What Rex Tillerson wants

United States Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is a man on a mission. Sent by United States President Donald Trump to soothe troubled waters and placate the people that Mr Trump has offended, Mr Tillerson is likely to be coming to New Zealand to do the following:

  1. Ask for more troops in the Middle East
  2. Defend the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord despite the Accord being unofficially about quite a bit more than just the climate
  3. Talk about negotiating a new trade deal
  4. Talk about the U.S.-New Zealand relationship

Mr Tillerson’s mission will be difficult. There cannot be any doubt that the very vast majority of New Zealanders – myself included – want nothing to do with the war in the Middle East. Yes it is sad and Iraq and Syria are in an unholy mess, but if one looks at the history of the region, who the key players are and what they have done, it is hard to have much sympathy for the American agenda, no matter who is in office.

It gets harder still with the American withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and the international community vowing to push forward without the United States. When even China and to a lesser extent India also come on board and make commitments, it is a sign that there is a major problem. Mr Tillerson is going to have a difficult job trying to sell the American position to New Zealand and New Zealanders when we see so many environmental issues starting to become problems here as well.

If there was going to be a kinder subject for Mr Tillerson to talk about, trade with New Zealand would be it. Far from supporting the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement as many people thought a wealthy person like Mr Trump would, one of the first things he said upon announcing his candidacy in 2015 is that America would withdraw from the T.P.P.A. For that, in spite of so many other policies of his being anathema to New Zealand, this one was probably welcomed by many.

Finally, Mr Tillerson and his counterpart New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Gerry Brownlee will want to look at the overall relationship between the two countries. How far it has come since the cold days of the 1980’s when America, furious with our anti-nuclear nationalism, denounced New Zealand? How far it has come from Prime Minister Helen Clark refusing to have anything to do with the war on Iraq that started in 2003? A long, long way is the answer. But the real one now is, whilst Donald Trump is at the helm, how much further are New Zealanders prepared to watch this relationship advance?

Find out over the next couple of days.

Trump intelligence policies should concern New Zealand

Like many other people I am loosely following the allegations and counter allegations of alleged mishandling of classified information by United States President Donald Trump. As the investigation into whether Mr Trump and his inner circle did more than just pass on information too secret for the allies and nations friendly to the United States, progresses, so too does the development of concerns about what all this may mean for New Zealand.

Over the last several months I have become more concerned with how Mr Trump handles highly classified intelligence. My concerns stem from the revelation that Mr Trump has given Russia, a primary rival of the United States data that it considered to be too sensitive for its nearest allies to have access to. Aside from raising obvious questions about the security of classified data, if Mr Trump has been found to have done this, is there anything else that he or people in powerful could have done to potentially compromise our relations.

Prime Minister Bill English has no problems and is not apparently concerned by the issues that the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security has raised. This is despite her very legitimate concerns that New Zealand is at risk of being drawn into illegal activities promoted by the United States Government, including the use of water boarding and other tortuous practices. Mr Trump has alluded to potentially reopening the secret centres where such practices were carried out on prisoners.

New Zealand has a reputation for respecting international law. Over the years – though less so recently – New Zealand has been remembered for calling out other nations when they fallen afoul of international statutes that they signed up to. That reputation puts us in good stead with the United Nations, with other nations around the world and is frequently cited as a reason for many refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants coming out to New Zealand. All of these people see New Zealand as a stable, transparent and responsible country with an accountable Government. This is a reputation that would be undermined if we endorsed the types of changes that Mr Trump is thought to want to instigate.

For New Zealand to remain safe from terrorism and yet still free, we need to continue to uphold the rule of law like we have done in the past. We need to be seen as a positive example for the small Pacific Island nations of what they can aspire to be more like, instead of adopting the totalitarian excesses of China, who strives to project its influence further abroad, or the United States with its hypocritical politicians that say one thing and do something completely different.

Chelsea Manning a whistle blower of another kind

Yesterday I mentioned whistle blowers of the domestic sort, exposing criminal activity in the civilian sector. The case I mentioned was one involving a manager at the New Zealand Transport Authority who has just started jail time for fraudulent activity involving over $725,000.

As a follow up example of another sort of whistle blower, it is worthwhile mentioning Chelsea Manning, the soldier in the United States Army who disclosed highly classified government data to Wikileaks. Private Manning who has been in jail for the last 7 years was released from jail on 16 May 2017. It is true what Private Manning did was highly illegal under any circumstances, and any other country would probably have deemed her a traitor with a potential life sentence.

But in this case, by virtue of the nature of the classified secrets – an attempt to hide war crimes in Iraq – this was a very risky but very brave move. President Obama, perhaps acknowledging that the actions she undertook in sharing with Wikileaks these secrets, exposed improper activities by the Government, pardoned Private Manning three days before he left office. Those activities included completely avoidable civilian deaths in Iraq and the abuse of detainees. They and other activities led the U.S. Government to end the Ambassadorships of several ambassadors around the world.

Would a New Zealander be this brave? And what would the authorities and other New Zealanders say? Would they understand on principle that there are exceptions that need to be made, when exposing highly sensitive information covering up the misdeeds of Government departments and the military. And would they accept as a result that just very rarely, this is a necessary act?




