Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

New generation of NZ security specialists needed, Otago expert says

Tuesday 4 February 2020 1:31pm

New Zealand must develop a new generation of national security experts to meet the rise of transnational terrorism head-on, an Otago politics expert says.

Professor Robert Patman Image
Professor Robert Patman

“New Zealand cannot sit on the side lines and hope the security challenges of the 21st century will simply go away,” Politics Professor Robert Patman says.

His comments follow the University of Otago’s inaugural National Security School held on 3 February, ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Christchurch terror attack in which 51 people were killed.

The event, which hoped to encourage and inspire students into becoming a new generation of security experts, involved government policymakers as well as visiting national and international experts in global terrorism, online extremism and transnational crime.

It examined New Zealand’s national security policy both before and after the Christchurch terror attacks on two mosques on 15 March 2019.

The Labour government's response to the attacks, led by Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern, combined compassion - leading efforts of New Zealanders to reach out to the Muslim community in Christchurch and elsewhere in the country - and targeted security measures, including the swift banning of automatic weapons, tighter regulation of foreign political donations and an international initiative and the Christchurch Call which was aimed at curbing online extremism.

The Christchurch terror attacks were NZ’s “9/11 moment” and captured global attention, Professor Patman says.

“The lesson of Christchurch is that we are not immune to trends like the rise of violent white nationalism.”

Many new national security challenges have arisen since the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s, and despite 9/11, many states have still clung to a traditional understanding of national security defined by military interactions between sovereign states, Professor Patman says.

“But the rise of transnational terrorism from Islamist and white supremacist groups, global organised crime and the destabilizing impact of climate change has created the need for a much broader conception of national security.”

New Zealand must work closely with other like-minded states to uphold the international rules-based system on which New Zealand and many other actors depend.

“These challenges do not respect borders and cannot be solved by simply wielding the biggest stick.”

The School is unique in bringing together scholars who are looking at the roots of extremism, social media providers who look at lessons learnt, new technologies to combat online violence, and New Zealand and Pacific policy specialists who have responsibility for addressing problems like terrorism and organised crime facing the country.

Organisers hope to make the National Security School into an annual event.

Presenter insights from the National Security School:

Understanding how extremists think

Charles Sturt University Terrorism Studies Lecturer Dr Kristy Campion’s research into Australian far-right ideology helped put some context around the Christchurch attacker’s motivations.

Ideology is a way of reinterpreting reality, she says.

The far right sees democracy as the weak dominating the strong. For many extremists this challenges the ‘natural order’ and this imbalance of nature is seen through a lens of racial purity.

Far right ideology therefore often shape history, like the Australian bushman’s close relationship with nature, with a narrative of an existential fight against industrialisation, urbanisation and immigration.

Identifying the growth of hate speech

University of Waikato Politics Lecturer Dr Justin Phillips uses big data to show how New Zealanders’ use of hate speech has grown exponentially in the last four years.

Dr Philips tracks comments made to videos and current affairs on YouTube and our main online news sources.

It’s not the radicalisation of many, in what he calls the ‘zombie bite’ effect, but the hardening of hate speech by the few that is the worry.

It is anti-Semitic, anti-Māori, and expresses deep hatred of women, built around conspiracies that blame government, media and global ‘leftists’, deny climate change, promote anti-vaccines and include many false flags.

Giving alternatives

Vidhya Ramalingam of London-based Moonshot CVE (Countering Violent Extremism) believes you can walk extremists back from the precipice.

“No-one is too far gone,” she believes.

Moonshot CVE targets white supremacist-leaning internet uses before they radicalise, by intercepting them as they Google search the organisations they might join and offering them other options.

Perhaps not surprisingly, many pre-extremists are willing to seek help for mental illness, and will respond to Google AdWords offers like ‘Society is changing – are you feeling helpless?’

Ramalingam has mapped New Zealand’s extremist landscape, and finds 80 per cent are male, 22 per cent are aged 16–24 and a further 25 per cent between 25–34.

Defining online extremism

Brian Fishman, Facebook’s head of policy for Counterterrorism and Dangerous Organisations, is California-based but has taken on board the lessons of the March 15 Christchurch attack by redefining who the terrorists are and changing Facebook’s approach accordingly.

For Fishman, it is not acceptable for terrorists to be allowed to be barred from recruiting and planning attacks online but be allowed to preach continue to preach hate.

Facebook identifies dangerous groups and fans out to include associated participants.

Yet Fishman does not see that scanning for hate speech and other extremist content is enough: Facebook is investing heavily in new tools which includes the automated matching of video content to take them down faster.

For more information, please contact:

Professor Robert Patman
Master of International Studies Director
Department of Politics
School of Social Sciences
University of Otago
Tel +64 3 479 8669