New Zealand has no place in Iraq


With the attacks by Iran on U.S. targets in Iraq, it is time to question whether New Zealand should have military assets in the region.

Some people say that we were formally asked to be there. So we were, but that fails to acknowledge the simple fact of the matter that New Zealand has no business in Middle East conflicts unless it is part of a United Nations sanctioned operation.

New Zealand should withdraw its troops from Iraq forthwith. There are better places that they can could go – if they really need to be in the Middle East, they should be part of one of the numerous operations in adjacent countries. Whilst it is noted that Iraq has such a mission itself, it is also noted Iraq has just voted to end the military presence of all foreign troops in the country. New Zealand would do well to recognize that.

When Iraq was invaded, the United States despite claims to the contrary, never had a real plan for putting the country back together. It was well known Iraq was at high risk of falling apart along sectarian lines, which would involve the major Sunni, Shia and Shiite sects fighting among themselves. And fight they did. Those lines in the sand drawn by diplomats with probably little understanding of or care for the ethnic geography of the region in 1916 cut straight across ethnic boundaries, and were brutally enforced by British and French forces.

Iran has also had a turbulent 100 years with both western and Soviet interference, which such large numbers massacred in the 1910’s by the Ottoman Empire. In the years prior to the Iran-Iraq War the Shah was toppled in Iran, which up to that point had been a somewhat forward looking nation. TheĀ  Women were not restricted in what they could wear, do for jobs or for a social life. The Iranian Revolution saw many of those rights lost. It also saw a significant hardening of Iranian U.S. relations, which further deteriorated with the Iranian hostage crisis in Tehran, and was followed by the Iran-Iraq war where it was known that Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons against Iranian targets. Then the U.S.S. Vincennes shot down an Iranian passenger plane killing all 290 on board, which the U.S. refused to apologize for, though compensation was paid.

It is easy to over simplify the complex web of geopolitical relations in the Middle East. Because of that, the simplistic idea that New Zealand is working to help the U.S. ensure terrorism ends in the Middle East ignores for example the various militant groups that are active – al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Houthi’s, the Iranian Republican Guard Corps, Islamic State among others. It ignores who is funding/arming them and what those nations are trying to get out of doing so. It ignores the ambitions of groups like the Kurds who were promised statehood at some point in the past only for it to be reversed. It ignores the wider U.S.-Russian rivalry where proxies in the region fight wars on their behalf.

Also, given the influences that the U.S. agenda of ending terrorism has been highly suspect for some time now, which New Zealand should recognize, it is also a moral question of whether we should be there.

I say not.

 

Challenges facing New Zealand in the 2020’s


As we enter the 2020’s with bush fire smoke descending on New Zealand from our Australian neighbours and the world watches U.S.-Iranian relations deteriorate further (more on that tomorrow), it is important to note our own considerable challenges. They cover a broad smorgasbord of issues that without significant action in the near future, have the potential to cause significant grief in years and decades to come. I briefly look at what I consider to be the major challenges here:

CONSTITUTION: Whilst our current framework gives New Zealand flexibility that an entrenched constitution such as that of the United States does not, the latter has some features that we should consider adding. The framework which consists of seven significant Acts of Parliament includes the Bill of Rights Act 1990, the Human Rights Act 1986 and the Constitution Act

There have been challenges in Parliament in recent years to the framework that need to be addressed before one renders it useless. They include incidents where Parliament has voted to remove a Commissioner without doing due diligence; legislation passed that directly undermines the legal right in the Human Rights Act 1986 to peaceful assembly . Such steps are not only highly improper, they pass into grey areas of New Zealand law and potentially set a dangerous precedent.

ECONOMY: Since 2016 the economy of New Zealand has been stuttering along, partially caused by global uncertainty as the situation in the Middle East continues to deteriorate; uncertainty over Britain and Brexit and the U.S.-Chinese trade war. But we cannot blame it all on international concerns.

Long standing concerns about the lack of diversity in the economy and a lack of emphasis in terms of investment in science research and technology still exist. New Zealand will not become one of the higher wage earning nations in the west until they are.

EDUCATION: Whilst this Government is on the right track having another look at Tomorrow’s Schools, I am concerned that the students are missing some very basic teaching in the rush to embrace digital technology. Many students struggle to show mathematical working on paper; construct basic sentences and that not enough is being done to embrace books. Whether the Minister will address this remains to be seen.

The tertiary education sector also faces a number of challenges. They include the sector reforms announced by Chris Hipkins, who has embarked on what I consider to be an overly radical reform whereby all of the institutions are merged into a mega institute. The push back is understandable, though some of the smaller institutes that are vulnerable to failure should be closed before they implode.

ENVIRONMENT: Since Labour came to office there has been a welcome escalation in the war on waste. To the Government’s credit it has banned plastic bags, announced a phase out of fossil fuels and acknowledged that water quality is a major issue. This is one somewhat brighter area despite the many and considerable challenges facing the natural environment.

But the Government must step up the tempo. The review of the Resource Management Act, whilst a good idea is in danger of just adding to the confused 800 page beast it already is. It needs to announce how it is going to tackle the phase out of fossil fuels in conjunction with economic and social leaders, and the war on waste is really only just beginning.

