Future proofing Australia–New Zealand defence relations

19 December 2016

Executive summary

Australia and New Zealand should be natural military partners. But differences in their strategic outlooks and military priorities have sometimes placed limits on the extent of that partnership. Both countries published Defence White Papers in 2016 which suggest greater convergence in their priorities that should enhance their military cooperation in coming years. This includes a shared concern for the future of the rules-based order in Asia and for stability in the Pacific. Consistent with these concerns both countries are investing heavily in the development of maritime capabilities. In particular, some of New Zealand’s leading priorities, including the enhancement of its maritime surveillance capacity, will allow for even deeper collaboration in this sphere.

Nevertheless, important differences in the defence outlooks of Australia and New Zealand are likely to persist. These include their respective views on how best to sustain the global order. New Zealand’s maritime strategy also has a different geographical focus than Australia which drives a different set of capability priorities. The sweet spot in New Zealand’s evolving thinking gives greater emphasis to Southern Ocean and Antarctic operations in addition to the requirements in New Zealand’s vast Exclusive Economic Zone and its South Pacific obligations. For Australia, the main focus is the development of more combat-oriented capabilities driven by needs in its northern maritime approaches which are being read through a more expansive Indo-Pacific framework. Moreover, while the two Australasian allies are working closely together in Iraq at Taji Base in efforts to combat global terrorism, the core of their future strategic cooperation is likely to remain closer to home in the South Pacific.

Key findings

  • New Zealand and Australia share a concern about the future of the rules-based order, although they can differ on how it should be sustained.
  • The development of maritime capabilities is central to the capital investment plans of the two allies but New Zealand’s South Pacific to Southern Ocean focus and Australia’s Indo-Pacific concentration do not completely overlap.
  • While Australia–New Zealand defence collaboration extends from Taji Base in Iraq to the Five Power Defence Arrangements in Southeast Asia and trilateral cooperation involving the United States, a trans-Tasman response to a major South Pacific internal crisis remains a more important planning requirement.

Publication Details

Format: 
Resource Type: 
License type (if applicable): 

Cite this document

Suggested Citation

Robert Ayson, 2016, Future proofing Australia–New Zealand defence relations, Lowy Institute for International Policy, viewed 30 April 2017, <http://apo.org.au/node/71965>.

Page Shares