National’s foreign policy plan is tone deaf

On Monday National released a policy document outlining its foreign policy. A mixture of old well known positions, with a few surprises such as bypassing the United Nations to impose our own sanctions, the document is for the most part, vintage National.

The announcement comes at a time when New Zealand is feeling the squeeze by both the United States and China, both indirectly and directly. Indirectly as both continue a trade war that has had the markets on edge, New Zealand has been exposed to the turbulence as much as other countries. And directly as it tries to find common ground with other nations on dealing with hate and lone wolf terrorism.

Interestingly enough, Mr Bridges also appeared to signal his intent to woo China, by doubling trade with it to N.Z.$60 billion per annum. I assume this would mean substantial growth in Chinese-New Zealand tourism, investment in dairy despite it having clearly peaked, further expansion of Huawei and other technology firms, input into education and property.

To me, this is an incredibly tone deaf foreign policy. It ignores our core role as one of the key players in the South Pacific where we should be investing 80% of all the time, money and resources that go into foreign affairs. These are the nations whose well being most seriously impacts on our national security behind Australia. These are the nations with the biggest geographical and cultural links to New Zealand. The Pacific nations of Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, and to a lesser extent Vanuatu are where we go on holiday in our thousands.

Perhaps Mr Bridges is trying to woo both super powers at once in an attempt to keep them onside. If so it is a risky proposition. For all their supposed friendship, neither the United States or China understands the delicate state of the South Pacific, why it should be New Zealand’s top priority and nor do they care. They might ask why they should, and the answer is fairly simple: as one of the leading nations in the South Pacific and one with a significant Pasifika population these nations are ourĀ  backyard and long time friends, and for us to be well means they must be well.

Perhaps Mr Bridges believes that America is still the same America that won international respect by providing the armaments and large ground forces to help the Allies win World War 2. And that if this is the case, America by default is a force for the good, cannot do any wrong and must be supported at any rate.

It does not change the fact that America is turning itself into something of an international pariah with its belligerent behaviour towards friends and foes alike. Far from trying to wind up the War on Terrorism, Mr Trump has turned it into an exercise of Pax Americana. More strongly left-wing types would use the word hegemony to describe what they believe America is trying to impose, and perhaps that might yet reach a point where it becomes accurate, but there are rays of hope. Moderate Republicans and Democrats alike are becoming exasperated with Mr Trump and realize America risks alienating large tracts of the international community if it continues down this path.

New Zealand needs to be careful with China. It has invested vast sums of money into this country. It competes with others for the rights to build infrastructure and puts significant effort into building ties with political parties, notably National and A.C.T. This is not a red neck screaming “Yellow Peril!” at the top of his lungs. Nor is it an anti China statement to criticize the Chinese Government, but 2 weeks out from the 30th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and with the Great Fire Wall of China as strong as it has ever been, we need to remember China is not a democracy – it is an authoritarian regime that will hang on to its power using whatever means are necessary.

The challenge posed by Lethal Autonomous Weapons

There are several significant challenges that are posed to the campaign against L.A.W.’s. One of these is that right now, already in significant and growing numbers across several nations are military drones used for surveillance and destroying targets from a distance. These are generally referred to as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (U.A.V.’s)and include various American models such as Global Hawk, Reaper, Predator, Grey Eagle and others.

However I am talking about a type of weapon that is likely to start appearing in the near future. I cannot quite envisage what one would look like, but I would assume it to be like a drone or – possibly later on – an upright robot, with lethal capability, that can function without human input. And these are not some imagined weapon system inspired by science fiction so much as an ethically questionable and soon to be taken next step from the development of U.A.V.’s as military weapon systems.

Drones have a controversial record in terms of military applications. Their soaring use in Somalia, Yemen and also around Pakistan and Afghanistan by the United States military has been raising questions for years. President’s George W. Bush, Barak Obama and now Donald Trump have all escalated their use in the absence of conventional air power for dealing with targets. Tragically a large number of strikes have ended disastrously with civilians targetted at funerals, weddings and on family holidays, and not surprisingly the Governments of the nations where these strikes have occurred have strongly remonstrated with the operators of the drones – almost exclusively the United States military.

New Zealand has an interest as a nation of peace in ensuring we have no part in the development of what I expect will be a weapons system that even on its best day will find itself a foul of international law. L.A.W.’s represent a move into a future type of warfare where man is not the actual combatant any longer and that his ability to make battle field specific decisions will be increasingly done by machines.

