Australia and New Zealand Twenty-First Century ANZACS

Australia and New Zealand’s deep and common heritage, a lasting - if gruff - kinship, and similar social values all underscore the merits of a standing trans-Tasman force, ready to meet shared national security challenges. Peter Greener and Nick Floyd review the challenges that the notion itself presents.

5th Oct 2009


Australia and New Zealand Twenty-First Century ANZACS

Australia and New Zealand’s deep and common heritage, a lasting - if gruff - kinship, and similar social values all underscore the merits of a standing trans-Tasman force, ready to meet shared national security challenges. Peter Greener and Nick Floyd review the challenges that the notion itself presents.

COURAGE, MATESHIP, LOYALTY.  Such qualities spring to mind when thinking of the ANZAC heritage, and are exemplified by the contemporary heroism of VC recipients like Corporal Willie Apiata, and Trooper Mark Donaldson   That ANZAC heritage looks set to be reinvigorated beyond individual deeds, with politicians on both sides of the Tasman - keen to enhance closer defence relations - endorsing the development of an ANZAC Rapid Reaction Force.   However, while legacy and sentiment might run deep, the purpose, employment and shape of such a force needs careful consideration of current arrangements, politics and the challenges of the coming century.
 
The statements from both governments (Prime Ministers Key and Rudd on 20 August) that raised these most recent ideas for an ANZAC rapid response force certainly have their precedents, but rarely have they been raised at prime ministerial levels, and in the absence of a clear threat to common national interests.
 
Speaking at the Chief of Army’s Conference at Massey University on 2 September, New Zealand’s Defence Minister, Dr. Wayne Mapp reinforced both Prime Ministers’ sentiments, highlighting that whatever demands were placed on New Zealand forces “they will be well trained and interoperable with our likely partners – particularly … Australia”.
 
Some sense of the possible scope was originally given in Australia’s Defence White Paper – Force 2030: developing an ANZAC task force that could “deploy seamlessly into our region at short notice” was one possibility envisaged, as part of both countries exploring “opportunities to rebuild our historical capacity to integrate Australian and New Zealand force elements”. Both Prime Ministers revealed on 20 August that respective Defence Chiefs had been asked to explore and work out the details of the possibilities. This was followed by an announcement by the Defence Ministers of both countries on 30 September that “giving the ANZAC spirit greater contemporary relevance across the spectrum of our two defence organisations was a priority for both countries”.
 
The friendly rivalry that typifies Australia and New Zealand’s relationship belies the immediate cooperation and commitment that would occur should external attack threaten either country. Such a possibility seems remote: a more likely prospect to prompt the response of a joint ANZAC force is instability in our immediate neighbourhood, as has been witnessed in Timor-Leste, the Solomons and more recently Tonga, or the devastation of a natural disaster as experienced by the islands of Samoa.
 
Few countries share a closer defence relationship than Australia and New Zealand.  First expressed through the 1944 Canberra Pact, then the 1951 ANZUS Alliance and now articulated through the commitment to Closer Defence Relations from 1991, the ADF and NZDF annually exchange numerous personnel - on secondment as well as individual and group training activities - and conduct high-level talks at the Service and Defence Force levels.  The future security environment, and how best to meet its challenges are regularly and frankly discussed between Service headquarters’ delegations: equally, ideas for many projects to bring in new capability to both Forces are shared.  Together, these endeavours embody a shared vision of close allies confident in their ability to operate together in combined and coalition operations.
 
Even with this degree of cooperation, there are limits to our current ANZAC interoperability.  Not all doctrine, tactics and techniques are ‘seamless’, and some staff processes and plans not always aligned.  Equally, while both countries hold forces ready to respond to crises, response options are not always considered in concert between headquarters.
 
The need for a rapid response force has been seen a number of times over the past decade, and training jointly is certainly desirable. Notwithstanding the different capabilities of the two Defence Forces, given their relative size and funding, it undoubtedly makes sense to optimise defence resources, and share overheads for enabling support wherever it is advantageous. Engaging in combined planning and readiness exercises ensures not only a far greater mutual understanding of each others’ capabilities, but also each others’ perspectives and ways of approaching and resolving challenges.
 
Some areas where greater cooperation and interoperability will add value are readily identifiable. There is a deal of compatibility in strategic logistic support and maritime surveillance, but further interoperability will enhance both deployability and greater regional security.  For instance, in their statement on 30 September both Ministers emphasised that there will be a review of the airlift agreement to ensure that there is an effective joint ANZAC airlift capability.
 
Whilst Australia has 24 C-130 Hercules and four huge C-17 Galaxies, New Zealand’s five C-130s (currently undergoing a significant life extension refit) and the two recently converted multi – configured B-757s provide worthwhile additional capability. In future it has been affirmed that ANZAC acquisition processes will be coordinated wherever possible; the operating elements of both defence forces can benefit from shared procurement, support and capability development arrangements. Whilst the size of the new force is yet to be determined, and raising an actual, bilaterally-manned ANZAC unit might make a politically potent statement, it would appear more practical to establish an enduring rotational commitment model – similar in some respects to Europe’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps.  Though in some ways more complicated, this would allow broader exposure to Trans-Tasman interoperability, and establish more personal-level linkages.
 
Given the greater suitability of a rotational model, any future ANZAC force would most likely have a predominance of army elements. Whilst it is clear that air and naval force elements are pivotal, nevertheless these elements can more easily achieve necessary levels of interoperability through sustained training and exercises, rather than needing to be home-ported together.  The same cannot be said for land forces, which because of their environment and their way of operating, demand a far greater degree of intimacy at all levels of command and operation.   More importantly, a visibly two-nation land force poses a starker message of common resolve.
 
Like any standing ready group, a future ANZAC force would need to be agile, and readily configured for whatever style of mission and degree of threat to which it would be committed.  First, this means certain levels of force protection and mobility to ensure success.  Second, the force would need vital offensive support and information collection assets, capable of strategic feeds equally to Canberra as to Wellington.  Third, the force would need to be of a size that is both practical and appropriately balanced, with both manoeuvre elements (most likely infantry) and with supporting arms and services.  It would need to be able to operate on its own and make a difference, but not be so large as to eviscerate the Australian Army and Ngati Tumatauenga (New Zealand Army).  Fourth, it would need to be well-equipped with transport and logistic support – both to get to and from a trouble spot or disaster area and when it is operating on the ground.
 
Finally, a ‘seamless’ future ANZAC force would need to be accompanied by field elements of all the other government agencies and departments required to deliver a comprehensive response to the security challenge at hand.  This would mean MFAT, DFAT, federal police, AusAID and NZAID agents as well as others – even private sector and non-government entities; but it also reinforces the rationale for the type of command and coordination needed.  Such a force would be bereft without a form of multi-lateral and multi-agency command and coordination arrangement typified by the Special Coordinator role set up for the Regional Assistance Mission – Solomon Islands (RAMSI) in 2003.
 
A future ANZAC force concept holds many practical Trans-Tasman advantages.  However, its viability will depend on both Governments realistically considering the bounds of its employment, and ensuring its characteristics are designed to be able to support our common national interests in the widest array of challenges.
 
Doctor Peter Greener is Senior Fellow at the Command and Staff College, New Zealand Defence Force, Trentham, Wellington.  He has recently published Timing is Everything – The Politics and Processes of New Zealand Defence Acquisition Decision Making Processes. Lieutenant Colonel Nick Floyd is the Chief of Army’s Visiting Fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, Sydney, and is the author of How Defence can contribute to Australia’s national security strategy.

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