Peacekeeping Contributor Profile: New Zealand

Author: Dr. B.K. Greener, Massey University (
Last updated October 2015

Active armed forces[1] Helicopters Defense Budget Uniformed Peacekeepers UN Contribution Breakdown Other Significant Deployments
World Ranking (size): 123
Army 4,643
Navy 2,105
Air Force 2,405Reserves:
Army: 1,556
Navy: 439
Air Force: 206
Maritime: 5
Transport:  26 (8 Medium; 18 light)
2014: US$3.19bn
(1.59% of GDP)
2013: US$2.71bn
(1.48% of GDP)
2012: US$2.32bn
(1.39% of GDP)
2011: US$2.2bn (1.38% of GDP)

World Ranking (2016): 47

(30 Sept. 2015)
Ranking: 101st
UNTSO: 8 experts
UNMISS: 3 (2 experts, 1 troop)
CMF (Djibouti): up to 60 RNZAF
ISAF (Afghanistan): 8 trainers
MFO (Middle East): 28; 1 trg unit; 1 tpt unit
UNCMAC (Korea): 3 observers
Antarctica: 6 flights a year to support NZ and US civilians.
Iraq: 143 trainers.
Defense spending/troop: $354,000 (compared to global average of approx, US$65,905).


Part 1: Recent Trends

New Zealand’s contribution to UN peace operations peaked in 2001 in Timor-Leste. Military personnel contributed to the multi-national International Force for East Timor (INTERFET), the UN Mission in Timor (UNMIT) peacekeeping force, and later to the non-UN-led International Security Force (ISF). Naval assets, C-130 Hercules aircraft, Iroqouis helicopters, an infantry battalion, military observers and training advisers were deployed. New Zealand Police (NZPOL) also contributed to UNTAET and UNMIT and bilateral community policing arrangements. Outside of the Timor context, however, New Zealand’s recent contributions to UN missions have been minor. Small scale contributions to Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, Sudan/South Sudan and the Middle East have typically involved military observers sent in ones or twos. Larger deployments have been sent to non-UN-led missions that have increasingly taken precedence. Gaining a UNSC seat in 2015 raised expectations of an increased engagement in UN peace operations but instead Prime Minister John Key has expressly said that the small contributions currently made are ‘about right’.


New Zealand


In terms of peacekeeping efforts since Timor, numerically the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands (RAMSI) has been New Zealand’s most significant recent mission. The initial contribution consisted of 35 NZPOL personnel, an Army Infantry company, support personnel, engineers, a medical, civil and humanitarian assistance element and four RNZAF Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters. Another rifle company and 30 more police were deployed for a few months in 2006 when riots flared after Parliamentary elections, though for the most part NZDF engagement hovered between 30 and 50 personnel. In mid-2013 the last military contingents left the country, leaving a few civilian and police personnel in advisory positions. Other relevant missions in the region include ongoing engagement in Bougainville through Community Policing Programmes (typically involving 7 NZPOL personnel) after unarmed NZDF personnel had deployed to Bougainville in helping restore peace in the late 1990s. 72 NZDF and two NZPOL personnel also deployed in response to riots and civil disorder in Tonga from 18 November to 2 December 2006.


New Zealand also contributed to reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions. The New Zealand government contributed a small (approximately 60 strong) engineering and support force for reconstruction purposes under UN Security Council Resolution 1483, and liaison and staff officers remained in Baghdad working with coalition forces. More recently, and more controversially, New Zealand began to send up to 143 military trainers to Camp Taji in May 2015 to partake in a two-year Building Partner Capacity mission to aid in the fight against ISIS at the behest of the Iraqi Foreign Minister.


In Afghanistan, in April 2013 the last of New Zealand’s main military contribution was withdrawn. This had been a significant mission, with 21 rotations of approximately 140 personnel occurring over the years 2003-13, and with over 3,500 personnel serving in Afghanistan over the course of that decade (around a third of all personnel). In 2013 a three-person logistical support team, five additional transport and human resources personnel, bespoke transport and freight support by the RNZAF, and four staff officers and a driver remained in Kabul at NATO HQ with one NZDF officer working with UNAMA as a Military Liaison Officer (MLO). In 2015 eight NZDF trainers remain at the National Afghan Training Academy in Kabul supported by a five person team of logistical support personnel and transport by 40 Squadron when needed. In Afghanistan New Zealand police from the International Services Group also helped provide advice to senior ANP officers and undertook ‘train the trainers’ programmes at the Regional Training Centre from 2005 until 2012, involving a total of 53 personnel. Significantly, civilian personnel are also increasingly engaged in peace and stability operations, with the Deputy Special Coordinator of RAMSI typically being seconded from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) or Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), and with a civilian taking over the PRT in Bamiyan in 2010.


Most recently the NZDF has begun to engage with the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, providing trainers for the first time in 2015. Anti-piracy efforts through contributions to the Combined Maritime Force in the Middle East also constitute a fairly significant effort – utilising air assets (particularly the P-3K2 Orion aircraft) as well as more than 60 staff.  Again, though, these sit outside mainstream, traditional UN peace operations and in 2015 New Zealand ranked a lowly 101st in terms of contributions to UN missions despite its UN Security Council seat.





Part 2: Decision-Making Process

Ultimate decision-making authority sits with the Prime Minister with approval by Cabinet. On November 19, 2011, in recognition of the increasingly multi-agent nature of complex peace operations, the New Zealand Cabinet approved a more systematic whole-of-government approach to engaging in peace support operations. Coordination is provided through the Officials Committee for Defence and External Security Coordination (ODESC) which is charged with providing cross-ministerial strategic policy advice on security and intelligence matters. ODESC consists of: the Chief Executives from Foreign Affairs and Trade; the Defence Force; the Ministry of Defence and the New Zealand Secret Intelligence Service; the Government Communications Security Bureau; NZPOL; the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management; Treasury, and others when required.


In response to its deployments to the Solomon Islands, Timor Leste and Afghanistan, the New Zealand Government developed four criteria on which to base decisions about future deployments to peace operations:

  • strategic implications of the operation, including its effect on security, the humanitarian situation and New Zealand’s relationships with other countries;
  • the nature of the mission – the legality of the proposed mission and mandate under international law;
  • repercussions for New Zealand agencies involved in the proposed peace support operation; and
  • whether New Zealand can assist the fragile or post-conflict state in other ways.


A 2014 review of Peacekeeping Operations by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade mulled over previous lessons learned and called for either the status quo to continue or for a more targeted approach by the New Zealand government whereby New Zealand could actively seek out missions that align with New Zealand’s strategic directives. In this document, the South Pacific remained a priority for action, and the document called for Cabinet to consider whether or not UN missions represented “a useful contribution to New Zealand’s foreign policy goals” and/or contributed to “New Zealand’s broader national or international strategic interests and objectives” (p4).


In processing UN requests for contributions where New Zealand has the capability to respond an interdepartmental process is initiated whereby a joint MFAT/Defence and sometimes Police paper (formulated with input from the Permanent Mission) is to put to relevant Ministers, together with the Prime Minister. This paper provides advice as to how the request measures up against the agreed criteria for such missions. Once the Government has decided to engage in a peace support operation it then informs Parliament, and has often requested and received a formal parliamentary vote for support in undertaking a peace operation. As the Government currently commands a majority in Parliament, however, there is no requirement for formal Parliamentary approval.


