What If New Zealand Were to Abolish Its Military

By David Swanson, World BEYOND War, December 7, 2023

The world should read a new book from New Zealand called Abolishing the Military. New Zealand has decidedly not yet followed Costa Rica and stashed its military in a museum. And were it to do so, I can virtually guarantee you that CNN would never mention the act. But the argument for doing so is powerfully laid out in this book and — whether the authors mean it to or not — applies with very slight tweaking to any nation on Earth.

First of all, let me wish everyone a very happy Pearl Harbor Day. The myth that militarism prevents, rather than causes, attacks like the one on Pearl Harbor is fundamental to maintaining and increasing military spending. In the United States heroic myths about World War II hold a special place in the hearts of every weapons dealer, but in New Zealand the mythical origin of the proud nation state lies in World War I. This may strike some as rather pathetic, given how little effort Hollywood has put into justifying World War I, but they’ve just put up the WWI monument in Washington D.C., without a hint of irony, and there’s little doubt it would have been given center-stage on the Mall had Part 2 never been managed. Some Canadians have similar notions of their nation having first acquired the proud status of violent destroyers on the global stage in WWI.

New Zealand — as the authors of Abolishing the Military (Griffin Manawaroa Leonard [Te Arawa], Joseph Llewellyn, and Richard Jackson) point out — is not being threatened with invasion. Nor is any invasion plausible. New Zealand has a long coastline full of rocks and cliffs, they point out. But most nations have difficult borders. And some, such as the United States, have huge amounts of territory and numbers of people. The notion that a North Korean missile is a threat to U.S. “freedom” is presumably only infrequently understood as suggesting the threat that North Korea will occupy the United States and restrict people’s rights using presumably something exceeding 100% of its population as armed occupiers. While China has the people to do such a thing, the world as a whole lacks the resources for what it would cost. The fact is that almost everywhere has no threat of military invasion, and in a demilitarized world that would be entirely everywhere.

New Zealand could be attacked in a war resembling most modern wars. That is to say, it could be bombed. But why would any nation spend what that costs, and make itself as despised as the Israeli or U.S. government, for no gain, unless out of hatred for New Zealand? And why would anyone hate New Zealand unless it increases, rather than eliminates, its military activities?

If New Zealand were invaded, its military could do little about it. While expensive per capita, New Zealand’s military is still tiny in comparison with the mega-military of the United States or even those of China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, the UK, Germany, etc.

So why does New Zealand have a military, other than because it has a military culture and military holidays? Well, what does this military consist of and what does it do? It consists largely of weapons made in the United States, and troops trained to operate in collaboration with the U.S. military. It fights no wars in New Zealand, but fights wars mostly at the bidding of the United States and mostly in the Middle East. The name “New Zealand Defense Forces” is an inside joke, along the lines of the “Israeli Defense Forces” or the U.S. “Defense Department.”

To a lesser extent, the New Zealand military engages in so-called peace-keeping for the United Nations, even though New Zealand has shown in Bougainville that peacemaking in violent conflict zones is better done without weapons (and shown in East Timor and in the Solomon Islands that it is done worse with weapons).

To an even lesser extent, the New Zealand military does humanitarian aid work for which it is ill-trained and equipped, and which could be better done by an agency designed for it. Of course, militaries do not even attempt to address the non-optional threats of climate collapse, poverty, disease, homelessness, etc.

Abolishing the Military thoroughly documents that war rarely works on its own terms, that militarized repression rarely works on its own terms, that non-state terrorism rarely works on its own terms, and that nonviolent action works better. Annoying facts!

What do the authors of Abolishing the Military recommend? Developing unarmed civilian defense, and moving the money from militarism to human and environmental needs. A growing body of books helps to make the case:

The War Abolition Collection:

Abolishing the Military, by Griffin Manawaroa Leonard (Te Arawa), Joseph Llewellyn, Richard Jackson, 2023.
War Is Hell: Studies in the Right of Legitimate Violence, by C. Douglas Lummis, 2023.
The Greatest Evil Is War, by Chris Hedges, 2022.
Abolishing State Violence: A World Beyond Bombs, Borders, and Cages by Ray Acheson, 2022.
Against War: Building a Culture of Peace by Pope Francis, 2022.
Ethics, Security, and The War-Machine: The True Cost of the Military by Ned Dobos, 2020.
Understanding the War Industry by Christian Sorensen, 2020.
No More War by Dan Kovalik, 2020.
Strength Through Peace: How Demilitarization Led to Peace and Happiness in Costa Rica, and What the Rest of the World Can Learn from a Tiny Tropical Nation, by Judith Eve Lipton and David P. Barash, 2019.
Social Defence by Jørgen Johansen and Brian Martin, 2019.
Murder Incorporated: Book Two: America’s Favorite Pastime by Mumia Abu Jamal and Stephen Vittoria, 2018.
Waymakers for Peace: Hiroshima and Nagasaki Survivors Speak by Melinda Clarke, 2018.
Preventing War and Promoting Peace: A Guide for Health Professionals edited by William Wiist and Shelley White, 2017.
The Business Plan For Peace: Building a World Without War by Scilla Elworthy, 2017.
War Is Never Just by David Swanson, 2016.
A Global Security System: An Alternative to War by World Beyond War, 2015, 2016, 2017.
A Mighty Case Against War: What America Missed in U.S. History Class and What We (All) Can Do Now by Kathy Beckwith, 2015.
War: A Crime Against Humanity by Roberto Vivo, 2014.
Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War by David Carroll Cochran, 2014.
War and Delusion: A Critical Examination by Laurie Calhoun, 2013.
Shift: The Beginning of War, the Ending of War by Judith Hand, 2013.
War No More: The Case for Abolition by David Swanson, 2013.
The End of War by John Horgan, 2012.
Transition to Peace by Russell Faure-Brac, 2012.
From War to Peace: A Guide To the Next Hundred Years by Kent Shifferd, 2011.
War Is A Lie by David Swanson, 2010, 2016.
Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace by Douglas Fry, 2009.
Living Beyond War by Winslow Myers, 2009.
The Collapse of the War System: Developments in the Philosophy of Peace in the Twentieth Century by John Jacob English, 2007.
Enough Blood Shed: 101 Solutions to Violence, Terror, and War by Mary-Wynne Ashford with Guy Dauncey, 2006.
Planet Earth: The Latest Weapon of War by Rosalie Bertell, 2001.
Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence by Myriam Miedzian, 1991.

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