New Zealand must condemn Jerusalem decision


On Wednesday, New Zealand time the President of the United States, Donald Trump made the shocking announcement that America would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

New Zealand must condemn Mr Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. We must not follow America and move our diplomatic mission there. The media and the politicians have ignored the history of the Palestinian struggle and it will come back to haunt them.

Not surprisingly Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is over the moon. And in recognition of it, against the walls of the old city, the American and Israeli flags were projected side by side.

In effect Mr Trump has ripped the Middle East process into shreds of paper and then thrown them in the face of the Arab world, the Palestinians. The Israeli Prime Minister and his hawkish Government, plus the hard line Republicans in the United States are the only ones applauding.

The effect is more than to just anger the Palestinians and the Arab world. Along with his inflammatory efforts dealing with North Korea and Iran, Mr Trump has now added a third place that he is offside with around the world. What are the conflict around the world at greatest risk of turning into international conflicts with potentially world wide consequences? There are a few:

  1. North Korea – on tenterhooks, with one false move possibly starting an international conflict that has regional, possibly global consequences
  2. Iran – not on tenterhooks yet, but creeping that way with America, Saudi Arabia and Israel ratcheting up the inflammatory rhetoric despite its compliance with the U.N. nuclear deal
  3. Eastern Europe – high risk, with N.A.T.O. forces building up and Russia actively seeking to counter their influence, and a boil over could rapidly escalate into an international conflict
  4. South China Sea – not on tenterhooks, but potentially the one with the biggest risks as a direct military confrontation between super powers is not likely to end well for anyone
  5. Palestine – comparatively stable for now, and would not have made this unique list but for Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

In 1917, whilst World War 1 was going full bore in Europe, Britain and France embarked on a bit of empire building in the Middle East. In 1916 two new nations were carved out, with borders paying scant attention to the ethnic or religious communities there. Their protestations were put down brutally and the new nations were called Iraq and Syria. In 1920 Winston Churchill – the same Winston Churchill who would be lauded as a hero 20 years later for staring down Nazi-era Germany – authorized the bombing and gassing of Iraqi rebels. Britain and France wonder these days why they are not so popular in the Middle East.

Palestine and the Arab lands did not do much better under the Balfour Declaration and people wonder why there is so much animosity in the Middle East. Let us have a look at how the Palestinian animosity towards Israel and the West came to be.

The Balfour Declaration came about for several reasons:

  • World War 1 was not going well for the British and it was hoped that by announcing a formal Jewish state in recently occupied lands, Britain could increase the support among the Jewish communities in major allies and neutral countries
  • Britain wanted to create a land bridge between crucial Middle territories such as Egypt with its “crown jewel” India – a British backed Jewish state would be part of that land bridge
  • Despite agreeing with France on how to carve up the Middle East, Britain viewed its dominance in the region as essential

In the Treaty of Versailles, signed on 28 June 1919, Britain was entrusted with the temporary administration of Palestine on the understanding it would work with the Arabs and the Jews. The Jewish population increased rapidly in Palestine. Unlike the Jews, the Arabs were not granted any sort of nationhood despite helping Britain with the war against Turkey. Animosity over this continues to the present day.

So, it is against this background that Mr Trump has made a highly inflammatory and totally irresponsible decision to support Israel having its capital in Jerusalem. Combined with his refusal to rebuke Mr Netanyahu for Israel’s ongoing annexation by stealth of Palestine, this effectively amounts to a non-military declaration of war against Palestine and it should be roundly condemned.

And it is.

 

Trump anti-Muslim tweets no help to religious tensions


Last week United States President Donald Trump was looking at videos from Britain First, an anti-immigrant hard line nationalist group in Britain of alleged Muslim offences. One was of a boy being attacked. Another was of a statue being desecrated and a third one was allegedly of a Muslim attacking a Dutch boy on crutches. Then he retweeted them, to the horror of British Prime Minister Theresa May.

By retweeting the videos of a known nationalist hate group, Mr Trump sent a signal to Muslims that he does not view them or their religion in the same light as he does other religions. He has in effect condoned hatred on a religion and its members when most of all the West should be seeking to understand the Islamic world better.

Mr Trump’s rebuttal of Mrs May’s criticism potentially harms the British-American relationship. Mrs May was right to point out that the retweets were highly and unnecessarily inflammatory. And this has given Mrs May and her Government some unlikely allies in places she might not thought them to possibly exist.

I am no fan of Mrs May who I think of as the “Maybot”, because she was perceived to have the empathy of a robot to the victims of the Grenfell apartment block fire. However, Mrs May was quite right to rebuke Mr Trump for retweeting those videos.

Mr Trump made two significant mistakes in his response:

  1. He was too lazy to find her proper Prime Ministerial Twitter handle and sent it to another person called who also just happened to be called Theresa May
  2. His put down of Mrs May would have spoken volumes about how Mr Trump views his relationship with Britain – being able and willing to put down America’s nearest and dearest ally, which is sometimes referred to as the 51st State of the U.S. is a hugely problematic indictment on him

American diplomats will be wondering how to undo the damage. For them such a slap in the face of the senior official of their most loyal ally will be staggering. America and Britain will survive this, but the reverberations will continue for awhile yet.