Part 3: Rationales for Contributing

Political Rationales: UN and non-UN peacekeeping contributions are believed by all political sides to strengthen New Zealand’s international influence and help build relationships with like-minded countries. It is also seen as a way for New Zealand to “lead by example” and to maintain a tradition of being a “good international citizen.” New Zealand’s current Defence White Paper  states that “activities mandated by the UN are central to New Zealand’s security” (2010: 10), that “New Zealand will continue to be looked to by the UN as a troop-contributing nation,” and that the UN “is the principal source of legitimacy for the use of force in international affairs, either through UN led operations or through operations authorised by the UN but led by others” (2010: 18). A new Defence White Paper is due out in late 2015, which will outline direction with respect to UN and other operations, and a number of commentators in New Zealand have advocated for increased engagement in UN operations, particularly given the UNSC seat gained in 2015, but have been disappointed by the Government’s suggestion that enough is being done and that New Zealand will focus on filling specialist roles.


Economic Rationales: These are not significant. UN reimbursements do not cover the full costs to New Zealand of contributing personnel and equipment.


Security Rationales: Security rationales do not play a significant role. Given New Zealand’s geographical isolation there is little risk of refugee flows or other threats at times associated with armed conflict overseas. However, New Zealand’s reliance on trade and secure trade routes for export is held up as a reason for ensuring peace and stability at a regional and international level.


Institutional Rationales: Institutional considerations play some part in New Zealand’s decisions to contribute to peace operations but only in the sense that previous governments, particularly the Clark government (1990-1999), sought to emphasize the centrality of peacekeeping to the raison d’etre of New Zealand’s armed forces. This emphasis on peacekeeping in part continues as it presents a palatable picture to the New Zealand population in helping justify military budgets and capabilities. However, this does not restrict the NZDF to engagement only in UN missions. The apparent success of some non-UN-led missions such as that undertaken in the Solomon Islands does underscore the belief that other vehicles – albeit those consistent with the UN framework – may be just as legitimate and arguably more efficient.


Normative Rationales: These are the most significant reasons for New Zealand’s engagement in UN operations. New Zealand has long viewed itself as a “good international citizen,” and its politicians have touted stronger roles for the UN within international society since its inception. Support for the UN is a key element of foreign policy for all New Zealand political parties, and is accepted among the population at large. The gaining of a UNSC seat in 2015 was widely publicised and touted as a great achievement for New Zealand. Declared priorities included UN reform and a desire to overcome institutional paralysis.


Part 4: Barriers to Contributing

Alternative political or strategic priorities: Some view bilateral relations with Australia, renewed relations with the US after a twenty year hiatus in most defence and intelligence cooperation, and strengthening relations with other Asia-Pacific powers as more important priorities than peacekeeping. The contribution to Afghanistan reflected a political decision to help further the thawing of relations with the US and placed limitations on other possible deployments at the time. However, the UN retains an important position in public opinion which is reflected in publically stated political priorities. Moreover, apart from trans-Tasman relations, other bilateral relations can be contentious, with remaining wariness about overly-close relations with either the US or China evident, although efforts are increasing made to engage more with both countries.


Alternative institutional preferences for crisis management: The UN is still perceived as a potential vehicle for action and it would be difficult for New Zealand to make contributions to actions that lack a UN mandate. However, as long as they are UN-mandated, alternative institutional options for action may be preferred because they are perceived by some senior officers within the NZDF to be more efficient and effective. Due to size and resource constraints, New Zealand is unlikely to operate unilaterally, although there are suggestions that New Zealand could provide the lead in smaller Pacific deployments (White Paper 2010). In 2012, Prime Minister John Key and NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen signed an agreement on an individual partnership and cooperation programme, although again regional priorities will likely take precedence in deciding future engagement.


Financial costs: For decades New Zealand’s defense documents have highlighted the lack of direct threat to New Zealand, limiting New Zealand’s capacity to contribute to peacekeeping in part because of the small defense budget and size of its armed forces. Defense issues as a whole do not elicit significant public interest, and other issues gain political priority, thereby impacting upon budget allocation and the ability to contribute to all peace operations. Modest increases have, however, occurred in recent years.


Discomfort with the expanding UN peacekeeping agenda: This is not a relevant factor because values that underpin the contemporary UN peacekeeping agenda, in particular the move towards a more robust and comprehensive approach, are commensurate with New Zealand’s approach. Although New Zealand’s current contributions are small in number this is not due to the expanding of the UN’s peace and security agenda.


