14 March 2023

A small country far away of which they know nothing

It is the biggest foreign and defence policy news in the South Pacific since the end of the Cold War, that is the formation not only of the AUKUS defence alliance, but the agreement for Australia to be the seventh country to have nuclear propelled submarines.  Seventh after the five formal nuclear weapons states and India (which is an informal nuclear weapons state).

It's big news in Australia.  Indeed the issue is bipartisan, with it all being started by the Morrison Coalition Government, and continued by the Albanese Labor Government.  It's big in the UK too.  A country that from the late 1990s appeared to be withdrawing from the Pacific (having pulled out of Hong Kong), is now a key second level nuclear power operating globally. Again, it is not controversial in the UK, helpfully since the British Labour Party has sidelined its hard left tankie faction. It's also news in the US.  It solidifies Western liberal democracies against the totalitarian aggressors in Beijing and Moscow, a sign that there wont be tolerance for Beijing seeking to claim the Republic of China on Taiwan.

It ought to give pause for thought in New Zealand. Remember ANZUS? Yet no.  The Cold War-era policy, instituted by the Fourth Labour Government to ban nuclear weapons and nuclear propulsion from New Zealand waters and territory, ostensibly to protect New Zealand from nuclear attack in the event of a world war and the fear of nuclear power, looks obsolete and childish.  That's because it is.

The fact NZ Labour politicians talk of a "nuclear free moment" with pride, and neither the media nor the Opposition take them up on this is a sign of the abject paucity of any serious critical discussion about foreign policy in New Zealand politics, and it is disgraceful.

There is little from broadcasters or journalists on this at all, and it is in no small part because the National Party, which once took on this issue and folded, has given up on asserting the importance of defence and alliances.  What NZ is stuck with is a policy that fits rights into the mould of the Green hard left which the Fourth Labour Government let rip (or rather David Lange did), in order to placate the left faction in the face of far-reaching economic reforms. 

On the face of it, NZ's exclusion from AUKUS is primarily presented as showing an "independent" foreign policy, whatever that means. At best it means keeping our head down in the hope that all sides will trade with NZ exporters, which is simply economic realpolitik. It also means NZ having a channel to the side of authoritarianism, between the West, which is useful in itself.  However, that's not really how Labour presents it (and let's be clear, the Labour Party has led foreign policy in NZ since 1984 continuously, even though it has been tended by the Nats). 

At worst, this "independent" foreign policy is akin to the "both sidesism" that Te Pati Maori expresses openly. TPM stated this in its foreign policy that it wants to be enemy to none and friends to all.  It effectively puts a distance between NZ and other Western liberal democracies, and pulls NZ closer to expansionist totalitarian autocracies like Russia and the PRC (and its friends in Tehran, Pyongyang and Damascus). It says NZ isn't really that concerned about having friends that get attacked, because "everyone has done bad".  

Sure you can be Switzerland if you like, but be honest about it. It is not a moral foreign policy, it is one based on realism and giving up on being allied to those you no longer think are any better than their enemies.

What AUKUS means for NZ is pretty clear. Australia will soon be the nexus of military deterrence and defence in the South Pacific like never before and NZ law will ban its new submarines, in due course, from sailing into NZ ports.  That is worthy of at least debate.

Why does NZ still ban nuclear propelled vessels? Is this some fear of pollution in an age of concern over climate change? Is it science based (as Labour and the Greens claim is behind their policies on climate change), or is just scaremongering?  If it is the latter, why persist with it?  Because politicians are scared of Greenpeace?

The nuclear weapons ban has more substance, if there remains an idealistic campaign that the world should be rid of nuclear weapons. However, it deserves debate as well. Does NZ banning nuclear weapons on its territory achieve anything?  Does NZ seriously want the US or UK to give up nuclear weapons unilaterally, or does it think that peace, for example, on the Korean Peninsula would be enhanced if the US refused to use nuclear weapons in the event of war breaking out there?  The notion is absurd. 

I'd scrap the nuclear ban, both of them.  The nuclear propulsion ban is anti-scientific nonsense, and should be ridiculed for what it is.  The nuclear weapons ban should be shelved because it achieves nothing, as many NZ allies and friends are protected by the presence of nuclear weapons. From South Korea to Japan to Poland, Finland, Slovakia, Israel, India, Pakistan, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia. The reason countries join NATO is to have the US and UK nuclear umbrellas deterring aggressors.  

