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New Zealand's national security system

“National security” in the New Zealand context encompasses more than the traditional definition of security as solely the preserve of defence, law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

New Zealand takes an “all hazards – all risks” approach to national security, and has done so explicitly since a Cabinet decision to this effect in 2001. This approach acknowledges New Zealand’s particular exposure to a variety of hazards as well as traditional security threats, any of which could significantly disrupt the conditions required for a secure and prosperous nation.

National security considerations for New Zealand include state and armed conflict, transnational organised crime, cyber security incidents, natural hazards, biosecurity events and pandemics.

Taking such a broad approach to risk identification and risk response requires flexible and adaptable national security architecture. New Zealand’s capacity to deal with the full range of national security challenges requires the system to be integrated, able to leverage partnerships between government agencies, local government, private companies, and individuals.

New Zealand’s National Security System takes a particular interest in risks that have:

  • unusual features of scale, nature, intensity, or possible consequences;
  • challenges for sovereignty, or nationwide law and order;
  • multiple or inter-related problems, which when taken together, constitute a national or systemic risk;
  • a high degree of uncertainty or complexity such that only central government has the capability to tackle them;
  • interdependent issues with the potential for cascade effects or escalation.


The New Zealand system also emphasises the importance of resilience, which is the ability of a system to respond and recover from an event (whether potential or actual).

Resilience includes those inherent conditions that allow a system to absorb impacts and cope with an event, as well as post-event adaptive processes that facilitate the ability of the system to reorganise, change, and learn from the experience.

It means that systems, people, institutions, physical infrastructure, and communities are able to anticipate risk, limit impacts, cope with the effects, and adapt or even thrive in the face of change.

To achieve this, New Zealand takes a holistic and integrated approach to managing national security risk. Known as the 4Rs this encompasses:

  • Reduction — identifying and analysing long-term risks and taking steps to eliminate these risks if practicable, or if not, to reduce their likelihood and the magnitude of their impact;
  • Readiness — developing operational systems and capabilities before an emergency happens;
  • Response — taking action immediately before, during or directly after a significant event;
  • Recovery — using coordinated efforts and processes to bring about immediate, medium-term, and long-term regeneration.
Last updated: 
Tuesday, 27 October 2020

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