substantive discussion. While it is acknowledged that there are significant security considerations that limit what may be included in terms of implementation information in the public domain, and the near-term is likely to see amendments to a number of relevant statutes, the detail here is still inadequate.

‘Our response: Counter-terrorism handbook’
and ‘Counter-terrorism work programme’

The section entitled ‘Our response: Counter-terrorism handbook’, left the authors wondering whether this section was the ‘handbook’ per se, or signaled the existence of, or determination to produce, one. Subsequently in the ‘Counter-terrorism work programme’ section (page 4) of the document, a brief reference is made to the counterterrorism handbook ‘refresh,’ suggesting that a ‘handbook’ is extant, and that it is to be reviewed. As it stands, the ‘Our response’ section of the strategy appears to be merely a ‘check-sheet’ for senior members of the Officials’ Committee for External and Domestic Security Coordination (ODESC) in the case of a terrorist event occurring. Obviously there is a need to maintain a high level of confidentiality about the details of any such ‘counter-terrorist handbook’, and full disclosure of strategic, operational and tactical elements are not expected here, but nor should there be ambiguity about whether ‘a counter-terrorism handbook’ exists or not. Indeed, if it is not something the public are ever going to see, why mention it at all?

The ‘Counter-terrorism work programme’ (page 4) is stated to be ‘evolving’ post 15 March. It comprises a series of topics which relate to counter-terrorism, but it does not constitute a coherent programme with development stages and time-frames, and appears more the result of ideas jotted onto a page that are worth exploring, reflecting the relatively recent practice of egalitarian ‘mind-mapping’ workshops, as opposed to applying a genuine strategic thought process. These ideas contain little internal logic or explanation as to how they relate to one another, or together how they necessarily relate to countering terrorism. It was surprising to note the absence of a ‘risk assessment’ aspect of the work programme, a fundamental requirement as previously discussed. It is possible the ‘risk profile’ refers to this, but the absence of explanatory text leaves it ambiguous. The reference to ‘arms reform’ and ‘the Christchurch call’ were independently developed and reactive aspects of existing government policy. Other components of the ‘work programme’ appear to be peripherally related to counterterrorism but require explanation for their presence in this document – for example ‘Drones guidance,’ ‘Transport security work programme,’ and ‘Border systems’ convey insufficient information on how they are conceived as tenets of a counter-terrorism approach.