Stay out of North Korean crisis, Bill

On Friday, Prime Minister Bill English said that there is a possibility that if the United States and North Korea went to war New Zealand would offer help to the United States.

I found this quite disturbing. A Prime Minister prepared to offer military help in one of the most dangerous parts of the world North Korea and the United States both appear quite happy to unnecessarily ratchet up tensions. North Korea has systematically ignored United Nations resolutions and sanctions do not appear to slow it down – indeed the most recent ones only seem to have poured more oil on the fire.

There are only three circumstances under which I will ever support the use of armed force:

  1. New Zealand is physically attacked – self defence is a natural right of any nation or person
  2. The United Nations Security Council mandates the use of armed force – such as when it did in 1990 against the Iraqi occupation forces in Kuwait
  3. One of our smaller neighbours or Australia is physically attacked by another nation

A lot of wars fought in the modern age have highly questionable reasons for starting, or are the resumption of hostilities from past conflicts. New Zealand should not have a role in either of these cases unless one of the above three scenarios is tripped.

Prime Minister Bill English cannot just direct New Zealand Defence Force personnel to attack another nation. Before any such directive is given, he must inform Parliament, which must then hold a vote. I believe that such a vote should not be a case of a simple majority, but require say at least 60% of Parliament to support the cause.

For the most part New Zealand has pursued the right course in diplomacy. Up to 11 September 2001, the conflicts New Zealand was involved in were generally ones where a U.N. mandate was sough and given – the American led liberation of Kuwait from Iraq; the East Timor peace keeping operation.

If North Korea tries to strike the first blow, I expect that the war would short and bloody. North Korea would attack Seoul in the hope that the huge civilian casualties (about which it cares not a jot). As the attack on Seoul begins, a massive South Korean and U.S. military response will begin as well. But this however is highly improbable. North Korea knows its regime would be finished inside a day if it made such a move as China has signalled it will stay neutral in the event of a North Korea military attack.

If the United States attacked North Korea pre-emptively as U.S. President Donald Trump suggests it might be prepared to do so, there is a very high risk of a direct superpower confrontation. China has said it will use armed force to protect North Korea if the U.S. attacks. In 1950 they did just that when the North Korean regime was only days or a couple of weeks away from being annihilated by the United Nations force.

What have we to gain from being involved militarily? Nothing much. Despites North Korea’s contempt for international law, its obsession with nuclear weapons and being able to use them how would we – an army with two not fully manned light battalions, a pair of frigates and no air combat wing – be able to realistically help anyway, even if New Zealanders DID want to help?

North Korea vs United States: Everyone should read their history

The history of the Korean peninsula dates back thousands of years. The history of South Korea an North Korea stems back to the aftermath of W.W.2. when only Soviet Union and the United States had troops to disarm the Japanese forces on the peninsula. In the rapidly deteroriating post-W.W.2. geopolitical climate war time friends had become cold war rivals. The geopolitical climate had changed much for the worse and everyone needed to be careful.

It is highly improbable that North Korea will risk any further than it already has, the security of its regime. I am talking about a regime that has gone to extreme lengths to suppress its opponents. People in North Korea understand the phrase “Yodok Prison Camp” or Kwan-li-so No. 15″ in the same way Germans and understood the phrase “Prinz Albrechtstrasse” during the era of Hitler – a person enters and is generally never seen or heard from again.

The North Korean regime is unique not only in its sheer ruthlessness – Kim Jong Un – had a relative, General Jang Song Thaek executed with anti aircraft fire, even though he was a relative – it is not in the least bit afraid to violate international law. This it might be said is also done with a degree of callousness that suggests only a regime change or some sort of assassination attempt would put Kim Jong Un out of business.

So how does that affect the international situation with North Korea?

Before we look at the options for knocking off the North Korean regime, we need to remember a couple of things:

  1. China has said to North Korea and the U.S. respectively that if North Korea attacks the U.S., China will stay out of the conflict. It has also said – which should concern the bellicose U.S President Donald Trump – that it will not ignore a U.S. attack on North Korea

    Effectively this is a warning to both sides China is not in it for either side, though it definitely prefers a non-democratic state on its land border.

  2. China invaded North Korea in October 1950 to stop the North Korean regime as it was then from being rolled by the United Nations operation. Whilst China is quite irritated by Pyongyang’s refusal to give up nuclear weapons, it will not ever compromise the security of its own one party state, and if that means invading a second time – Korean history for the last several hundred years is littered with Chinese invasions – no one should be surprised.

