Tuesday 7 February 2012

Overheard anecdote of dubious provenance

While the three year old clambered over an old privately owned tank at a classic car event a while back, I overheard the tank's owner telling another attendee about the minor paperwork hassles he faced in importing the tank.* The Defence folks had some objection to his importing the tank because, were he to go on a rampage with it, they had nothing that could stop it. The armour was too thick for .50 cal rounds to get through, and all the .50 cal rounds are stored up on the North Island anyway. So he had to sign a waiver saying he wouldn't go on a rampage or try to start a revolution.

I don't know whether the story was true;** I don't even know that it was really the tank's owner. But I love that I live in a place where it could be true. Instead of a place where the local sheriffs have tanks.

I also like that the privately-owned aircraft on display biannually at Warbirds over Wanaka could probably take out the government's Air Force if they decided that they needed to.***

Americans who claim pacifism but who live in a state that extracts large quantities of money from them to blow up people overseas or to send police tanks and bad actors after the suspected kingpin of a cockfighting ring (see link above) perhaps ought to reconsider the strength of their convictions or emigrate.

* Please don't ask me what kind of tank it was. It was green, had a big gun, had tracks, and definitely wasn't a personnel carrier. A door opened at the back where the kids climbed in to go play. I think there was a hatch on the top too.

** It can't be completely true as the army does have some anti-tank weapons. It just doesn't have any tanks.  We do have some armoured tractors. And this is as it should be. If you want to see a tank in New Zealand, go to a museum. Or, go and hire a private one and go for a drive.

*** I am definitely not denigrating the important work done by the Air Force in maritime safety and in Search & Rescue. New Zealand can't afford an Air Force that could protect us against any plausible external threat, so doesn't bother to try. We have equipment necessary for the jobs that need here to be done: search & rescue and maritime patrol. Important jobs both. But neither of which require ridiculously expensive modern fighter aircraft. The best response to a tournament game that you can't win is not to play.


  1. It's hard to control the monster once he's been created. That's not unique to the military. Once we empower the environmental industry or the health care regulation industry, it's hard to keep the beast from driving us away from the "optimal" level of protection. What's the answer? I don't know. But I'm pretty sure a policy of no tanks is not it (at least for the US).

    1. @BReedNZ: From an individual's perspective, it really doesn't matter much what optimal US policy might be since there's almost no chance of any individual's affecting US policy. If your federal tax bill is roughly a quarter of your income, and a fifth of that is used for the military, then 5% of your income is being used to help blow up poor people overseas. Every twentieth day that you go to work, you can say "Hey, today my earnings are being used to blow up people I've never met. Do I feel good about that?" If the answer is no, then the only thing you can really do about it is move to a place where that isn't true.

      Say that you reckon half of the military's expenditures are for laudable things and half are objectionable. Then it's one day in forty.

      How many grains of sand are there in a pile?

      A pacifist would object to being drafted: every day's work would directly be doing morally objectionable things.

      Say your option instead of being drafted were being forced into war work building bombs. That would be objectionable too. But what if it were only every other day, and instead of your building bombs yourself, the money you earned were taken to pay people to build bombs. What if it were only one day in twenty, or one day in forty?

      I'm not saying my argument should be compelling for anyone but pacifists. I am saying it's hard to reconcile pacifism with failure to emigrate from the US.

  2. What would you need a tank for anyway? If NZ were attacked, surely of of the fighting would take place in mountainous terrain, where tanks would have a hard time moving. You aren't going to have air superiority, so whoever is attacking you is going to take out big easy targets like tanks with airstikes anyway. I'd say, it's better to focus on infantry.

    1. Of course. The only reason NZ would have tanks would be for overseas deployments that we oughtn't be involved in anyway. And so I'm happy we don't have them.

  3. "New Zealand can't afford an Air Force that could protect us against any plausible external threat, so doesn't bother to try."
    Statist propaganda that allows politicians to reallocate public spending from legitimate uses to expanding the welfare state and vote buying.

    1. It's true though!

      If NZ had a big combat air wing, we'd be under more pressure to have it join in blowing up people in Afghanistan or Iraq. And it would do basically nothing to make us safer from external invasion. I'd sooner that a dollar taken from me by force be given to a poor person than be used to blow people up.

      Has America's DoD at 20% or so of the US Federal Budget done much to constrain the growth of the American welfare state? The big military cuts of the 90s were combined with an overhaul of the welfare system that shrank the size of the American welfare state. And when Bush ramped up defence spending, he also ramped up domestic stupid spending.

    2. Bush is the gold standard of responsible government?

    3. Your hypothesis is that welfare and warfare are substitutes; your starting premise is that the former is largely illegitimate and the latter largely legitimate.

      I'm pointing out that the hypothesis isn't true generally, though it may be true sometimes in some places; I further question the starting premise as we've currently sufficient armed forces for legitimate sensible purposes. Additional dollars put to military use here start ramping up the likelihood of our being involved in foreign adventures and do little to improve domestic security; I'd sooner the marginal dollar be given to a poor person conditional on having to choose between the two uses for a dollar already taken from me.

    4. Not really - simply the fact that any country with a military and economy able to project power - let alone land an expeditionary force - to attack distant NZ is by definition not going to be deterred by any conventional military force NZ could establish

      Only the US has the military capacity to invade NZ. Only the US, Russia, the UK, France, and perhaps Spain, have the capacity to bomb NZ.

    5. That was kinda my point: any additional dollar we spend on the military can't do anything to help our defense at the margin but could be used as part of foreign expeditions.

  4. Aren't you assuming that New Zealand would fight any conflict alone? While a NZ airforce might not be enough by itself to defend NZ, it might assist (say) the Australian airforce in defending the region.

    ' I'd sooner the marginal dollar be given to a poor person conditional on having to choose between the two uses for a dollar already taken from me.'
    Just in the same way that giving it to the military encourages foreign adventurism (a fair criticism) why doesn't this encourage welfare dependency and looting?

    1. A dollar given to a poor person does less long term harm than a dollar spent on a bomb dropped on a poor person. Yes, I prefer welfare reform. But given a choice on how the dollar taken from me is spent...

      Even if Australia helped, think about the set of countries that could take over NZ right now if they decided to:
      - Australia
      - US (Australian help would do nothing)
      - Russia (Australian help unlikely to do anything)
      - China in a decade when they've a stronger blue-water fleet (Australia couldn't stop them)
      - UK, France (Ok, maybe ANZUS could make the costs too high for them to try. But that has no effect at the margin as there's no chance they'll try.)
      Anybody else? Indonesia or Malaysia? Is there any real chance they'd ever decide to attack NZ?