New Zealand Defence Force might return to Iraq


I have heard a suggestion that the New Zealand Defence Force might have to return to Iraq.

If the New Zealand Defence Force does return to Iraq, what are we going to do? Are we going to continue training Iraqi soldiers who might then go shoot dead civilians in the street as they have been doing these last few weeks? Are we going to be there in a monitoring capacity? Are we going to be peace-keepers/makers?

Historically New Zealand was involved in the crude British operation in 1916 that lead to the formation of Iraq as a Western geopolitical construct with no regard for ethno-geographies. One might argue on that basis that therefore we should be involved in Iraq because we helped to make the mess that led to Iraq’s formation, we should be a part of the solution to its re-establishment as a nation state.

But I am not honestly sure Iraq is destined to survive as a nation state. When it was founded, the borders cut straight through ethnic groups. Thus some found themselves in Persia (which became Iran). Some found themselves in what would become Turkey after World War 1 ended and others wound up in the French construct that ultimately became Syria. The treaties that were brokered following World War 1 did initially for example acknowledge the Kurdish people in northern Iraq and Syria as well as Turkey and accepted that an independent Kurdish state might be necessary.

Unfortunately all of that unravelled, which is a shame because in the post-Saddam Hussein mess that Iraq has descended into, a Kurdish state in the north of the country would help bring some stability to the Turkish and Syrian border regions. As the Kurds are one of the more progressive ethnicities in the Middle East, the relatively advanced social status of their women would go some way towards being a guiding beacon that Middle East women can understand.

But back to the New Zealand Defence Force. I personally would be reluctant to send them back – I had doubts about their original mission in light of the apparently aimless U.S. mission which went from Operation Iraqi Freedom to general war for the sake of war.

Could/should the New Zealand Defence Force risk getting its hands soiled by trying to keep the peace between Shia, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, whose rivalry goes back hundreds of years? The rules of such conflicts are generally messy, and New Zealand is constrained by the Geneva Conventions in terms of what we can and cannot do. Were we to find ourselves in breach of these, it would be hugely damaging for our reputation as a country that prefers peaceful outcomes, but which will fight a hard clean fight if we have to.

And what would Iraq say to the idea of a Kurdish state covering much of the traditional lands of the Kurds? As with Iraq’s neighbours Syria and Turkey who both have significant Kurdish populations, I doubt their response to such an idea would be at all warm. Turkey views the Kurdish Workers Party (P.K.K.)as a terrorist entity and it is blacklisted by the United Nations as such, which would mean New Zealand could not recognize it. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan very much wants to neutralise the Kurd’s as a political force, and sees Turkey’s future in reviving the Ottoman Empire.

If we really must go back we should be putting as much effort as possible into removing unexploded ordnance, helping rebuild infrastructure and showing Iraqi’s how to maintain it. Last time this was a successful initiative as it showed the Iraqi civil population that not all of the western countries were there for the fighting and that there were people who cared about them. It would also help acknowledge our historic links to the geopolitical designs of Britain in the 1910’s.

The troubling case of National M.P. Jian Yang


Jian Yang came to New Zealand in the 1990’s after a stint doing a Masters of Arts and Doctorate of Philosophy at Australian National University. In 1999 he joined the University of Auckland as a senior lecturer in Political Studies and got citizenship in 2004.

15 years later, questions are emerging about the truthfulness of his background and whether or not he was a Chinese spook.

I will be honest that I am concerned that New Zealand authorities were not sufficiently thorough in ascertaining the history of Mr Yang. Mr Yang says that he was at Luoyang University of Foreign Language for the whole of a 15 year period, but did not acknowledge the fact that he was also at the Peoples Liberation Army Airforce Engineering Institute.

It might be that Mr Yang is completely innocent and that his earlier statements that all he did whilst was to teach new recruits English are entirely true. If so then there should be no further reason to doubt his activity. Except that there is.

Croaking Cassandra covered Mr Yang’s past in China and Australia in an article a few weeks ago. Some troubling points arose:

  • He covered up – or was made (his claim)to cover up – how long he was really at Luoyang University – he says from 1978 to 1993, but Baidu and Wikipedia say it was only founded in 1980
  • His praise of the Chinese Communist Party and willingness to be seen meeting with Politburo members of a backward regime
  • A notarised certificate has never been explained
  • Chinese military personnel are generally not allowed to emigrate overseas or even have a stand Chinese citizens passport – Mr Yang

And Mr Yang seems to have an aversion to talking to New Zealand media. All Members of Parliament should understand that they will at some point be interviewed for one reason or another by New Zealand media in the course of upholding their fourth estate responsibilities. They should further understand that as citizens of a democratic nation New Zealanders are entitled to ask critical questions, that unless they are about matters of standard privacy, or genuine irrelevance to the public good, should be answered in good faith.

