Why New Zealand Should Abolish Its Military

By Deborah Williams of Ōtautahi, Christchurch, World BEYOND War, May 4, 2023

Submitted to the New Zealand “Defence Strategy Review 2023.”


I am 76 and to my knowledge there have been no invasions of Aotearoa in my lifetime.

We have about 15,000 km of coastline which is apparently the ninth longest in the world (1). It would be impossible to patrol all coastlines to avoid being invaded by sea. We have a hard enough job to patrol our maritime Exclusive Economic Zone from 12 to 100 nautical miles and keep our fisheries safe.

We have no need for a so-called Defence Force which costs more than $116 million per week plus the $20 billion more this decade for military planes, frigates, other military paraphernalia and cyber warfare (2022 Budget). According to a recent Radio New Zealand (RNZ) report The government has spent $2.3 billion to buy new P8 Poseidons to replace the Air Force’s ageing Orion planes. The fleet will be used for maritime patrols and overseas deployments, flying from Manawatū (2).

We cannot have a well-trained combat-ready force to defend our country. A recent RNZ (Radio New Zealand) report noted that the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has had an attrition rate of nearly 30 percent of its full-time, uniformed, trained and experienced staff over two years. This means that some ships and planes cannot be used for lack of personnel. The Defence Force has had to make two special payments this year in a bid to retain those still engaged in the Force. In addition, if new recruits come into the fold, it takes up to four years to train them (3).


It is time for Aotearoa NZ to have a truly independent foreign policy. We have no business being in other people’s wars.

We have gone to war a number of times with Britain. As many of us Pākehā have our origins in the British Isles, there was this loyalty to the “Mother Country.” However, when it was time for Britain to join the European Union in 1973, there was no reciprocal loyalty shown to us in the downturn in trade with that country. We had to find new markets for our agricultural products.

We invaded Türkiye in World War 1 at great cost to both sides in lives lost or ruined. Later we invaded places like Vietnam under the umbrella of the Americans and caused endless damage to that country and its people and to our soldiers. These wars were not ours to fight. They were wars of modern imperialistic countries. Now we are training Ukrainian soldiers which effectively means that we are participating in this conflict with Russia.

By going to other people’s wars we are just perpetuating war.

General Stanley McChrystal, then commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan told Rolling Stone in 2010 that for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies. Why make enemies when you could make friends?

The United States of America is the greatest threat to world peace. It has its finger in every war and it is there for its own gain. One gain is in natural resources such as oil or minerals. Another is to wield power. The USA uses its giant military industrial complex to make weapons and planes, rockets, ships and land vehicles and therefore money out of destroying other people’s lives and the infrastructure of other countries. According to Noam Chomsky no president in living memory has been immune to this greed and wish to wield power (4).

New Zealand is part of the Five Eyes (FVEY) intelligence alliance with Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the USA which effectively began in the 1940s (5). Part of the agreement was that member countries did not spy on each other’s governments. However, documents have shown that members are intentionally spying on one another’s citizens and then sharing that information amongst themselves. In 2013 Edward Snowden, an ex National Security Agency (NSA) employee in the USA, released classified NSA documents to journalists which showed the extent of the subterfuge and the activities of that organisation.

We have allowed the USA to have spy bases in our country, such as Waihopai here in the South Island.  Even when we found out that they were spying on us and our Pacific neighbours, they were still not asked to leave (6).

What began as a small New Zealand company called Rocket Lab was the subject of debate in the New Zealand Parliament last year. Last October 2022 the Green Party claimed that by launching rockets on behalf of the US Defence Department (USDD) the company could be aiding the USDD to make war from space. The government (who have invested in the company) (7), and Rocket Lab have denied intending any harm but as yet, we have no rules about launching these rockets for foreign military powers.

These are all subjects for political debate but they need to be stated. It is clear as a small country we can do better, without engaging in other countries’ dirty work.


There is nothing to recommend war especially if neither your country or near-neighbour is being invaded.

War is essentially immoral as stated by Curtis LeMay USA General later chief of Staff of the USA Air Force and even a vice-presidential candidate. It violates the third article of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) that states, Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of Person.

There is no such thing as a “just” war. Pope Francis has spoken of the right to defend oneself but not of any war being just. He rightly condemns the possession and use of nuclear weapons as “immoral”. For Pope Francis war is essentially a lack of dialogue (8).

Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp run by the USA military has breached many human rights such as Article 5 of the UNDHR against torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Many prisoners were held indefinitely without trial and this blight on the world stage is still open. According to Wikipedia 30 remain there, 9 died in custody and 741 have been transferred elsewhere, whatever that means (9). Some years ago in New Zealand a female army padre resigned as her conscience would no longer allow her to work with a force that can kill others.

Kids at Whakarongo School try out a military Steyr rifle during a visit by Linton Army Base soldiers.

When I saw that the NZ Army took guns into Whakarongo Primary School in 2017 I had to speak out through a letter in the newspaper and direct emails to each member of the Board of Trustees and senior staff of the school. The soldiers allowed young children who were too young to own or to handle these guns in a normal setting to play with them (10). This also violated the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) Article 38, Clause 3 which states Parties shall refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of fifteen years into their armed forces. Is this what the army spends the more than $1m that they get from the Education Budget on?

It is known that military activities cause a great deal of environmental damage which is not included in international agreements which limit emissions. New Zealand is no exception to that rule with emissions being reported as “not occurring” as per the illustration above (11). Recently an airforce plane took Prime Minister Chris Hipkins to Australia (12). Could he not have taken a scheduled flight with Air New Zealand?

There are Defence Force sites which are closed to the public as they are used for combat practice. A Waitangi Tribunal claim was put in for that land in the North Island used for that purpose in December 2009 by Adam Heinz (13).

In 2021 RNZ reported that Devonport Naval Base was the most polluted site in the country as per a 2019 report released under the Official Information Act (OIA). At that time, it was estimated the clean-up might cost at least $28m. In addition it was reported: That does not cover groundwater. It also leaves out 19 other defence sites, dumps and firefighting training areas, and is focused on soil… The Defence Force has special exemptions from many of the country’s hazardous substance control laws. It is meant to regularly audit how its own rules align with the laws, but has not done an audit since 2016 (14).

The New Zealand Navy has taken part in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercise from at least 2012. It is the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise. RIMPAC is held biennially from Honolulu, Hawaii and hosted by the navy of the USA. Although ostensibly for countries of the pacific rim it seems to have hosted many non-Pacific countries including Norway and Russia. This exercise has been vehemently opposed by the native people of Hawaii for its devastating effects on land, water and people – especially indigenous Hawaiians, who have suffered more than 129 years of illegal occupation from the USA Navy (15).

The Defence Force spends money for weapons of destruction which could be better used to fund free health care for everyone. Schools could be better funded and more innovative ways of learning introduced. More social housing could also be built if we no longer were paying for the $20B projected to pay for new military equipment this decade.

New Zealand is a “partner” of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

On the NATO website it says: New Zealand has made valuable contributions to NATO-led efforts in Afghanistan and in the fight against piracy. However we also know that some of our soldiers took part in the killing of some innocent Afghanis which is a blot on our copybook. What is New Zealand doing taking part in such an organisation which is supposed to be in the Atlantic? Why is NATO moving into the Pacific? (16)


As a taxpayer and an active citizen I have always supported New Zealand’s actions taken in helping our Pacific neighbours. There have been many natural disasters in which our Defence Forces have been able to relatively quickly proceed either by plane or boat or land to assist with basic needs for shelter, food and medical care. This has also been the case in the recent aftermath of cyclones and flooding in parts of the North Island.

I first learned about the New Zealand Army’s foray into Bougainville through the film Hakas and Guitars by Will Watson and his longer version of Soldiers without Guns. It seems that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs played a major role in working towards a final agreement of the warring parties at Burnham Military Camp in New Zealand in 1997. For their part the Army used Māori tikanga or practices of haka and waiata to gain the trust of the warring sides whilst in Bougainville. They also engaged the women of the warring parties by also bringing women in the army to the fore. The working together of New Zealand agencies to achieve this peaceful end of a long running conflict was an example of the way New Zealand should play its part for peace on our planet (17).

Back on 4 September 2010 when Christchurch city was struck by a 7.1 earthquake early in the morning, the Air Force was able to fly in an Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team. The Army came from Burnham to work with the Christchurch City Council, the New Zealand Police and Civil Defence (18).

A second 6.3 earthquake on 22 February 2011 during daylight caused enormous devastation citywide. It was fortuitous that the amphibious sealift naval vessel Canterbury happened to be in Port Lyttelton loaded with equipment for such an event. All branches of the Defence Force played their part in helping at this very difficult time (19).

In 2019 Army engineers worked with Waka Kotahi, the New Zealand Transport Agency and Downer, an engineering and construction company, to build a Bailey Bridge in South Westland after the Waiho Bridge was washed away in a flood. The portable pre-fabricated Bailey bridge was particularly useful as it can be erected in a relatively short time (20).

