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Timing is Everything: The Politics and Processes of New Zealand Defence Acquisition Decision Making.

Timing is Everything: The Politics and Processes of New Zealand Defence Acquisition Decision Making

Author: Peter Greener

Published by: ANU E Press, Canberra, 2009, 196pp, $19.95.


In this book Peter Greener, a senior fellow at the Command and Staff College at the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) in Trentham, focuses on six major defence acquisition processes that were undertaken in New Zealand between 1984 and 2001. The case studies include the lengthy debate about the ANZAC frigates project (parts I and II), the decision to purchase and then sell the sealift ship HMNZS Charles Upham, the intended replacement of the ageing Skyhawk fighter aircraft with leased F-16s from the United States, the upgrading of the Orion maritime air patrol aircraft as well as the acquisition of new light armoured vehicles for the Army. Greener argues that the timing of decisions, politics and political influence, external relationships and New Zealand's own view of the world are the main factors that shaped the outcomes of these decision-making processes. Overall, Greener has done a splendid job by writing up a clear account of a complex subject such as defence procurement. But this is not just a book about defence acquisition decision-making: it simultaneously shows how the NZDF was slowly transformed from an outmoded but balanced defence force in the 1980s to the more modern niche force of the 2000s.

Greener's book is logically structured, well-written and based on meticulous research. Following a foreword by Gerald Hensley, a former Secretary of Defence, Greener first provides a short historical overview of New Zealand defence policy-making and then introduces each of the equipment acquisition processes in separate, chronologically ordered chapters. Within each chapter, Greener examines the interaction between the Treasury, the NZDF, the Ministry of Defence as well as Cabinet and illustrates the numerous factors that needed to be taken into consideration before a defence acquisition decision could be made: evaluating various possible alternatives, defining New Zealand's defence priorities as well as determining what would be acceptable to Caucus and the New Zealand public as a whole. Moreover, Greener emphasised the prominent role of politicians and public officials: he found that in nearly all of the procurement decision-making processes, officials provided largely robust advice to ministers while a small number of politicians had a disproportionate influence on the final decision outcomes.

What is unique about this book is its incredible wealth of detailed information on the defence procurement process in New Zealand, a subject that has not been explored much in the existing academic literature. The only significant related sources that come to mind are Jim Rolfe's 1993 book Defending New Zealand: A Study of Structures, Processes and Relationships and his 1999 book The Armed Forces of New Zealand--but both books only devote a chapter to the defence equipment acquisition process. As a result, Greener's book is the first to analyse the procurement decisionmaking process during this crucial time in the 1980s and 1990s when New Zealand's defence expenditure fell to unprecedented lows while simultaneously much of the existing defence equipment faced 'block obsolescence' and need -ed to be either replaced or updated. The book shows how deeply unpopular some of these defence procurement projects were in New Zealand and how reluctant many New Zealanders are to devote significant financial resources to the defence sector.

One shortcoming of the book is that it does not sufficiently explain the underlying reasons for why defence spending is such a controversial issue in New Zealand. Defence policy formulation in general is a difficult task in New Zealand due to the country's relative geographic isolation and the lack of readily identifiable direct threats to New Zealand's national security. As a result, defence decision-makers have often struggled to justify why New Zealand needs certain types of defence capabilities, which has made many New Zealanders reluctant to spend money on defence altogether. A brief discussion of these background factors could have made it a bit more easily understandable to a reader from abroad why many New Zealanders were so opposed to the acquisition of frigates and other costly defence hardware--decisions that would not normally excite much public discussion in most other countries. Nonetheless, the strengths of the book far outweigh this minor weakness.

In the end, Greener's new book makes an important contribution to the literature on New Zealand defence studies that will be of interest to those who would like to take a look behind the scenes of the New Zealand defence procurement decision-making process.
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Author:Reitzig, Andreas
Publication:New Zealand International Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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