Perhaps more troubling than the Croaking Cassandra allegations, is the thunderous silence that goes with Mr Yang. No talking to English language media – i.e. New Zealand media; no attempts by his boss Leader of the National Party Simon Bridges or National Party President Peter Goodfellow to find out the full truth about Mr Yang. Nor has the Government said anything. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has not challenged Mr Bridges in Parliament to explain the status of Mr Yang. Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters has gone quiet too, though that might be best put down to not wanting to displease China or his boss.

In my view Mr Yang is not fit to be in the New Zealand Parliament for the duration it takes him to be totally honest about his past. By this I mean both with the Department of Internal Affairs who gave him citizenship to New Zealand and the State Intelligence Service, who need to know whether this man is a security hazard or not.

I would like to see Messrs Yang, Bridges and Goodfellow justify Mr Yang’s involvement in Parliament if he cannot do this.

Revising terror laws for jihadis


Meet Mark Taylor. Mr Taylor is a Kiwi jihadi who went to Syria to fight for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (I.S.I.S.). For years he . Now, with I.S.I.S. largely defeated, Mr Taylor has been abandoned by them in a part of the world he knows not much about. He has no proper documentation, or the means to get such documentation, with the nearest consulate office where he could go being in Turkey.

Mr Taylor is known as the “bumbling jihadi”. He is apparently someone not really able to think for themselves, easily influenced and wanting a sense of belonging say people who used to know him when he was in the Army.

But at the same time, how do you survive in a war zone like Syria or Iraq for so long, especially in a disorganization militant environment with no clear command structure, logistical capacity or leadership? Mr Taylor managed to do that with no food or money and that basic services were non-existent, which points to a degree of resourcefulness.

At the end of the day though, I side completely with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on this. Mr Taylor should face the full force of the law if he makes it back to New Zealand, for several reasons:

  1. He is a member of a terrorist/militant group banned under New Zealand law
  2. In being a member he would have associated with other members, possibly received or given logistical or material support to other members
  3. He has not recanted any of his views, based on which one can assume he still believes in them
  4. Whilst not participating in actions, he boasts of being on guard duty whilst with I.S.I.S., which means that although he was not involved in combat he was enabling other militants to be by relieving them of being guards

That said the legal situation he finds himself in, as do the Police working to establish grounds for prosecution and the Government working out how the new laws should look, is complex. What the “full force of the law” might look like is not immediately clear, though the strongest path to conviction appears to be the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, because he joined a group internationally recognized as a terrorist organization.

The Green Party, not surprisingly do not believe in tightening up the legislation. They believe his human rights will be breached, which the Government deny. National support the legislation as far as the Select Committee, at which point they will be asking for amendments. New Zealand First are likely to support the legislation as well to ensure it reaches the Select Committee at least.

But how “bumbling” was this guy really? With Kurdistan now under full attack by Turkey and struggling to guard the jails holding jihadi like Mr Taylor, we have to be ready for the prospect that they will be let go or attempt an escape. Some argue that Mr Taylor in the Middle East is more dangerous to New Zealand and the world than if he were released and allowed to return to New Zealand.

Whether we like it or not, as the situation in Kurdistan deteriorates and the Kurds struggle for survival, they might well have no choice but to let Mr Taylor go. What happens then? I do not know, but if he comes to New Zealand the public need to be protected from him and any ideological influences he brought with him. The Police need to be sure he is not going to commit an attack or promote violence. And that most certainly will involve jail time.

US military chief in New Zealand


The United States Secretary of Defense is visiting New Zealand just days after being appointed to the position. Mark Esper, who replaces former Secretary of Defense and retired Marine General James Mattis is on a five nation trip where conversations will most likely centre around Iran and China.

Whilst so early in the set, I cannot imagine Mr Esper immediately wanting concessions from New Zealand, I do not want New Zealand to be involved in another U.S. military misadventure. New Zealand might be – and should be – friends with the United States, but keeping a bit of distance. I am quite sure most New Zealanders want nothing to do with a potential war against Iran that will most likely achieve at best significantly worsening U.S relations with the Muslim world.