During the height of the Covid pandemic in 2020 the Defence Force were able to assist with isolation and quarantine facilities working with police and customs and giving vaccinations (21).

The Navy is also available for Search and Rescue operations. It apparently assists the Department of Conservation but no examples were given on the website.

In the past the Defence Force has had a very good reputation for the offering of apprenticeships in a variety of trades (22). However in speaking today to a relative who was in the navy, I was disappointed to learn, that although the training covers all aspects of the trade skills, there is no paper qualification to be had if one leaves for civilian life.


I am a member of World BEYOND War, a global non-violent movement to end war and establish a just and sustainable peace based in the USA (23). I have done a couple of their courses which I have found very useful but inevitably many of their examples are of wars started by the USA. However it is useful to bust myths such as war is justified, war is inevitable and war is necessary. According to the Cultural Anthropologist, Margaret Mead: War is an invention – not a biological need. As not all countries engage in war, it is patently not part of human nature (24).


World BEYOND War proposes a Global Security System as an alternative to war (25). They offer three broad strategies to achieve this goal.

The first is to demilitarize security. In New Zealand that would mean closing any foreign military bases such as Waihopai and Rocket Lab. It would entail closing some NZ Defence Force bases and repurposing and modernising others. Contracts for supply of expensive ships, planes and other military hardware would have to be terminated.  New Zealand would withdraw from Military Alliances and find more peaceable ways of friendship and co-operation. These are just some of the basic changes which would have to be attended to.


The second plank of the plan is to manage conflict without violence. We saw this at Parihaka in Taranaki even before Gandhi started his non-violent campaign against the colonial government’s monopoly of the salt tax. During World War 11 occupied Denmark resisted the Germans’ efforts to deport Jews by smuggling them out to neutral Sweden. The Singing Revolution is the name given to the step-by-step process that led to the re-establishment of Estonian independence in 1991. This was a non-violent revolution that overthrew a very violent occupation. It was called the Singing Revolution because of the role singing of national songs played in the protests of the mid-1980s. There are many other stories of courage and success using non-violence.

Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, cited in World BEYOND War’s book on A Global Security System (p.38) created statistics that clearly show that from 1900 to 2006 non-violent resistance was twice as likely to succeed than armed violence. Furthermore, those democracies became more stable and less likely to revert to civil and international violence.

We need more women engaged in peace and security as the Bougainville story so clearly illustrated. After all, women comprise half the population. It is pleasing to see that four woman are the present Commanding Officers of Navy ships with two more on shore women commanders as per Navy Today #275 which gives no date. When FARC (English translation: Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the Colombian government sealed a peace deal after more than 50 years of civil war in 2016 the headline “No women, no peace” showed the part played by women in this process.

Most people in New Zealand would be unaware that we have a Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control. Phil Twyford is that minister but his role seems largely curtailed. The Public Advisory Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control (PACDAC) is a committee of experts that advises the Government on disarmament and arms control. It was established by the 1987 New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act. If the website is up-to-date the last time the committee met was September 2022 (26). The minutes tend to give very little indication of any movement in either New Zealand’s or other governments’ policies on disarmament and arms control.


The third part of World BEYOND War’s vision is a creating a Culture of Peace.

World Beyond War recommended increasing the role of youth in peace and security. Tuning in with all the major religious groups all of which express the “golden rule” of “Do unto others what you would have them unto you,” is another way of reaching a lot of people. Robust, balanced, well-researched  journalism is part of a working democracy and a peaceful society.


Firstly, no more money would be spent on arms, military equipment or any equipment for the preparation of war, military exercises or war itself whether on land, sea or in space. That means more money for Welfare not Warfare.

New Zealand would have a Ministry of Peace which would permeate all ministries as a matter of course. This would include a culture of peace in all educational institutions from pre-schools to tertiary level and beyond. Many schools already have programmes in place but this would take them further with the aim of eliminating bullying of any sort and creating caring relationships.

“The Principles of peace are the same whether it be in school, at home, in the community or internationally. These are how to solve our conflicts in win-win ways i.e. in ways that meet all people’s needs. My kindergarten teaching was thus good training for my international peace and disarmament work.” — Alyn Ware New Zealander & Peace Educator

Not having military alliances, we would step up our training in peace skills as mediators. Fellow Quaker and retired Foundation Director of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Otago University in Dunedin, Professor Kevin Clements has been a regular consultant to a variety of non-governmental and intergovernmental organisations (27). We have other skilled practitioners who can teach, assist and mentor young people, in particular.