FOREIGN POLICY: New Zealand foreign policy is largely correct in my book, with four significant exceptions. Two are super powers competing for our attention and support. The third is the willingness to continue to put New Zealand first by taking a third way as opposed to a Chinese way or an American way.

It is the fourth that should concern us the most as we need to do more to help our Pasifika neighbours. The Samoan medical emergency caused by measles has shown it does not have the ability to cope with this all on its own. They also need to be reassured that New Zealand takes their environmental concerns seriously and will push them at the United Nations.

POVERTY: This is really a combination of social, background, medical and education factors working (or not working) together. Neither National or Labour have really tried to acknowledge this. Nor have they tried to address the neoliberal economic model that favours a small select group of people and ignores the rest. Trickle down economics is a myth perpetuated to make people believe that market economics work for all. They do not and poverty is a significant consequence of it.

 

Election results don’t bode well for United Kingdom


In England, the Conservatives led by Boris Johnson have swept to power in a vote that has rocked Labour and the Liberal Democrats. After almost completely losing their majority under former Prime Minister Theresa May to the Labour Party in 2017, Mr Johnson stormed back into office on the back of his “Get Brexit Done” message and increasing his party’s representation in Parliament to 365 seats. In a 650 seat Parliament that is a 39 seat majority

For Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his party the election was a disaster on a scale that one has to go back decades to find a similar size rout. His party only scored 203 seats. Not surprisingly Mr Corbyn resigned from the Labour Party, which will elect a new leader in early 2020. Where Labour goes from here, I am not sure, but it will surely be looking at other Labour parties around the world and wondering how they managed to so utterly mess it up for the wider Labour movement.

For Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, the failure to take her own seat and the near complete lack of progress in the party across the country – up a paltry 1 seat in Parliament – has led to her stepping down. The Liberal Democrats are a far cry from the victorious middle party of 62 seats that forged a coalition with the David Cameron edition of the Conservative Party in 2010.

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party swept to victory, strongly suggesting that Scotland’s desire for independence is hardening. With 48 seats out of 59 it was a decisive showing of the party that will lead any moves to make Scotland independent. This is despite Mr Johnson saying that Scotland would not be allowed to hold a vote on leaving. As Scotland voted to remain in the European Union, to have the Conservative Party romp to victory on a LEAVE platform is directly contrary to Scottish ambitions. Thus in the days and weeks ahead we can expect to Scotland begin pushing for a referendum on whether to leave the U.K. or not.

In Ireland the expanding centre ground of Irish politics is overshadowed by the likelihood that Britain will exit the E.U. in a few weeks with some sort of hard border forming. Many will be wary about the potential return of the “Troubles”, the stormy period in Irish-English history rocked by violence. But it also means that the union between the four constituent parts of the U.K. might be finally coming to an end, which may open the way for northern and southern Ireland uniting after many painful years.

In Wales, the only part of the U.K. that does not appear to be wracked with separatist spasms, politicians are probably most likely to wait to seeĀ  how Ireland and Scotland behave over the several weeks..

What does this mean for New Zealand?

New Zealand will likely continue to enjoy good access to the United Kingdom. Given our historic closeness to the U.K. I cannot imagine a really radical change coming except that crossing the border might change somewhat. How the probable break up of the union that made the United Kingdom possible goes, I am not entirely sure.

Irrespective of whether the United Kingdom disintegrates, I believe New Zealand’s good relations with all factions mean that we will be a high priority for negotiating trade deals and establishing diplomatic relations with. But before then we need to see how Brexit goes – will the next seven weeks whilst we wait for Mr Johnson’s version of Brexit to play out go smoothly or will Britain be plunged into Parliamentary infighting like it was over the northern hemisphere summer? Will Ms Sturgeon conclude the time for a Scottish independence referendum has come and demand it from London?

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.

Upgrade to China Free Trade Agreement


New Zealand and China have upgraded the Free Trade Agreement that exists between the two nations. The Agreement which was originally signed by Prime Minister Helen Clark and Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2008, was presented by the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang today as an agreement that deserved to be upgraded.

All very well. New Zealand has significant trade with China and has a $5.1 billion trade surplus which Mr Keqiang acknowledged in remarks following the announcement of the new deal, for which negotiations were started by the National-led Government of Prime Minister Bill English and concluded by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Concessions appear to have been made by China. In the previous version of the F.T.A. China permitted 98% of New Zealand exports to have preferential access, whereas this time it is 99%. As the last deal was about making sure that New Zealand had a working agreement with China, this was about enabling business to be more easily conducted.

New Zealand maintains the right to regulate for purposes of complying with Te Tiriti O Waitangi, as it also does for purposes of regulating public policy. China has agreed to allow products to enter and not have to be re-certified on entry, which has been a problem for exporters. New Zealand exporters will also be able to self declare their goods as products of New Zealand.

Notably though, the number of New Zealanders who can get visas each year has not changed.

These are however testing times. China’s growing ambition in the Pacific is expressed in military, foreign policy and economic development. It’s growing interest in the South Pacific should be noted by New Zealand and monitored closely. China’s lack of regard for human rights in a part of the world not known for strong human rights policy is of significant concern to human rights N.G.O.’s in New Zealand.