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Soft power

Page updated: 7 January 2021

In order to achieve the domestic and international cooperation necessary to operate effectively, the Search and Rescue (SAR) sector needs to be skilled in the use of 'soft power'.

What is soft power?

In the context of the SAR sector, 'soft power' involves being able to facilitate, cajole and persuade multiple parties to collaborate to achieve a cohesive overall SAR response across the NZ Search and Rescue region.

Soft power stands in direct contrast to hard power, which refers instead to tools used as sticks and carrots.  One of the main objectives of using soft power is to get other entities to adopt your goals as their own, or to see things though a lens of shared interests.  In this way, soft power is a key tool for the SAR sector in achieving the multilateral cooperation needed to operate effectively both in strategic terms and when it comes to planning for SAR Operations.

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International Agreements rely on 'soft power'

International agreements are critical for multiple actors, and sometimes multiple nations, to cooperate across the NZ Search and Rescue region.  

The SAR sector's need to co-operate isn't just within New Zealand-based sector agencies.  It is also with partners across the entire NZ Search and Rescue region.  Understanding and shaping the international legal framework and policy environment, often through influencing decision-makers overseas, is also critical for the ability of the NZSAR sector to prevent and manage demand for search and rescue, as well as putting in place the arrangements for cooperation during SAR operations.

This kind of cooperation isn't new to the SAR sector.  The following are just a few examples off international cooperation being used to enable the SAR sector to operate effectively with partners across the wider region:

Example: International cooperation to reduce SAR demand in Antarctica

For example, the RCCNZ, as well as managing day-to-day relationships with international partners to effect successful SAROPs, also look to proactively prevent the need for search and rescue in the Antarctic. They have worked hard to progress work on the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (the “Polar code”) to ensure that vessels which are not fit-for-purpose do not venture into the unforgiving waters of the Southern Ocean. 

This involves negotiations with a range of other nations and aims to improve the standard of vessels, which can both reduce the need for search and rescue in future and improve the likelihood of survival for those aboard such vessels.  The agreement also seeks to reduce the potential damage that unsalvageable ships and boats can have on the pristine Antarctic environment.[i] 

Example 2: International cooperation to prevent plane crashes

As another example, the RCCNZ is also an active participant in work with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to promote a safe, efficient, secure, economically sustainable and environmentally responsible civil aviation sector.  

There is significant ongoing effort being put towards agreeing standards of international aviation safety, then working nations across the NZ Search and Rescue region to build capability and meet these standards. 

This work represents an important way to prevent or reduce demand for SAR services in future (e.g. through fewer plane crashes).

Example 3: Pacific collaboration to promote water safety

Pacific countries work together to build SAR capability throughout the region. This includes, for example, providing clear guidance to those living on Pacific Islands about how to stay safe on the water.[ii]  It has also included funding $8.1 million of maritime projects in Tokelau, Tuvalu, Niue, Cook Islands, Tonga and Kiribati (in 2016-18). This includes upgrading maritime VHF radio channels, lights, navigation beacons, other navigation aids and, in some cases, SAR vessels.  Most of the projects are not SAR specific but they help reduce the number of SAR incidents.



[ii] "Search and rescue in the Pacific - Maritime NZ." Accessed 4 Oct. 2017.


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The SAR sector should retain its emphasis on cooperation

The NZ Search and Rescue sector faces unique challenges when it comes to facilitating search and rescue operations, with small countries and populations spread over the world's biggest ocean.  There are also significant communications challenges and limited access to SAR assets[ii]  In this context, no one nation is in charge of everything.  So the emphasis needs to stay on 'soft power', or cooperation and collaboration to get things done.

Each year, New Zealand’s SAR partners (particularly Maritime NZ) are involved in around 100 search or rescue operations in the Pacific region, both within our SAR region and outside it.[i] 

There are already good SAR networks operating across Pacific partners. However, with frequently less than ideal communications ability and access to assets across this vast area, even better planning and collaboration to meet increased demand across the wider NZ Search and Rescue Region (NZSSR) will be needed in future. 

There is also likely to be increased need for SAR agencies to cooperate domestically, with other government agencies like the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management given the increased risk of environmental emergencies (e.g. floods, storms) in future.


[i] "Search and rescue in the Pacific - Maritime NZ." Accessed 4 Oct. 2017.

[ii] "The Pacific Search and Rescue Steering Committee - Maritime NZ." Accessed 4 Oct. 2017

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