I wouldn't have NZ sign up to AUKUS - as it has nothing to add, but I would be clear that NZ is with Australia, and that NZ's moral foreign policy is that it opposes the use of force to change internationally recognised borders. 

I know the National Party would run a mile from this issue, because it sees no traction in it domestically, and because Labour can frighten legions of fearful low-knowledge people raised on the religion of NZ's "nuclear free moment" as a bizarre piece of smug-nationalism. That smug-nationalism achieved nothing, because the Cold War ended a few years later because our side won.  Liberal democratic capitalist economies beat the USSR, and the threat of nuclear annihilation in Europe was defeated not because of NZ's nuclear-free policy.  Likewise, there is no remote reason why Iran, India, Pakistan, Israel, the DPRK or any other country will surrender nuclear weapons, because a Minister in New Zealand said they should. It is because NZ is a small country far away of which they know nothing. NZ is blessed with isolation, an isolation that saved it so often in the past, but which should not be the basis of an arrogant smug attitude to the geo-politics of those without the luxury of isolation from threats.

It would, however, be nice if one or two journalists took this on, and maybe even ACT. Can someone in Parliament at least ask the question as to why NZ will continue a ban that will stop its closest ally sending its future submarines to our ports?

Addendum:  As I thought further about this, NZ arguably has four paths of foreign policy to take in relation to its allies:

1. Be a full-status ally: Scrap the nuclear-free laws, contribute 2% of GDP to defence and work with Australia, the US, UK and other allies to effectively be a bulwark against neo-nationalist authoritarian aggression.  There is little sign that there is a willingness to do this.

2. Fence-sitting realist trade maximisation: Claim to be an ally, but spend underwhelming amounts on defence, ban vessels and aircraft of some allies, seek to maximise economic advantage by not being tied to allies based on principle while proclaiming this fence-sitting to be "independent" and "moral" (status quo).

3.  Fortress neutrality: Declare friendship with all, no interest in military aggression or in defending others, but arm to the teeth so there is no doubt that if confronted you will bite (Swiss option - no interest in that).

4.  Unarmed neutrality: Declare friendship with all, giving up on military to take advantage of isolation, focus on patrolling EEZ and let Australia take the hit, cut defence spending to spend on "ourselves" (Costa Rica option - what the Greens probably really want and Te Pati Maori appears to want).

09 March 2023

Greenshirts for Aotearoa

Imagine relaxing, going about your day and finding two people arriving on your doorstep, one with a clipboard, both wearing green shirts, labelled the Environmental Protection Authority or perhaps the Ranginui Papatuaunuku Whakamarumaru Ti'amâraa (perhaps?).

They ask you about your employment, and perhaps you are self-employed, or unemployed, or retired, in which case they will ask why you have not presented yourself at the local Whare O Te Aorangi to be given task to save the planet. Your age is unimportant they say, you could be making cups of tea for the younger volunteers, you could be helping manage the archives. What is your excuse for not helping the people and the community?

You wont have been ignorant of it, because the New Aotearoa News Agency (NANA) will have been saying for months about the exciting new initiative that means ALL citizens and permanent residents get to help save the planet and save us all, all species from the desecration of over two centuries of colonialism, capitalism and selfish individualism.

The two people invite you to pack up a few belongings and come with them, for you are to be assigned duties in Takaka for 6 months. You’ll be so welcomed, and you’ll be helping to save the planet, the land and te tangata from the climate emergency.

You object, but they smile and say there is no need to get the Police involved, and they understand if you’ve forgotten or been confused, but they’ll be back tomorrow. It gives you time to remind your loved ones that you are going to go work in the countryside, to help rebuild what was destroyed by past generations.

In the meantime your read on the NANA website that community spirit will be raised through the creation of a network of groups of neighbourhood associations. Every street will have at least one, some will have several, high density housing estates will have one of their own. Every week, citizens will meet to discuss what they are doing for society and the environment, to plan new initiatives and to bring up issues of each others’ behaviour that harms the environment, and encourage each of us to do better. It will be a voluntary arrangement, at first, but everyone’s attendance will be noted.

You seem to remember you’ve heard of this sort of thing before

(Inspired by former Dunedin City Councillor and RMA Commissioner, Fliss Butcher's proposal in Newsroom)