Difficult domestic politics: There is little discussion about defense and security matters within the public domain. UN peacekeeping is generally viewed in a positive light by all sides in domestic politics. It is unclear, however, as to how much that goodwill would last if New Zealand sustained significant casualties in a UN peacekeeping operation.


Resistance in the military: The Clark government of the 1990s reoriented much of the NZDF’s capabilities towards peacekeeping priorities. The NZDF as an institution is not resistant to taking on UN peacekeeping duties, and many of its “principal tasks” refer obliquely to this. There is, however, some scepticism about the efficiency and quality of the UN as an operational manager, born largely from experience in Timor Leste.


Logistical obstacles: New Zealand currently relies heavily on its partners, such as Australia, in terms of the provision of logistical assistance, particularly when working outside of the South Pacific. This is unlikely to change in the near future in terms of projected capabilities, although the Joint Amphibious Taskforce option may ease some of these difficulties.


Part 5: Current Challenges and Issues

The current conservative National government, under Prime Minister John Key, has expressed continued support for UN missions. This was given fresh impetus by New Zealand’s seat on the Security Council. Foreign Minister Murray McCully has particularly emphasized the role New Zealand has played, and can play, in the Pacific in providing for security and development, and “strongly supported” the reform of UN peacekeeping.


One factor likely to impinge upon contributions to UN peacekeeping is finances. Significant restructuring has occurred in most government bodies including the NZDF, which was the subject of a Value For Money report published in July 2010 and subsequent civilianisation processes. The NZDF was encouraged to save two hundred million dollars annually, and for a short time morale dipped considerably. A significant amount of money will be required in the not-too-distant future to help replace the NZDF’s large assets: strategic lift aircraft (Hercules), long-range maritime patrol (Orions) and the New Zealand Navy’s ANZAC frigates. Recent rumours that the NZDF would lose 800 positions have, however, been denied by the government. NZPOL too has a limited budget and does not have a set budget stream for international deployments.


New Zealand has had three major deployments wind down within the last few years. The 2014 MFAT review of peace operations not only emphasised the possibilities for a more proactive response, but it also asks Cabinet to ensure missions are compatible with international law, that mandates are achievable, that New Zealand has an exit strategy, to ask if there is a chance to build relationships with current or potentially new defence partners, and to ascertain whether or not there is a chance to consider an increased use of non-NZDF assets for use in peace operations (p5). A whole of government approach is an ideal represented by the notion of ‘NZInc’. Although the ideal of seamless coordination has not as of yet been achieved, there have been relevant efforts ongoing such as those to improve police-military-civilian cooperation through Civil Military Interactive Workshops initiated in 2011 and repeated in 2013 and through engagement with the NGO community, including regular instances of MFAT outreach about UNSC priorities throughout 2015.


Part 6: Key Champions and Opponents

New Zealand has very small academic and policy communities. Within these communities many are UN advocates, including regular public commentators such as Terence O’Brien and Colin Keating, former Ambassadors to the UN when New Zealand last held a Security Council seat in 1993-94. The New Zealand UN Association is active, with a presence even in smaller cities, and most high schools run model United Nations Assemblies. Political parties including National, Labour, the Greens, and even the relatively-nationalistic NZ First party all support engagement in UN peace operations. Public debate on UN peace operations is somewhat limited, but this is perhaps reflective of this bipartisan approach as well as the general lack of discussions about international peace and security issues more broadly construed. The main think tanks that provide commentary on relevant issues are: the Centre for Strategic Studies at Victoria University, Wellington; the University of Otago’s National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies; and Massey University’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies, which typically support engagement in UN operations, as noted in various submissions to the Defence White Paper process of 2010. A 2015 addition in the form of Victoria University’s Incline blog has provided a useful new venue for timely public commentary on defence and security matters.