Time to compensate nuclear test witnesses

There is something eerily beautiful about the signature of the most sinister, most terrifying invention man has conceived. Watching a mushroom cloud rise after a nuclear weapon has been detonated is one of the most – for all the wrong reasons – shockingly mesmerising sights. Even veterans of nuclear test veterans have been impressed by the clouds.

Numerous New Zealanders in the Royal New Zealand Navy sailed to various test sites around the Pacific to witness tests. Mururoa (French Polynesia) and Christmas Island (British/Indian Ocean)were common destinations. But from those clouds came something truly dreadful. As the fire ball expanded in the sky in atmospheric or above ground tests, as the water of calm aquamarine lagoons exploded in tests at places like Johnston and Kwajalein (U.S. sites), Mururoa (French), and Christmas Island, vast quantities of gamma rays were emitted. Although the servicemen were stationed on ships or observation points some distance from the explosion, they would have felt the heat from the initial flash and seen the flash, particularly if the exploding device was a thermonuclear one with a yield in the megaton range

Many of the New Zealand sailors involved witnessed British testing during Operation Grapple. These were a series of nuclear weapons tests during the early stages of British thermonuclear weapons development. The yields ranged between 24 kilotons and 3 megatons. New Zealand Navy ships acted as weather vessels during the test. They would remain near the tests for a time after the explosion when fallout was occurring.

In the  late1960’s France undertook nuclear weapons testing of devices with yields of up to 2.6 megatons at Fangataufa Atoll (the 2.6 megaton test contaminated the atoll so badly it was not used for 6 years). Then France moved to Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia. New Zealand sailors witnessed nuclear tests conducted in the 1970’s by France at Mururoa Atoll with yields that ranged between 1 ton (thought to be a safety experiment)to 955 kilotons.

To this day I do not believe a single Government in possession of nuclear weapons can truthfully say it has been totally transparent about the effects that nuclear testing has had on those in the armed forces that witnessed the tests. Only the United States, Britain and France can say that they have offered any compensation or otherwise made an effort to acknowledge the significant medical effects being exposed to the levels of radiation that they were, would have had. Certainly not Russia or China, where a lack of Government transparency means only activists and investigative journalists taking significant risks to their well being have tried in vain to expose the testing activities and the fallout consequences for those down wind.

The New Zealand Government has never fully acknowledged the effects of nuclear testing on New Zealanders who sailed to these locations. Nor have successive Labour or National led Governments made an effort to compensate those victims found to be displaying the symptoms of fallout from these explosions. The best chance for New Zealand veterans to get compensation is based on research that was proposed in 2016 by Brunei University to undertake chromosomal research into veterans of the British nuclear weapons testing programme.

The Government says that we appreciate what our veterans have been through.

No. No we don’t. Until these veterans get assessed for illnesses related to their exposure to nuclear testing, those effects acknowledged in full and in public and they receive appropriate compensation, this is a bald faced lie.

Recognizing the Geneva Conventions in war

On what is the most solemn day on the New Zealand calendar in 2017, it is appropriate to pause and reflect on the country that we are. It is appropriate to recall the the atrocities that happened and why international laws were introduced to provide protection for soldiers on the frontline – the mass murder of surrendered combatants; death and the handling of insurgents and insurgenices was the cause of much concern during World War 2. New Zealanders such as but not limited to Nancy Wake were heavily involved in the training and arming of the Free French Resistance. They ran incredible risks and would have been subject to prolonged and brutal torture by the Gestapo if caught.

With the exception of the Featherston Camp incident where 48 Japanese Prisoners of War were massacred in February 1943, New Zealand’s conduct in regards to the Geneva Conventions as they were understood then was exemplary. The reputation as being a feisty bunch was well earned, and respected by friend and foe alike. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel went so far as to describe the New Zealanders as the finest enemy troops his forces fought as evidenced by the likes of Sir Charles Upham, one of only three people to be awarded the Victoria Cross AND Bar for his bravery at Ruweisat Ridge, Egypt in July 1942.

So it bugs me in no uncertain terms that the exemplary name of the New Zealand Force is being shat on by its senior officers and the Government by their refusal to order the inquiry that will either vindicate the Defence Force or apportion blame. New Zealanders need to know and New Zealand credibility is on the line. The New Zealand Defence Force is well regarded around the world and its professionalism is held in high regard in New Zealand as an employer and referee for those that are moving into other roles.

When I pause to give thanks on A.N.Z.A.C. Day 2017, I shall also be giving thanks to the Geneva Conventions, the work of the Defence Force over the years making sure that this most important law covering the treatment personnel in time of war is not forgotten. Sacrificial lives the innocent civilians who died in the incident involving the New Zealand Defence might be to Mr Brownlee and Mr English. To a lot of other people including myself, if the allegations are true, they were people who simply did not need to die and whose deaths are big black stains on the New Zealand Defence Force. Stains that the Defence Force could have avoided.

Stains that the Defence Force SHOULD have avoided.

So, on Tuesday morning, when I go to the A.N.Z.A.C. Day Dawn Service, along with thousands of others and give thanks and shall remember the many thousands of Defence Force personnel who went overseas and served this country with distinction and bravery. I shall wonder where they are now and what they are doing.

But I shall also remember those many whose lives have been immeasurably improved by the fact that in amongst the theory and conduct of war, someone had the great foresight to write the Geneva Conventions. For without them, so many wars could have been so, so much worse.