Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 23:37 | SYDNEY
Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 23:37 | SYDNEY

Is New Zealand a great land power?


Mark O'Neill

23 December 2008 10:49

Hold the ad campaign. It seems attacking New Zealand, like some Australian advertising executives suggested, might be an even dumber idea than it first appeared. (More on this in a moment.)

Sam Roggeveen has categorised Australia as a ‘weak’ land power and Indonesia as a ‘strong one’. Even allowing for playing creatively with the stats, this idea does not stack up. 

On percentages, Australia and Indonesia have an almost identical figure of people under arms in their land forces – Indonesia’s population of just over 237.5 million sustains an army of 303,000, while Australia’s 21 million population supports an army of just over 27,000. That gives each a percentage of army-to-population of just 0.12% and 0.128% respectively. By way of comparison, the land force powerhouse that is Sri Lanka has a percentage of 0.76%.

Sam could claim that raw numbers are misleading and other qualitative factors come into play. And he would be right.  One study that has crunched these figures and has come up with a ranking that places Indonesia and Australia next too each other in merit ranking order. When you pick even further at the stats, the claim of Indonesia as a land power looks even softer. Consider these factors:

  • The Indonesian Army has a traditional ‘inward looking focus’. The majority of its members are garrisoned throughout the Archipelago. They have limited operational or strategic mobility. The element that does, KOSTRAD, or the strategic reserve, numbers just over 40,000. 
  • The area that the Army of 303,000 is attempting to secure comprises a largely littoral environment of over 17,000 islands with over 50,000km of coastline. These are not the sort of traditional ‘continental’ conditions normally associated with the development and application of coherent land power.
  • The Indonesian Army’s grand strategy is essentially defensive, to the point that an earlier version of its defence strategy envisaged resorting to guerilla warfare in the event of invasion by a large conventional power. Hardly the stuff of great land power.

The point of this is not to highlight anything about our good neighbour Indonesia. It is to correct any misapprehension that could arise from the assertion of Indonesia is a great land power. And the bit about  New Zealand? If you do the maths, the Kiwis have a greater percentage (0.2%) of their population in the military than Australia, Indonesia, India or China.