At best a war with Iran will be limited to the United States and Iran. The latter would probably use its considerable special forces to attack shipping in the Persian Gulf, and the Iranian backed militias might launch a rocket barrage at Israel. A greater fear is whether Russia decides to become involved or not. Russia could simply move military assets into Iran or Syria without actually using them as a warning to the United States. But Russian military commanders and politicians have at times made ominous references that a war against Iran would be a catastrophe. At worst it could result in a Russian military response against American forces – at which point a nuclear confrontation is not out of the question.

Perhaps more immediately problematic for New Zealand is China’s growing military assertiveness. It has built an artificial island in the Spratley Islands with an airfield and facilities for ships to dock at. China has since stationed military patrol and combat aircraft there. As vital shipping lanes pass through these waters on the way to/from various nations such as Vietnam and the Philippines, the United States has sought to dissuade China from further expansion.

China’s military expansion is dangerous because it is aligned with more subtle moves such as massive investment in countries around the world. Some critics argue China is literally buying up other nations by establishing Government owned companies that then set up operations in other countries and buy their way into major assets – in Westland recently a dairy company was sold to a Chinese Government controlled company.

New Zealand sees this in Fiji and other small Pasifika nations. A few months ago there was a controversy about a resort being built on Fiji and the destruction of large tracts of coral reef to enable boat access to the resort. When locals and New Zealand expatriates living there tried to remonstrate the owners got aggressive and there were scuffles. Other countries such as Tonga have significant debt to China, which has led to concerns about Beijing’s attempts to extract leverage. And in Vanuatu, although both countries denied reports, there were suggestions that China has been looking for a place to establish a military base.

Whilst New Zealand needs to be careful not to anger either the U.S. or China, it needs to be clear that the south Pacific is the chief domain of New Zealand and Australia. More than it does either of them, the well being of these little island nations is paramount to our well being.

The dreadful legacy of the mushroom clouds


It was 1973 and two Royal New Zealand Navy frigates had gone to Mururoa Atoll to protest the French nuclear testing programme. They were part of 217 French tests conducted between 1960 when France first acquired nuclear weapons and 1996, when after considerable international pressure a resumption of French testing at Mururoa was stopped.

More than 45 years later, the descendants of those on board the New Zealand ships who observed the nuclear tests have raised concerns that they and their children have developed symptoms that could only have been caused by fallout. One, a lady who was born after her father sailed to Mururoa, says that her children have developed deformities and other medical issues that are most likely to be caused from ionizing radiation. She was born after her father observed testing. Her siblings born before her father went to Mururoa have not shown any of the symptoms and nor have their children.

So how does New Zealand compare with veterans from other countries?

A nuclear veteran is someone who was affected by ionizing radiation released in a nuclear weapons test. World wide they include people from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Australia and New Zealand. In Russia and China it is unlikely that any of the veterans are eligible for any compensation or acknowledgement of their conditions. Thousands of military personnel in both countries would have been involved in the tests, and many thousands more would have been exposed to radiation downwind. In the United States following an investigation, it was announced that veterans there would be eligible for priority enrolment in radiation treatment programmes. They would also be eligible for compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. It has been amended several times to include those downwind from an explosion and to broaden the geographical areas of eligibility. Thus far U.S.$2 billion has been paid out in compensation. In the United Kingdom, veterans took their case to the Supreme Court and lost, with hope now hinging on the use of D.N.A. to link their claims to nuclear testing. Of 22,000 who served only 3,000 are still alive.

One uncle of mine sailed on a Royal New Zealand Navy ship to observe nuclear testing. He did not believe he had contracted anything, and none of his children or grandchildren have contracted anything. I am not sure exactly when he observed nuclear testing.

Veteran Affairs covers the veterans who went to Mururoa. However it does nothing for the descendants of them or their children. Of the members of a group of Mururoa veterans, roughly 40% of them have children or grand children with unexplained conditions. They were never told what the radiation might do to their bodies.

The New Zealand Government owes these men and their families:

  1. An apology for the harm done
  2. Tests to see if any of the alleged symptoms can be linked to fallout from entering a highly radioactive area
  3. Immediate compensation for the veterans
  4. Testing for descendants of the veterans

They have waited too long to get this and future generations of their children have a right to know why they are more prone to cancers and other symptoms.