Learning such peace skills and training more people in skills for trading our goods and services would mean that we would continue to make friends through trade, as we do now with countries like China.

My dream is to see an unarmed Civilian Action Team (CAT) replacing the Defence Forces and other forces such as land and sea Search and Rescue and Civil Defence. It would take several years of planning to gradually make the changeover.

Young people could be invited to join for two years or more before tertiary study. If incentives, such as free university study in any subject and including reasonable living expenses, were offered, there would eventually be many people in our community who would have the skills to step up in any major emergency. At present university study is offered but only in the skills which the Defence Force requires. This would be offered to any reasonably fit person who wished to participate.

Apprenticeships would continue to be offered as before but better rates of pay, good accommodation, meals and facilities would attract more takers. Any training would be rewarded with a recognised certificate.

It is clear that the Defence Force does provide opportunities for its personnel to gain very practical and important skills. Ex military people would have some skills which would be of great use. There could be further training in areas where expertise is needed for a new way of conducting our relationships with other countries. This would mean that they get to spend more time with their families. At least then they would not come home in a body bag.

We could continue to be available to assist our neighbours in the Pacific whenever and wherever and however needed. However we would not need ships built for military purposes and this would be an enormous saving.

Money saved, by not spending on military gear could be spent on teaching Peacemaking, on Housing, Health and Education.

CAT personnel could have overseas peace postings if requested by other countries and if the individuals chose to go. It is noted in Gittins (25) that according to Mel Duncan of Nonviolent Peaceforce the cost for a professional, paid, unarmed civilian peacekeeper was $50,000 per annum whereas a soldier in Afghanistan cost $1m per annum.

I rest my case that peacemaking costs less than warmaking and is better for everyone.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coastline_of_New_Zealand
  2. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/488684/defence-force-new-zealand-facing-big-decisions-for-strategy-review-says-chris-hipkins
  3. https://www.1news.co.nz/2023/04/03/military-pays-personnel-up-to-10k-each-to-stay-in-jobs/
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Eyes
  5. https://pmc.aut.ac.nz/pacific-media-watch/region-nz-spies-pacific-neighbours-secret-five-eyes-global-surveillance-9147
  6. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/peter-beck-the-man-with-the-one-million-horsepower-rocket/ZCZTPRVDPNDVQK37AADFCNVP5U/?c_id=3&objectid=11715402
  7. https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2022/07/pope-francis-confirms-right-to-defense-but-insists-on-rethink-of-just-war-doctrine
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guantanamo_Bay_detention_camp
  9. https://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/comment/editorials/93521007/editorial-kids-in-primary-schools-dont-need-to-play-with-guns
  10. https://militaryemissions.org/
  11. https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2023/02/chris-hipkins-travelling-to-australia-to-meet-with-anthony-albanese.html
  12. Wai 2180 by Adam Heinz
  13. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/449327/defence-force-s-most-polluted-bases-revealed
  14. https://fpif.org/a-call-to-cancel-rimpac-in-hawai%CA%BBi/
  15. https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_52347.htm
  16. https://www.mfat.govt.nz/cn/about-us/mfat75/bougainville-a-risky-assignment/
  17. https://navymuseum.co.nz/explore/by-themes/1970-today/christchurch-earthquake/
  18. https://www.nzdf.mil.nz/nzdf/what-we-do/supporting-people-and-communities/a-devastating-earthquake/
  19. https://www.contactairlandandsea.com/2019/04/02/nz-army-engineers-assisting-on-longest-bailey-bridge-build-since-wwii/
  20. https://www.nzdf.mil.nz/nzdf/significant-projects-and-issues/covid-19-response/
  21. https://www.defencecareers.mil.nz/army/careers/apprenticeship-trades
  22. https://worldbeyondwar.org/who/
  23. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/margaret-meads-war-theory-kicks-butt-of-neo-darwinian-and-malthusian-models/#:~:text=Mead%20proposed%20her%20theory%20of,fact%20that%20not%20all%20societies
  24. World BEYOND War A Global Security System: An Alternative to War Ed Phill Gittins 5th Edition
  25. https://www.mfat.govt.nz/en/peace-rights-and-security/disarmament/pacdac-public-advisory-committee-on-disarmament-and-arms-control/
  26. https://www.otago.ac.nz/ncpacs/staff/otago014259.html

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