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Security of the Nation

Defence policy
Ministry of Defence
Defence Force

As a global trading nation, New Zealand has wide-ranging economic, trading and other interests to which challenges can and do arise. These require the support of well-focused foreign and defence policies. Of particular importance is the Pacific/East Asia region, because of our economic links, and uncertainties about regional security.

Defence policy

New Zealand’s defence policy is contained in the Defence Policy Framework released in 2000. The Framework:

  • sets out the overarching strategic guidance of the government’s approach to defence
  • outlines the role of defence policy in achieving the government’s broader foreign policy goals
  • lists the government’s defence policy objectives
  • outlines the roles and tasks for the New Zealand Defence Force
  • sets out the government’s views on shaping and rebuilding the Defence Force.


The five defence policy objectives are to:

  • defend New Zealand and protect its people, land, territorial waters, exclusive economic zone, natural resources and critical infrastructure
  • meet our alliance commitments to Australia by maintaining a close defence partnership in pursuit of common security interests
  • assist in maintaining security in the South Pacific and provide assistance to our Pacific neighbours
  • play an appropriate role in maintaining security in the Asia-Pacific region, including meeting our obligations as a member of the Five Power Defence Arrangement
  • contribute to global security and peacekeeping by participating in the full range of UN and other appropriate multilateral peace support and humanitarian relief operations.

The detail of how the Defence Force will be shaped for the future and the capabilities it will have to perform its roles and tasks, have been spelled out in the 2001 Defence Statement and the Defence Force’s 10 year Long-Term Development Plan released in 2002. The key components of these are:

  • a joint approach to structure and operational orientation
  • a modernised army
  • a practical navy fleet matched to New Zealand’s wider security needs
  • a refocused and updated Air Force
  • a funding commitment to provide financial certainty.

The focus is on a sustainable, modern, combat trained Defence Force that is able to both meet New Zealand’s own defence and security needs, and make a useful contribution when it is deployed.

Ministry of Defence

The Ministry of Defence was established in 1989. Its roles are: to provide high-quality advice to help the government make well informed judgements concerning the defence of New Zealand interests; to arrange for the acquisition of major items of military equipment needed to meet the capability requirements agreed on by the Government; and to conduct audits and assessments of the Defence Force and the major procurement activities of the Ministry.

Defence Force

The primary mission of the New Zealand Defence Force is to maintain a level of armed forces sufficient to deal with low-level contingencies affecting New Zealand and its region, and able to contribute to collective efforts where our wider interests are involved.

The New Zealand Defence Force employs about 8,550 men and women in uniform and 1,880 civilians including:

  • 2,020 members of the Royal New Zealand Navy
  • 4,280 soldiers of the New Zealand Army
  • 2,250 men and women of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

There are also 2,368 men and women in the Army Territorial Force and the Navy and Air Force Reserves.

Combat and support

The New Zealand Army combat force comprises two regular battalions, artillery batteries, engineers and light armour. The Naval combat force is comprised of three frigates, Te Kaha, Te Mana, and Canterbury and naval helicopters. The Air Force comprises a Rotary Wing Force of 14 Iroquois utility helicopters, a Maritime Force of six P3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft and a Fixed Wing Air Transport Force of five C130 Hercules and two Boeing 757 transport aircraft.

Support and logistics for the combat forces include drivers, medics, signallers, suppliers, store-people, mechanics and technicians.
Other support and training forces include the Navy’s replenishment tanker, a diving support ship, one survey/oceanographic ship and a survey boat, five inshore patrol craft, and other training craft. A Military Sealift ship will be acquired. There are also the 23 training aircraft operated by the Air Force.

What do they do?

The defence forces are ready to go anywhere in support of New Zealand’s interests. To be prepared they must train. At the most basic level this means improving their skill at arms, both as individuals and as units, and training to work together as teams. It includes training in how to use equipment, and how to work with other units, other services and the defence forces of other countries.

Recent activities

Over the past decade the Defence Force has contributed to a number of international peace support operations.

In 2002 there were some 800 personnel from all three Services in 14 missions in four continents, plus the South West Pacific. The largest mission – and the largest operational deployment since the Korean War – was the contribution to Timor Leste, (known as East Timor), initially 1100 personnel from the Navy, Army and Air Force.
NZDF personnel are currently serving in Bosnia, Kosovo, Israel, Sinai, Iraq, Mozambique, Cambodia, Laos, Bougainville, Timor Leste, Afghanistan and the North Arabian Sea.
During the past ten years the Defence Force has also contributed to peace support operations in the Gulf, Haiti, Iraq, Macedonia, Somalia, Rwanda, Croatia, Angola, the South Pacific Peacekeeping Force in Bougainville and the International Peace Monitoring Team in Solomon Islands. On three occasions, in the mid-1990s, a frigate has spent three months helping to enforce UN sanctions against Iraq. Frigates are deployed in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman to assist in the global war against terrorism.
The Defence Force regularly participates in air, sea and land training exercises with our Australian and other Asia-Pacific partners. These exercises provide valuable training, and show that New Zealand contributes to the security of the region.
The Air Force’s Orion aircraft carry out regular maritime surveillance patrols over New Zealand’s waters, including the Southern Oceans and the economic zones of our Pacific Island neighbours, helping those countries maintain control over their vital marine resources.
Each summer, the Defence Force provides logistics support to the New Zealand Antarctic scientific effort.
The Defence Force is on standby for search and rescue callouts, with one ship, Orion aircraft and Iroquois helicopters available at short notice.


The Defence Force is one of New Zealand’s largest training organisations. Since 1970, it has supported, in partnership with our communities, the New Zealand Cadet Forces, a youth development organisation that currently has 4,200 cadets and officers in 103 cadet units throughout the country. Since 1993, it has helped some 2,000 unemployed young people gain practical job skills and personal development under the Limited Service Volunteer Scheme. Sixty percent of these graduates have gone on to work or further training. In addition to military training, the Defence Force has civilian as well as uniformed staff doing university courses and trades training.

Find out more!

Defence Public Relations, Defence Headquarters, Private Bag, Wellington
Tel: (04) 4960-270, Fax: (04) 4960-290
New Zealand Defence Force web addresses:







Photo of military personnel on parade at parliament grounds.

The three services (Army, Navy and Air Force) parade before Wellington crowds on their return from peace-keeping in East Timor.
















































Photo shows military personel carrying a stretchered patient from a helicopter.
Peacekeeping and UN support can often involve medical evacuations.