From 3,000 kilometres away at the moment, a controller in the U.S. Airforce or Army will be watching a target with a view to determining whether or not an assassination strike is feasible. They will be making a split second judgement on whether to permit the drone to fire a Hellfire rocket that a split second later explodes in a fireball as it crashes into a target that might be a car, a house or some sort of armoured vehicle. There might be children playing in the streets, or people at the market buying food. The drone controller can instruct the drone to pull back and way further instructions. For a terminator the difference might not be much, but it is potentially disastrous. From 3,000 kilometres away or more, a controller at a computer will be watching really high resolution imagery being fed to them by the camera on the device. They will be able to see everything including the potential target. It sees a potential suspect outside a house with contacts. They are doing something, and there are children kicking a football around. Too close, but how will they tell the L.A.W. to not fire its weapon?

L.A.W.’s are coming and they represent an extremely dangerous development in military drone technology. There is a closing window of time to build up a coalition of nations that refuse to have anything to do with them. The military industrial complex will not be happy and nor will some politicians both in domestic and international circles, but do we honestly really need to add L.A.W.’s to human-kinds already dreadfully diverse array of killing people?

I think not.

Netanyahu’s re-election will not help Israel-N.Z. relations

On 9 April 2019 Israel will go to the polls to elect a new Government. The poll will be a referendum on incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the right wing leader of the governing Likud Party. It will be a referendum on whether Israel continues the hugely divisive approach it has adopted towards its neighbours and the Palestinian people.

Mr Netanyahu, who is fighting allegations of fraudulent activity and bribery, has long since maintained a hard line on Palestine. His tenure as Prime Minister has been marked by a progressive worsening of the relationship, which has seen Israel announce it has full jurisdiction over Jerusalem – a city and holy site not only for Jews, but Muslims and Christians as well; progressive annexation by stealth of Palestinian lands and as of today, an intention to annex the West Bank.

Mr Netanyahu has maintained an even harder line on Iran. During his tenure, he has done his utmost to sabotage the globally recognized deal worked out between President Barak Obama and Iranian leaders over Iran’s nuclear programme. Under the deal worked out, Iran will shed any capacity it had to make the weapons grade uranium needed for nuclear weapons. It will hand over enough centrifuges that it cannot proceed Highly Enriched Uranium manufacture. It will modify its reactor so that it cannot process radioactive material into anything other than low grade waste.

In New Zealand I have heard very little support for Mr Netanyahu from New Zealanders, once they have been made aware of his policies and conduct on the international stage. Many have openly doubted whether Israel seriously wants peace in Gaza, or whether it is conducting a policy of annexation by stealth, because to do so in public would be to invite huge international condemnation and possibly an uncontrollable outbreak of violence.

As a nation that supports the two state solution New Zealand will not benefit in any way from the re-election of Mr Netanyahu. Nor will our Jewish, Muslim or other religious communities with significant representations in Israel or Palestine. Mr Netanyahu has made very clear by his on going annexation of Palestine that it has no place in his vision of the Middle East, and that Israel is somehow the rightful occupier of Palestinian lands.

As a nation that has a strong tradition of international law and peace, the re-election of Mr Netanyahu will serve to undermine the respect New Zealand has for Israel’s commitment to any peace negotiations – namely because Mr Netanyahu himself has no time for them. His recent annexation of the Golan Heights, long occupied by Israel and now recognized by the United States Government has enraged many in the Arab world and further shown the lack of regard to international law that permeates Israeli politics.

In both the short and long versions of this post Israel will be doing itself and the world around it a favour if Mr Netanyahu is not returned to office on Tuesday 9 April 2019.

Questions about New Zealand foreign policy following Christchurch terrorist attack

When the Christchurch mosque gunman opened fire on 15 March 2019, the people of New Zealand and the Police were not the only people taken by surprise. Foreign powers took a step backwards and wondered how a nation that is renown for its peaceful outlook, respect of international law and tolerance of diversity could have such an attack. Intelligence officials were shocked and mystified as to how they managed to miss the warning signs.

But as New Zealand tries to move forward after the attack, questions are starting to arise about the effects it will have on our foreign policy. Two of the nations most closely linked to New Zealand with whom we probably have the most to lose – or gain – have significant foreign policy bearing on New Zealand. As global super powers, New Zealand needs both of them onside, at a time when sensitivity around Islam has never been higher.