There are no consistently outspoken opponents to making contributions to UN peacekeeping, although some minor political parties, such as the libertarian ACT Party, may be more sceptical about UN engagement if such engagement is considered too costly or not in the national interest.


Part 7: Capabilities and Caveats

The most useful NZDF assets for mobility include helicopters, five Hercules C-130s, two B757s, 105 LAVs (some fitted with additional armor for deployment to Afghanistan) and 300-plus Pinzgauers as well as a range of vessels for the Navy – a multi-role vessel (MPV) and 2 Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) adding utility in the Pacific in addition to the Navy’s two ANZAC class frigates. The Joint Amphibious Task Force concept is intended to allow for the simultaneous deployment of a network-enabled Light Task Group and Combined Arms Task group with sealift, airlift, land transport, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The main focus for the Joint Amphibious Task Force is “responding to security challenges and defence tasks in New Zealand and its environs, security challenges to New Zealand’s interests in the South Pacific, and challenges to New Zealand and Australia’s common security interests” (Defence Capability Plan September 2011). This concept is, however, not yet fully operational.


One of the units with a very high operational tempo in the NZDF is the engineering corps. Frequently deployed in mine clearance operations and to the Pacific for reconstruction work, as well as to a variety of tasks in contemporary peace operations, these personnel are also often joined by logistical experts and medical teams (particularly dentistry, again in the Pacific). The NZSAS is similarly in high demand for its reconnaissance capabilities. Military Police (MPs) are small in number but have provided useful skills in close protection and investigation work when deployed offshore and are relatively “civilianised.”


The NZPOL International Service Group (ISG) is the point of contact for international police deployments. Lacking a standing pool of personnel, NZPOL must rotate police officers out of their home districts to use offshore. This does mean, however, that the community policing role advocated by NZPOL is consistently practiced in a home environment by those sent to train the trainers in PSOs. NZPOL has also been particularly engaged in victim identification (such as in Aceh after the Tsunami).


The NZDF is comprised of approximately 17% females; NZPOL almost 20%. There is an effort within NZPOL in particular to look to deploy female police officers in response to calls from the UN to address gender imbalances in contributions to peace operations. NZDF is currently emphasising the need to increase the gender ratio which has in fact been dropping, particularly within Army, over the last few years. All government institutions may be impacted by the October 2015 formulation of a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security – criticised as a somewhat belated effort from New Zealand given its claimed emphasis on addressing inequalities.




Part 8: Further Reading

Ayson, R. (2004). “New Zealand: Armed to Make a Difference?” in L. Elliott & G. Cheeseman (eds.), Forces for Good: Cosmopolitan Militaries in the Twenty-First Century (Manchester University Press), pp.250-262.

Cabinet External and Defence Relations Committee of New Zealand (2014) Peace Support Operations Review.

Capie, C. (2012) “Peacekeeping, Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 9 November 2012.

Greener, P. (2009), Timing is Everything: The Politics and Processes of New Zealand Defence Acquisition Decision Making (ANU SDSC).

New Zealand Government. (2015). National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security.

New Zealand Government. (2010). Defence White Paper.

Rolfe, J. (2007). Cutting their Cloth: New Zealand’s Defence Strategy (Australian Strategic Policy Institute).



[1] NZDF data from 8 September 2015 in the first and last column are available at Unless otherwise stated, all other data is drawn from the IISS, The Military Balance 2015 (London: IISS/Routledge, 2015).

*Data for Figure 2 is drawn from The Military Balance 2000-2015, with incomplete information on contributions to the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands for the years 2004-6 and for missing information on contributions to the UNCMAC in Korea supplemented from publically available NZDF numbers (such as those provided in the “Output Expense 16: Operationally Deployed Forces” in NZDF Annual Reports). These non-UN figures include “peace support” in Iraq from 2004-6 (mainly in the form of army engineers); Cambodian mine clearing and contributions to the Afghanistan PRT, amongst others.