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Source: New Zealand Government

Thank you to the International Institute for Strategic Studies for the invitation to speak on this panel today, and for your ongoing work organising the Shangri-La Dialogue.  It’s great to be here today alongside my Thai and Canadian colleagues to discuss security connections across the wider Indo-Pacific.

I am so proud to be New Zealand’s Minister of Defence, a role that brings me here today. Among other roles I am the Minister responsible for New Zealand’s intelligence agencies, Minister for space and Minister of science, innovation and technology. 

The past several months have reinforced to me the connections across these portfolios, particularly in terms of the need for responses to security challenges that integrate multiple tools of statecraft.

Similarly, the security challenges we face today across the Indo-Pacific, while distinct in many ways, are also strongly connected.

We may be a small state, relatively distant from the world geographically, but our people, culture, history, values and interests connect us to our immediate Pacific region, to the wider Indo-Pacific, and to the world at large. 

We know that our security and prosperity is connected to broader regional and global security and prosperity.

The New Zealand Government is determined to bring increased energy to our international engagements and activities to support collective security efforts. 

I am focused on ensuring that New Zealand is an active and constructive partner, and that the New Zealand Defence Force has the right capabilities to operate effectively on the international stage.

New Zealand maintains long-standing contributions to a number of multinational peacekeeping operations, notably in the Middle East and on the Korean Peninsula.

On the latter, I’m pleased to report that our new P-8A Poseidon aircraft has just completed its first mission contributing to monitoring evasion of United Nations sanctions by North Korea.   

This is a continuation of our participation in this programme since 2018, in opposition to North Korea’s illegal nuclear and ballistic missile programmes – which constitute a serious threat to stability in the Indo-Pacific.

And we have responded alongside others to security developments that threaten our shared interests.

In addition to supporting Ukraine to defend itself against Russia’s illegal invasion, we have contributed personnel to the multinational operations protecting maritime trade against Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

At the same time, we have continued a regular programme of engagements, exercises and operations in Asia, with a particular focus on supporting maritime security. 

For example, HMNZS AOTEAROA will take advantage of the journey back from the upcoming Rim of the Pacific Exercise to undertake a programme of activities in Asia.

While these operations address distinct security issues, I see strong connections between them.

The South Pacific is, and always will be, a focus for New Zealand.  New Zealand is a Pacific nation, and our security is directly connected to that of our Pacific partners and of the region as a whole.

New Zealand works with our Pacific partners, and partners from outside the region to protect and promote Pacific security interests. 

At the centre of the region, and at the heart of the region’s setting of the security agenda, is the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting.

As for many other global regions, the Pacific has its own character and distinctiveness, its own history and cultures, and its own security challenges and opportunities. 

Through the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Boe Declaration, Pacific Island Countries identified climate change as the region’s primary security challenge. 

Pacific countries are not responsible for the causes of climate change, but are acutely facing its effects, which are placing greater demands on countries’ resilience and security capabilities.

Global action to address climate change is crucial for the Pacific, as is also the case for vulnerable states elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific.

Similarly, the Pacific is now increasingly important as a theatre for strategic competition.  This raises the prospect of actors that do not share Pacific interests and values acting in ways that undermine regional security. 

Rather than seeing themselves as isolated small island states, Pacific countries are increasingly presenting themselves as large ocean states, connected by the Blue Pacific Continent.  Using this frame, the importance of maritime security for the Pacific is clear. 

We are seeing increasing threats to Pacific fisheries, particularly from illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, alongside increasing incidents of trans-national organised crime.  And, perhaps most acutely in the South China Sea, we are seeing conflicting states’ ambitions resulting in challenges to maritime sovereignty.

If these maritime security challenges lead to an erosion of international maritime rules and norms, that would have significant implications for states across the Indo-Pacific, including in New Zealand’s own Pacific region.

So how to respond to these security challenges that affect us all.  I see two connected forms of response.

First is security cooperation on particular issues between groups of states that share interests.  And second is support for the international rules-based system.

New Zealand has long participated in various collective security arrangements that have varying degrees of formality. 

We see such arrangements as key mechanisms for states to prosecute their shared interests in ways that can be complementary and mutually reinforcing, and can strengthen regional and global security as a whole.

Here in South East Asia, ASEAN provides a central venue for regional states and partners to discuss shared security challenges, and a set of mechanisms for cooperation on distinct issues. 

For New Zealand, we particularly see value in the ADMM-Plus and its expert working groups. * But we also recognise that building individual relationships with key partners in South East Asia is more critical than ever. 

Whether it is recognising the ongoing importance of the Five Power Defence Arrangements that include Singapore and Malaysia, or through investigating new arrangements that support defence policy dialogues and exercises New Zealand can make a meaningful contribution.

With Australia, Japan and Korea, we are now engaging more closely with NATO. 

 Not because NATO seeks a role in the Indo-Pacific, as indeed the NATO partners have made clear, but to discuss and cooperate on security issues that affect our shared interests.

New Zealand also welcomes AUKUS as an initiative to enhance regional security and stability. 

Pillar II involves cooperation between some of our closest security partners on advanced, non-nuclear technologies, including areas in which we already work closely together with our only ally Australia, the US and the UK. 

New Zealand is investigating opportunities for New Zealand’s potential involvement in AUKUS Pillar II, but any decisions about participation would be a matter for cabinet, and the existing members, in due course.

Our commitment to cooperation on particular issues where we have shared interests is also why New Zealand is pleased to endorse the Statement of Principles to strengthen the region’s defence industrial base.

And, of course, we are working with a range of countries to respond to emerging security issues, as we are doing in relation to Ukraine and the Red Sea.

Outside of a strictly security lane, we are also continuing to work with a range of countries on international agreements that will have security benefits. And here I would use, as an example, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity.

New Zealand also sees value in, and supports, multinational security arrangements in which we are not directly involved. 

The Indo-Pacific Quad, involving India, Japan, Australia and the United States is a good example of states working together to support security in ways that align with New Zealand’s own interests and values.

While this won’t be a particularly novel suggestion, I consider that these types of international arrangements are a key way for states to cooperate to support their shared security interests. 

Both for the benefits these arrangements directly provide, but also because as a collective these arrangements provide networks of cooperation that can connect states, and regions as a whole, to each other.

Extending and expanding multinational security cooperation arrangements takes us naturally to the system of international rules and norms that benefits us all. 

This is the international rules-based system based in and around the United Nations and its principles.

Ultimately, all states benefit from strong international rules and norms, and all states must ensure they are acting in ways that support those rules and norms.

For the Indo-Pacific, and using maritime security as an example, we can see how the international rules-based system provides mechanisms for addressing and connecting security across the wider region.

Ultimately, security of maritime trade through the Red Sea, preventing weapons proliferation counter to United Nations direction, freedom of navigation in key Indo-Pacific regions, including in the South China Sea, and – in New Zealand’s immediate region as well as management of Pacific fisheries, all rely on a strong international rules-based system.

I won’t be alone in recognising that today we all face an increasingly challenging strategic environment, and particularly here in the Indo-Pacific.

In New Zealand we recognise that our security and prosperity is connected to and dependent on wider regional and global security and prosperity. 

We will be increasing the energy we bring to our international security partnerships, to support our strong interest in wider regional security and the strength of the international rules-based system.

Thank you for your time today.