One of the more difficult questions that we will have to answer concerns the United States. New Zealand and the U.S. have in recent years been working to heal the rift that opened up following the decision of the David Lange led New Zealand Labour Government to ban nuclear armed and powered ships from New Zealand waters. Despite differences over the Iraq War, which led to a temporary cooling the progress has been highlighted by the invitation to participate in U.S. military manoeuvres, and being allowed to dock a Royal New Zealand Navy frigate at Pearl Harbor. In return an American destroyer has visited New Zealand and U.S. Air Force jets have visited for air shows.

Following the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand needs to examine whether American policy towards this country will be of use or a hindrance. American policy towards Muslim nations and Muslims is hostile, with the notable exception of Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent Turkey whose regimes have strong man dictators on which Mr Trump likes to model his Presidential style. Conservative American media, such as – but not limited to – Fox News push the line that Muslim countries hate the United States, hate freedom and want to Islamify the U.S.

It is not just the U.S. though that New Zealand will have to look at. Chinese President Xi Jinping is overseeing a massive purge against Muslim Uighur people in Tibet and Xinjiang Province. It is systemic and includes subtle steps that seek to slip under the radar and are only noticed by people dedicated to monitoring the abuse, as well as more overt measures.

The Uighur people as far as I am aware have no history of militantcy or resisting occupation. Their subjugation is simply part of a much larger clamp down on anyone considered undesirable or a potential threat to Chinese security. Amnesty International and other non-governmental organizations are keeping track of the persecutions.

Both of these nations have significant bearing on New Zealand foreign policy. They have significant economic interests in New Zealand, and there is considerable migration from both countries to New Zealand by nationals in search of a better quality of life. A supremacist killer such as the Christchurch mosque gunman will

New Zealand will need to consider whether its security intelligence arrangements are fit for purpose as we share information with Canada, the U.K., Australia and the U.S. But would they accept a change in New Zealand priorities towards ferreting out and discouraging lone wolf attacks?

No place for Jihadi’s in New Zealand

Recently it has emerged that a New Zealander who served with what most people recognize as Islamic State, wants to come home and says that despite his activities, he is still a New Zealander. But was this really Islamic State he fought and not something masquerading as one, whilst being something entirely different?

Islamic State is not a State and nor is it Islamic. It is Daesh. The term Daesh is an Arabic term normally uttered with disgust or contempt and it refers to those who try to impose views on others that any proper discourse would take to be bigotted. It takes the most outdated parts of the Qu’ran and turns them into law. Those laws and the principles on which they were founded are completely contrary to New Zealand, New Zealand law and New Zealanders expectations.

A person who leaves New Zealand to support such an organisation is thereby saying that they no longer want to respect the laws and customs of New Zealand. They are saying that they support a type of organisation that is expressly forbidden under New Zealand terrorism laws and that they see no problems with actions that pose a potential threat to our national security.

Such a person cannot have a place in New Zealand. Should such people be allowed to live in New Zealand they would have to be subject to surveillance that under any other circumstances I think New Zealanders would disagree with, and possibly even protest.

Thus I come to the conclusion that Mark John Taylor, a New Zealander who has gone to Syria and served Daesh has no place coming back to New Zealand. Mr Taylor has committed a criminal offence in burning his New Zealand passport, as well as encouraging people to wage jihad on A.N.Z.A.C. Day. His remorse is at best, questionable – was he really naive and just being silly or did Mr Taylor really know what he was doing? My thoughts are that it is probably the latter: he knew what he was doing and why.

How Mr Taylor comes back to New Zealand is unknown. He faces a number of legal and logistical hurdles, long before he gets to the New Zealand border (airport). The first is that there is no New Zealand diplomatic presence of any kind in Syria, which means that he would have to leave the country and go probably to Israel, Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey to present at a New Zealand embassy or other diplomatic mission. Having made it that far – and assuming he was not held at the border of his country of choice – Mr Taylor will have no documentation on him since he destroyed his passport and whatever New Zealand mission he presents at will become aware of his past and might well conclude that it is not proper for them to issue him some kind of visa or other documentation allowing him to go home.

And then, even if he somehow makes it to Customs at a New Zealand airport or other border entry point, Mr Taylor will be of keen interest to the New Zealand Police and Customs. He will most probably be taken into custody whilst they establish who he is, his intentions and whether he poses a threat. He will have to answer before a court of law or other hearing as to what he was doing in Syria and be prepared for the probability of criminal charges relating to that.

So, whilst it looks like we are not going to strip him of his nationality, there probably cannot be a much harder legal road ahead if he tried. And as it is of his own making he should not expect sympathy.