Skip to main content

By Mr M. Horn

The NZDF and the NZ Army has made big moves to improve the people domain. Initiatives such as Op Respect and Wāhine Toa have enhanced the inclusive culture in which we have, but what is missing?

As a military force our people are our most important investment[1] and as an organisation the NZ Army has 4429 Regular Force personnel[2]. This is a significant amount of personnel who as a collective come from a diverse range of backgrounds, religions, ethnicities and each have a unique identity. 

These people are called upon to serve our nation loyally and honourably in the future operating environment[3], but what does this look like? There are some key factors affecting the way the world is shaped which affect the changing operating environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a severe test for Pacific Island countries with weak healthcare systems[4]. New Zealand is vulnerable to a number of geological hazards including earthquakes, tsunami and volcanic activity. It also faces meteorological hazards including flooding and droughts, which are being exacerbated by long term trends, for example towards higher temperatures. These factors point to a potential increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters into the future. These trends extend beyond New Zealand to the South Pacific, where rising sea levels, less predictable rainfall, cyclones and storm surges are likely to become more intense and frequent over the next 25 years. A lack of employment opportunity, compounded by demographic pressures such as surging working age populations in some countries, has the potential to generate social and political unrest.

So what? New Zealand will continue to protect and advance its interests by maintaining strong international relationships with its South Pacific partners. New Zealand’s constitutional obligations towards the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau all form part of the Realm of New Zealand. New Zealand also has a special relationship with Samoa. These links, and the potential for any adverse security situation to impact on New Zealand or New Zealanders, underpin its enduring interest in the region. The government’s highest priority for the Defence Force is its ability to operate in New Zealand and its Exclusive Economic Zone, followed by the South Pacific. The NZDF and the NZ Army must therefore be prepared to operate independently, or lead operations, in these areas[5]. This will see a continued trend of Force Elements being deployed to support HADR, exercises and training activities in New Zealand and in the South Pacific.

How does this link to an inclusive culture? Currently, when compared to the NZ population, the NZ Army has a 55% lower ethic makeup of Pacific people[6]. In 2017 the Pacific population in New Zealand was 295,941 and it is expected to grow to 480,000 by 2026[7]. The NZ Army must seize this opportunity to strengthen its populace of Pacific people. This will broaden the demographics of the NZ Army and directly contribute to shaping a more inclusive environment. Pacific people bring unique skills including a varied set of shared values which include Family, Collectiveness and Respect[8]. It can be argued that these align to the NZDF values of Courage, Commitment, Comradeship and Integrity as well as enhance current NZDF initiatives like Op Respect. 

With the demand of presence and operations likely to increase in the Pacific, an increased Pacific demographic provides more benefits to the NZ Army. The NZ Army operates in the human terrain – relationships are vital to everything we do[9]. Therefore, having increased Pacific people on HADR exercises and training activities in the Pacific increases communication and the ability for our deployed forces to enhance the trust between the NZ Army and the South Pacific nations. Likewise, we are able to bridge cultural and language barriers with more ease.

In New Zealand, the NZ Army’s more inclusive and diverse demographic will assist in building trust as well as present an inclusive environment to the NZ Pacific communities which are expected to significantly grow in the near future. 62% of the Pacific population in NZ are born and educated in NZ giving a large portion of them (over 40%) have the ability to speak two or more languages offering diverse skills to add to our NZ Army. 

How do we achieve a greater Pacific populace in the NZ Army? The NZ Army must target the right people to enhance its outputs. Directed and targeted recruitment of Pacific people will achieve this. This means recruitment activities in the right regions at the right events.  63.9% of all Pacific people in NZ live in the Auckland Region. This is significant when compared to the South Island where just 8.3% of NZ’s Pacific people reside[10]

The NZ Army must make recruitment in the Auckland region a priority, which should include exposure to our diversity and inclusiveness through the use of current serving Pacific people. It is also important to target influencers within the Pacifica communities as the importance of elders is integral to Pacific families[11].

Due to significant changes at a global level, it is inevitable that the NZ Army will face a number of challenges and will deploy on a number of operations in the South Pacific in the near future. It is imperative that a continued effort is made to reach acceptable levels of diversity and an inclusive culture through the recruitment of the right people. The culture and values that Pacific people in our organisation is a key enabler to a more inclusive culture and will assist the NZ Army to win on operations in the future.


  1. New Zealand Defence Force People25 – Strategy to 2025.
  2. Portfolio Personnel Dashboard – CA dated 31 Mar 2021.
  3. Army25 – Chief or Army Foreword.
  4. Michael H. Yang Global Times ‘When Fiji is in need, China is always there to help’ 11 Jan 2021.
  5.  Defence White Paper 2016.
  6. Portfolio Personnel Dashboard – CA dated 31 Mar 2021.
  7. 25 May 2021. 
  8. 25 May 2021. 
  9. Army25 – Chief or Army Foreword.
  10. 25 May 2021. 
  11. 25 May 2021.