Will Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons. I think we know the answer to that very well. Kim Jong Un has seen United Nations sanctions at work and no one wants to challenge him directly. Having a suiperpower in its corner helps Kim immensely even if China is growing impatient with the regime in North Korea. Kim does not seem to be put off in the least by U.S. warnings. On the contrary, one might try to argue he is saying “Bring it on!”

I think the message going into the weekend and beyond as we watch the latest round of sabre rattling is that signs of impatience, frustration and the potential for an accidental missile discharge is not so unlikely as to give them no further consideration.Kim Jong Un is so far up the proverbial creek without a paddle that the only thing for him to do is go further. He will not admit defeat and always look for a way to blame other countries for something that is very much a break down of north Koreans ability to do the job their Dear Kimmy requires.

We need to be careful. North Korea is easily provoked. It would not take much to accidentally trigger an international incident where one side or the other open fire prematurely. The problem is once the shooting starts, where will it stop?

New Zealand impotent in North Korean crisis; U.S. needs to be careful

As the world watches nervously the situation on the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea’s incandescent rhetoric, and the United States and South Korea showing a united front against the regime, a two island nation in the South Pacific is wondering what use it could be in the situation. And at the same time, hoping that the United States does not forget or deliberate exclude the one nation that can settle the issue decisively – and possibly without war:


So let us look at why China is central to the whole situation There are four reasons. Each is a good reason not even the U.S. can ignore.

China (1): China invaded North Korea in October 1950 to prop up the regime when it looked like falling. I would be willing to guess that if the United States too unilateral action against North Korea, the Chinese would in the first instance mass a huge number of troops on the North Korean border – possibly upwards of 500,000 with supporting armour and support from the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force and People’s Liberation Army Navy.

China (2): President Xi Jinping is a Chinese Trump. China is an adversary in many respects because Xi wants to make China a world power again too. Mr Xi has a vision, though, which is reinforced by domestic and foreign policy. He wants it to have naval reach it did 500 years ago. How Mr Xi would react to an attack on North Korea is unclear, but the implications of his vision are clear: China will not sit by and have its influence eroded by anyone including America.

China (3): China’s Communist regime will do absolutely anything to ensure that there is not any more democratic nations on its land border, especially on the Korean Peninsula. China’s human rights record is shocking because in order for the Chinese Government in its current form to survive, they must have control of citizens across an ethnically, culturally and – if it were permitted to be expressed politically diverse geographical region. Why do you think they spend almost as much on cracking down on dissent, crushing protests, jailing people, maintaining a Great Firewall of China and executing people?

To maintain control.

China (4): China could crush North Korea tomorrow. It has the economic, political and military means to do so. But it won’t – at least not without Beijing’s authority and influence being assured by the U.S.

So, where does this leave an island nation in the South Pacific with regards to North Korea?

The long and the short answers are both: largely impotent. The most we can do, is what we are already doing, except that perhaps having talks with South Korea about what we could do in terms of offering more non-military support other than backing them in anything that happens with regards to North Korea in the United Nations.

The Dragon or the Bald Eagle: a flightless birds choice

New Zealand is used to walking a tight rope between China and the United States. A lurch into one camp or the other will draw ire from either Washington or Beijing as well as alarm that the country that made a name for itself with anti-nuclear legislation, and trying to stand up against Apartheid despite a divisive rugby tour, seems to have lost its moral spine. But as the demands of the two super powers start to encroach on our sovereignty, the time is coming for either a very difficult choice, or a brave new third way.

For decades as an emerging market and now as a super power, China’s influence in New Zealand affairs has – for better or for worse – grown exponentially. It’s economic footprint is truly global, requiring resources from all over the world – oil from Nigeria, the Middle East and Sudan; rare earth minerals for electronics from mines all over Africa, and increasingly South America and central Asia. From New Zealand it sources coal, timber and dairy products. In return New Zealand imports vast quantities of Chinese made electronics, steel and other goods.

But there is a steep price to pay for investing so much as we have in China. The country has an appalling human rights record, is mired in endemic corruption that has led to a massive crackdown which is targetting all of the wrong people – human rights activists, lawyers, dissidents, artists, academics – which the West, including New Zealand  is largely turning a blind eye to. The current furore over trade because New Zealand decided to investigate the quality of the massive glut of steel being imported from China is likely to be forgotten in the next few months as New Zealand officials rush about trying to mend fences so that the difficult tango with Beijing can continue.

Before it does, other issues may pose a challenge such as China’s ignorance of the Hague ruling on the hotly contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Here the risk of an accidental military confrontation has increased significantly since an artificial island with a harbour and airfield was constructed. New Zealand politicians would much rather stay out of this increasingly antagonistic spat, but may soon have to decide who to support.

