Operation Burnham and the Diminishing Role of Democratic Accountability in the Modern Security State
50 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2019
Date Written: 2018
On 22 August 2010, six Afghan citizens were killed and numerous others wounded during Operation Burnham, an operation spearheaded by the New Zealand Special Air Service. The New Zealand government subsequently kept details of the Operation secret from the New Zealand public in order to protect state security. However, the 2017 release of the book Hit and Run provoked public interest in allegations of military impropriety in the initiation and execution of Operation Burnham. In response to this significant public interest, an independent inquiry has been established to consider the allegations of wrongdoing. Yet, the inquiry may be conducted - in whole or in part - in private, and public access to inquiry information may be restricted to protect the security interests and international relations of New Zealand.
In this paper, I consider whether democratic accountability is satisfied in regards to Operation Burnham and other situations in which state security purportedly requires public access to information to be limited. After concluding that democratic accountability cannot be satisfied in situations characterized by an absence of transparency, such as has been the case so far with Operation Burnham, I move to consider the way that different states have struggled with the tension between national defence and democratic requirements, particularly in the context of the ongoing “War on Terror”. While I demonstrate that the international trend is increasingly to sacrifice the transparency required by democratic accountability in favour of state security, I argue that this approach threatens the very foundations of the democratic state.
Keywords: Operation Burnham, democratic accountability, transparency, state security
JEL Classification: K00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation