The strategic significance of the Pacific islands in New Zealand's defence policy, 1935-1939.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The formation of defence policy, like that of any policy, is by nature a continually changing process. In the four years prior to the Second World War, New Zealand's defence policy saw a transition of emphasis and a focus on the Pacific. During the years 1935 to 1939, the strategic significance of the Pacific Islands was recognised and became an accepted part of New Zealand defence policy. The aim of this thesis is to show how the islands achieved this level of importance. It is first necessary, however, to define the issues involved. Defence policy cannot be totally separated from foreign policy but must rather be seen as one facet of it. "After all, the essential aims of New Zealand's foreign policy ... are to protect the national security, to promote the national interests, and to advance a national viewpoint on matters of concern to us." Defence policy is central to the first of these objectives, the maintenance of national security. Defence policy is then itself divided into different categories. In this thesis the terms 'imperial defence, 'regional defence' and 'local defence' are used. Imperial defence refers to defence schemes of the British Empire (which included New Zealand), and in particular the Singapore strategy of dependence on a British Fleet being stationed at Singapore. Local defence refers to defence policy as related to the defence of New Zealand territory. Finally regional defence is used to denote defence planning which has extended out of New Zealand territory into the Pacific area. The advent of Japan as a potential threat to New Zealand in the thirties necessitated a reassessment of Dominion defence planning. The scale of attack was expected to be in the form of raids, that is, if Japan decided to expand southwards, she would first occupy Pacific Islands close to New Zealand which could then act as jump-off bases for raids on the Dominion. Consequently New Zealand had to extend her local defence planning on to a regional scale so as to protect the Pacific Islands as well as New Zealand itself. The term "Pacific Islands" is often used quite loosely in this thesis, ,and it does not specify which islands are being referred to. In this context the term "is intended to define that part of Oceania which is contained ln the ... New Zealand Naval Station"* not including the mainland of New Zealand. The islands of particular concern are to the north of New Zealand and include, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Fanning Island, Niue, and the Tokelau and Cook Islands. Other islands are dealt with for various reasons, but it is these islands, especially Fiji and Fanning Island, to which New Zealand extends her defence responsibilities. There were intimations before 1935 of the importance of the Pacific Islands to New Zealand, but it was not until after the first Labour Government came to power that the significance of the islands in New Zealand's defence planning was established. It must be stressed at this stage that the importance of the islands never surpassed that of imperial defence but rather regional defence was elevated to a parity with imperial defence by the time of the Pacific Defence Conference. The catalyst and influence of the Labour Government on defence policy are examined in Chapter Two. Particular emphasis is given to the growth of the Air Force and the role of Group-Captain Cochrane in its development into an effective armed service. The Air Force receives such special attention because its emergence as the most suitable means of defence for New Zealand facilitated the extension of defence planning into the Pacific Islands. Air power necessitated concern for the islands and the emergence of longer range aircraft made reconnaissance and the monitoring of Japanese actions in the islands possible. The Navy and Army were of course still as important as they had been before the rise of the Air Force, but they have only been dealt with in passing because it is the Air Force which in particular contributes to the significance of the islands. It was not only military air power which enhanced the islands' importance, but civil aviation also played a vital role. Chapter Three traces the development of commercial aviation, and in particular that of Pan American Airways, in the Pacific and the consequent "island scramble" to assert sovereignty and gain landing rights in the islands. Attention is also given to the 1937 Imperial Conference which marks a turning point in attitudes within the Empire towards the importance of the Pacific Islands. Chapter Four sees action in the Pacific gain momentum. Island surveys, of a preliminary nature had already been made, but by late 1938 the urgency to establish island bases coupled with the deteriorating international situation resulted in a more extensive expedition than ever before. The New Zealand Pacific Aviation Survey concluded in 1939 in time for the report to be used by the Pacific Defence Conference. This Conference, initiated and hosted by New Zealand, exemplified the significance of the Pacific Islands by 1939. Thus it can be seen how the islands became such an important and integral part of New Zealand's defence thinking by the eve of the Second World War.