Following World War 2, a war in which New Zealand’s survival against Japan owed much to the United States, New Zealand’s geopolitical orientation was fundamentally altered. Britain was too busy rebuilding after a hugely damaging and costly war to have much time for its colonies. With wartime allies now becoming Cold War foes, and substantial opportunities for trade with Uncle Sam just starting to be realized, it was realized that for the foreseeable future investing in America was the way to go. Until the anti-nuclear legislation was passed in 1985, New Zealand and the United States maintained good relations. Since 2001, things have slowly begun to thaw with the odd setback here and there – notably over the Iraq War – but the nature has changed with corporate interests increasingly trying to exert their influence.

The United States however has major challenges facing it. For the last generation it has been slowly declining in global respect. This decline is not because of a reduction in military spending, but because wastage in the political system combined with a changing geopolitical environment, . Increasingly America has sought to influence other nations by enticing them with free trade agreements that more and more look like corporate dictates, given their sheer complexity (since when was 6,000 pages necessary for a genuine F.T.A.). It has also tried to entice nations into joining its increasingly muddled “War on Terrorism”, where two of its major “allies” are accused of funding and arming Daesh.

But perhaps New Zealand does not need to support either. In the past I have alluded to a “third way”, where New Zealand grows a spine and puts its own interests first. Perhaps it is time to revisit that.

Western nations undermining rule of law – and non-western nations respect for it

Over the last few decades there has been a systemic undermining of the western worlds respect for the very international legal framework that it has gone to such great lengths to extol the virtues of. This systemic undermining has come through a complex combination of military actions, legislative changes and court rulings by various nations acting out of perceived international interest that have been confused for the corporate agenda.

The War on Terrorism is one example of where western nations have sought to maintain the moral and legal higher ground, but where they have in many respects actually undermined their own cause. During the months following 11 September 2001, in a rush to appear united against terrorism many nations including America, Canada, Britain, New Zealand and Australia passed terrorism suppression legislation. In some respects this was necessary to address gaps in existing legislation around issues such as membership in terrorist groups, funding, arming and logistical support. However, tests in these nations of the laws passed, by enforcement agencies raised significant questions about the legality of the laws very existence.

In 2007, New Zealand police acting on intelligence conducted a series of raids in October of that year on groups around the country, who were perceived to be a problem. Some of those caught up in the raids were environmental activists that were being monitored by Solid Energy because they were known to be part of the Coal Action Network, which planned to disrupt on the grounds of climate change the transportation of coal trains to Lyttelton where their contents would be exported to China. Whilst it is true that by blocking railway tracks, the activists were committing trespassing and obstruction offences, these had nothing to do with the “War on Terrorism” and certainly posed no national security threat.

But it was a raid on the same day in Urewera National Park, land that was considered to belong to Tuhoe and was the scene of several ugly confrontations, that exposed the questionable nature of the terrorism legislation. Armed police in full kit swooped on houses around the fringe of the National Park and stormed households that were later found to pose no recognizable threat, and that the raids were not conducted in compliance with New Zealand law which requires a search warrant. These were damaging truths and the Police had to apologize and the Government offer reparation for the harm done.

More recently, these countries have shown support for Middle East nations that have no regard at all for the international rule of law, by funding and arming them to commit war crimes that are punishable in the Hague. I find it very hard to support a “War on Terrorism” when the key “good guy nations” in it are funding and arming war criminals themselves. These same “good guy nations” have also clamped down on groups in their own jurisdiction that were not necessarily militant groups, but dissident groups with long held concerns, where the Government perceived those groups to be some sort of security threat.

A consequence of such actions is the gradual undermining of non-western nations respect for international law. A very good example of this has been playing out between China and its southeast Asian neighbours over territorial claims in the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea. In this instance China has laid claim to a large part of the South China Sea including the Spratly’s which it claims are part of its maritime jurisdiction. To reinforce this, China has built an artificial island base with dock facilities for ships and an airfield on which to land aircraft – it has since become a fully operational base.

Another detrimental element of this undermining of international law has been the disregard shown by Russia for human rights law in Syria. Since 2014, Russian involvement in Syria has included the blocking of investigations of the Bashar al-Assad regime for war crimes, and crimes against humanity. It has funded the Assad regime and supplied it with assorted military grade weapons and the ammuntion. These have included cluster munitions which have been extensively used, and linked by Amnesty International to strikes on villages, hospitals and schools.

If the West wants non-Western nations to respect international law, then it should respect said law itself.