This should concern every other nation wanting peaceful rapproachment with the Islamic world. The so-called leader of the free world showing contempt for a perfectly valid warning about Britain First shows how little understanding Mr Trump has of diplomatic relations.

Or cares.

 

Winston Peters going to North Korea?


On Tuesday, New Zealand Time amid conflicting news about a mysterious deal that President Donald Trump announced, purportedly involving New Zealand, another interesting piece of news emerged. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters might be off on a trip to North Korea talk peace and encourage the rogue state to see reason.

Anything that delays or stops a military confrontation between North Korea and the United States must be a good thing.

But will it honestly work? I do not know the answer, but I think in honesty – it would be great if I am wrong – Mr Peters’ influence on the United States and North Korea is severely restricted. Pyongyang has backed itself into a corner from which it has nowhere to go – any move to appear accommodating on nuclear weapons compliance would be a climb down that Mr Jong Un cannot afford, as it would make him appear weak before the military whose compliance he needs.

And if it does work and miraculously Pyongyang agrees to return to the negotiations table, there is a frustrating and dangerous truth: everything that has been negotiated in the past has been thrown out the window by North Korea months or years later. If somehow a deal were to be struck, how do we know this would not end up on the growing pile outside the proverbial window?

Pyongyang has another problem. Even if it DID want to comply with demands to dismantle its nuclear weapons and the facilities used for them and were to start doing so, the sophistication that has now been achieved means it would have considerable difficulty undoing its weapons programme. It would need to wind up its enrichment facility, remove, disable or downgrade any nuclear reactors it has. The stockpiles of highly enriched uranium and any plutonium it has managed to manufacture would have to be handed over. The only way any of this could happen is if the orders to do so came from Kim Jong Un. And Mr Jong Un has very explicitly said North Korea will never surrender its nuclear weapons programme – at least not peacefully.

The stakes are high. Japan, with its long and dreadful memories of American bombing in the late stages of World War 2, has had numerous emergency drills to prepare its citizens in the event a conflict does start. It’s hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to weaken the constitutional constraints on Japanese military activity that were imposed by the occupying Allied Powers in 1947, a move that could potentially alarm its neighbours.

South Korea, which has to contend with the cantankerous North on a day to day basis, might be the least concerned. After all as the significant southern half of Korea, many of its citizens will know people in North Korea and share the – probably – very far off dream of a united peaceful Korean peninsula. It does so against the cold and no doubt nerve wracking reality that North Korea’s artillery is within firing distance of Seoul and even a short bombardment would probably cause tens of thousands of casualties.

And then there is China. Don’t ever forget the one country that can crush North Korea’s regime pretty much whenever and however it wants, or prop it up. This is the same China – albeit a much stronger one economically, politically, militarily in 2017 – that invaded North Korea in 1950 to prop the regime up against the United Nations advance, forcing the Korean War into a bloody and ultimately undecided stalemate.

Mr Trump might have nasty visions of North Korea attaining a degree of nuclear weapons prowess that threatens United States security. But North Korea will have noted the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. It will have noted the anti-Iranian rhetoric emanating from the White House and as the third member of former U.S. President George W. Bush’s “rogue state” clique, the North Korean regime knows neoconservative America would love to get rid of it.

Would a young, possibly impressionable dictator with reactionist tendencies take very kindly to invtervention by a Minister of Foreign Affairs from a nation not one of his impoverished countrymen know anything about? Would he just laugh it off and use it to create propaganda against the United States and South Korea? Maybe.

A naval battle New Zealand should remember


Many people will not be aware, but last night 12-13 November was the 75th Anniversary of the first phase of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. This was the naval battle that finally eliminated any threat of a Japanese invasion of Australia or New Zealand in World War 2.

The Guadalcanal campaign started on 07 August 1942. Three months earlier the United States Navy (U.S.N.)had stopped the Japanese task force trying to attack the Papua New Guinean capital of Port Moresby. However another strand of that task force had successfully landed at Guadalcanal and had started building an airfield. This would put most of the Solomon Islands and eastern Australia within bombing range. The Americans concluded that this was an unacceptable threat and had to be stopped.

The invasion started okay, but the naval forces protecting got the surprise of their lives on the night of 08-09 August 1942 when a Japanese raiding force sank 3 American and an Australian cruiser. Thus began 4 months of naval battles intermixed with brief but bloody ground battles each time a wave of reinforcements came ashore. 3 major land battles and a host of smaller skirmishes were reported during this time with large loss of Japanese life.

By mid September the Americans had local air superiority. However the Japanese were still the better at night fighting. But this did not stop significant naval clashes. Between mid-August and early November, there was:

  1. The Battle of the Eastern Solomons
  2. The Battle of Cape Esperance
  3. The Battle of Santa Cruz Island

All of these were attempts to establish naval superiority in the area, but also to support the landings of ground forces or to bombard Henderson Field in order to put the American air power there out of business. None of them were cheap – across the three battles the Americans lost 2 carriers, 2 destroyers with 2 cruisers and 3 more destroyers damaged and 500 dead; the Japanese losses were a carrier, 2 destroyers, 2 cruisers with several cruisers, destroyers and carriers damaged with about 1,000 killed.

