Purpose and Scope


The prime reasons for maintaining a defence force remain securing New Zealand against external threats, protecting our sovereign interests, and being able to take action to meet likely contingencies in our strategic area of interest.

The NZDF is the only provider of Armed Forces to the New Zealand Government, and the Chief of Defence Force is the Government’s prime adviser on military policy, including the use of the military capabilities developed within the NZDF.

The key legislation concerning the raising and maintaining of New Zealand’s Armed Forces is the Defence Act 1990.  That Act confirms the purposes of the Armed Forces, constitutes the NZDF, affirms that the Armed Forces are under Ministerial authority, defines the roles and relationships of senior officials, and makes provisions, generally, in respect of the establishment, control and activities of the NZDF, and related matters.


Under the Defence Act 1990, New Zealand’s Armed Forces are raised and maintained for:

  • The defence of New Zealand and the protection of its interests, whether in New Zealand or elsewhere.
  • The contribution of forces under collective security treaties, agreements or arrangements.
  • The contribution of forces to the UN or other organisations or States for operations in accordance with the principles of the charter of the UN.

The Defence Act also allows the Armed Forces to be made available for the performance of public services and assistance to the civil power in time of emergency, either in New Zealand or elsewhere. The NZDF also undertakes or supports a range of tasks, including maritime resource protection, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and search and rescue, as part of a whole-of-government effort directed by civil authorities.

The NZDF is part of the External Sector, which is administered by four departments – the NZDF, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the New Zealand Customs Service. These departments are collectively responsible for managing most of New Zealand’s official relationships with the rest of the world and protecting its security beyond the border.

This page was last reviewed on 12 February 2015, and is current.