But for all the losses, neither side had gained clear superiority. Both had no invested substantial forces both at sea around Guadalcanal and onshore. For the Japanese, Guadalcanal was starting to become prohibitively expensive. For the Americans, it was an island that simply had to be held onto if they were to stop Japanese expansion. Thus the scene was set for what was described as a bar room brawl and one of the last exchanges between battleships.

The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal happened in two phases:

  1. An all in brawl on the night of 12-13 November 1942 involving five American cruisers and eight destroyers with a superior Japanese force clearing the way for a convoy to reinforce Guadalcanal – despite their losses the Americans succeed in delaying the convoy’s approach
  2. On the night of 14-15 November an American force with battleships U.S.S. Washington and U.S.S. South Dakota surprise the Japanese just as the convoy makes a second attempt at reaching Guadalcanal

It was a costly battle for both sides. The Americans lost 2 cruisers and 7 destroyers and a total of 1730 personnel. For their part the Japanese lost 2 battleships a cruiser and 3 destroyers as well as transports from the convoy with over 2,000 killed.

But the battle was strategic. The Japanese military never made another serious attempt to reinforce the island of Guadalcanal and in December 1942 with permission from Emperor Hirohito, the I.J.N. began to evacuate the remaining forces. Although the Japanese had localized naval victories a combination of increasing American numerical superiority, better American tactics and weapons and Japanese indecisiveness meant no further large scale blue water defeats were suffered.

Japanese forces in Papua New Guinea were confined to a couple of tiny pockets in the north, when the war ended. Rabaul, from where so many of the Japanese naval operations had originated was neutralized in early 1944 after the Americans, not wanting a bloody, months long battle decided to strangle the Japanese base with air and naval power. The Solomon Islands were liberated by the end of 1943.

Ardern meets Trump


The handshake was not a crusher. Unlike the potentially crushing power of the office of the man who shook Prime Minister Jacinda Arderns hand earlier today. As T.P.P. negotiations roll on we look at the major issues where New Zealand and America might dis/agree on.

It will be interesting to see how a decidedly left leaning New Zealand Government will get on with the most far right Government America has ever had. Mr Trump stands for a lot of the things that Ms Ardern and her Labour/New Zealand First/Green Party coalition balk at point blank, such as considering military spending as essential to the economy, cutting taxes, rolling back environmental laws and getting out of the Paris Climate Accord.

Mr Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement within a couple of days of taking office in January. Despite most of the Labour Party grass roots and both of her support parties being totally against the T.P.P.A., Ms Ardern seems content to sign the agreement with a few more concessions. Mr Trump is on this rare occasion on the right side of history, whereas New Zealand and the other countries negotiating are going to end up on the wrong side.

Mr Trump’s administration might not yet be fully aware of New Zealand’s attempts to get some of the refugees from Manus Island. How much it impacts on a supposed deal being negotiated between Australia and the United States remains to be seen. It would not be the first time New Zealand has interceded on Australian refugee. We took some of the refugees from the M.V. Tampa, a freighter that the John Howard Government claimed was carrying terrorists and baby drowners in 2001. Those refugees turned out to be quite an asset, with all contributing substantially to their adopted New Zealand communities, setting up small businesses and becoming doctors and lawyers. Hopefully Mr Trump sees the Australian xenophobia for what it is and offers to take some instead of being sucked into Peter Duttons hate machine.

New Zealand is a small bit player in the North Korean issue, but a potentially valuable one. Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has had prior experience negotiating with North Koreans and they invited him to visit Pyongyang, something that few other leaders have been offered. Aside from supporting the rule of international law at the United Nations and trying to get all sides to dial down the rhetoric, there is not realistically much else that New Zealand can help the United States with on this topic. No one will win if a war starts on this.

On the subject of climate change, New Zealand needs to stand firm, invest heavily in renewables and look at what sorts of environmentally responsible technologies it can develop, patent and export overseas. In short it needs to go in the opposite direction to the United States, which will find itself isolated by the international community in some respects – something New Zealand cannot afford to do.

Mr Trumps performance on the world stage, including his bellicose rhetoric against North Korea and Iran will also be watched closely. When he tweets the world takes notice just incase it is a foreign policy announcement. No doubt Ms Ardern and her press secretary keep close tabs on @realDonaldTrump and @POTUS.

America’s black and white view of the world ignores many, many shades of grey. New Zealanders seem to understand that they exist, but not why. Understanding those shades and where they fit into the spectrum – whether we agree with their purpose being another story altogether – is important, as is getting past the left-right political spectrum which is thoroughly redundant. Perhaps the most important thing though is not following this nonsense of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Whilst this remains the thinking in Washington, we need to keep America at arms length, something I think Ms Ardern understands, but Mr Trump does not.