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?

The crisis New Zealand should pay attention to

Whilst the world focuses on United States President Donald Trump and his strange tweets, there is a crisis simmering away in the Middle East that many people should be paying attention to, but are not. It is between Saudi Arabia, a host of other Arab nations and its much smaller neighbour Qatar. The crisis, which pertains to Saudi Arabian accusations that Qatar is sympathetic to terrorist groups has been followed by a cessation of Saudi-Qatari relations, a list of demands and the cutting of travel links with the outside world.

Whilst it is true that in the past I have said New Zealand should cut and run from Middle East politics, because New Zealand has been seeking to improve ties with Saudi Arabia and other M.E. countries, this is a crisis that we would do well to pay more attention to. Saudi Arabia is the ring leader. It is the regional power that challenges the perceived encroachment of Persia into the Middle East.

We should pay attention because there are several troubling aspects to this crisis that have the potential to affect New Zealand:

  1. There is a possibility that the United States would ask for more New Zealand involvement and New Zealanders should know the arguments for and against
  2. Whilst we should not have military involvement in Middle East wars without a United Nations directive, it is quite okay to raise concerns about human rights, breaches of international law and humanitarian issues should they arise
  3. Another crisis in a region already beset by wars and civil wars will just further complicate an already problematic situation in terms of trying to restore some semblance of stability
  4. The list of demands is bullying type behaviour from a country that has no respect for human rights, dissenters and has been accused of committing war crimes in Yemen

But if one were to ask the average New Zealander on the street what they think of the Qatar crisis, the respondent – assuming they even know where Qatar is – would most likely say “I don’t know” or “I don’t care”. Fort them there are bigger problems in life than a geopolitical crisis in the Middle East, such as paying rent, having enough money to put food on the table and so forth.

The media seem pretty content paying no attention whatsoever. Stuff, the main website for New Zealand newspapers may be the exception rather than the norm to this. Newshub, 1 News, Radio New Zealand and other outlets have shown little interest.

Whilst there is no immediate signs of a potential clash between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the stakes are very high if one does occur. Iran, like Syria is a major Russian ally in the Middle East; Saudi Arabia, like Israel is an equally major ally of the United States, to the point that a massive arms deal was concluded when United States President Donald Trump visited there last month. And there is a question that only Saudi Arabia and Iran could answer: would both sides refrain from directly attacking each other and risk dragging in their world power allies? Given the relative lack of regard for international law shown by Saudi Arabia and Iran this is a question of considerable magnitude.

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.

Appreciating our war time history


A name of a Belgian town, and New Zealand’s bloodiest battle in World War One.

In a country where so much was given in two world wars, the Battle of Passchendaele was more than another dreadful, relatively static battle in World War 1. It was about a little nation half a world away from New Zealand and a battle in 1917 that cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

We never said Gallipoli was great and just campaign for New Zealanders to be involved in – it was not, and many lives were lost. It was not and yet all of these years later there is a substantial and long lasting respect between Australia, New Zealand and Turkey. Not only that but Turks, New Zealanders and Australians show a general respect for each other’s forces many could learn from.

Today is history from another war, and I think it is appropriate that it be announced.

There is much to be annoyed about with America on the world stage these days. But two naval battles in May 1942 at the Battle of the Coral Sea and June 1942 at the Battle of Midway, were the difference between Australia being invaded and New Zealand being put in bomber range.

It started with a surprise American bombing raid on Japan in April 1942 where U.S.S. Yorktown sailed 16 B-25’s within bomber range of Japan. The Japanese Combined Fleet Commander Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was sufficiently by the raid as to figure out how to put Japan beyond bomber range. That meant attacking Midway.

At Coral Sea a Japanese task force was made to turn back from attacking Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, where a staging area for an attack on Australia would have been established. The day before the carrier I.J.N. Shoho was sunk, as was U.S.S. Lexington. Another carrier U.S.S. Yorktown was damaged. Although the honours were not quite even, it was an American victory and a chance to hone their skills at naval warfare involving the use of aircraft carriers. Admiral Yamamoto was not deterred. He had said:

“I shall run wild for six month’s to a year after which I can guarantee nothing”.

75 years ago today 4 June 2017, Admiral Yamamoto’s stunning foresight became reality.

An air raid on the island of Midway was meant to knock out anti aircraft batteries, enemy installations and support facilities in preparation for attack. The air raid failed, and the Japanese pilot in command requested a second strike (more on that later) 5,000 troops in troop carriers had been sent to Midway. This was going to be their chance to participate in history.

Whilst the Japanese were attacking Midway, a squabble had broken out between the key Japanese commanders at two levels. At the top, Admiral Yamamoto’s Chief of Staff Captain Kuroshima knew of a cancelled Japanese reconnaissance mission to Pearl Harbor, but never passed news of the cancellation on. He refused to lift secrecy and tell the commander of the attacking task force the reconnaissance mission had been scrubbed. The second squabble was in the fleet commanded by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, responsible for attacking Midway. His chief of air operations Commander Genda believed the American fleet  was in the area, but Vice Admiral Nagumo’s Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral Kusaka did not. Commander Genda wanted to bring a second wave of planes on deck with torpedoes in case the Americans did were spotted by reconnaissance. Admiral Kusaka believed faulty intelligence that had first said the Americans were still in the Coral Sea where they had defeated the Japanese a month earlier, and also believed that even if the Japanese had left that there was no way they could have gotten to Midway.

Admiral Nagumo initially ordered the second wave to brought on deck, then halted. When it resumed precious time had been lost. The aircraft that had bombed Midway were returning and the decks needed to be cleared for them to land, so more time was lost.

The squabble was to prove disastrous for Japan. But the squabble was also about whether or not America even knew what was happening. They did. Everything. They were not fooled by a diversion attack on the Aleutian Islands on 3 June 1942. It was also about American naval brilliance, and how America transited the crippled U.S.S. Yorktown in from the Coral Sea, did as much repair work in as they could in 72 and managed to send her to Midway.

U.S.S. Enterprise and Hornet had set off under Admiral Jack Fletcher heading for Midway. Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance followed in the U.S.S. Yorktown a few days later.

So, imagine the shock on Nagumo’s face when the air raid alarm pointed to an American attack on 04 June 1942. American torpedo bombers had found the four Japanese fleet carriers supporting the attack on Midway. It was shot down completely and only one American pilot survived. But less than an hour later another attack happened. Same result, but with a massive difference. The attack had drawn the Japanese fighter cover down to sea level. High off in the distance with no enemy fighters between them and the four Japanese carriers were squadrons of dive bombers. And their flight decks were stacked with bombs and torpedoes.

In the space of 15 minutes on 04 June 1942, the Japanese went from being only a couple of months away from potentially doing what Yamamoto did not think was possible, and winning the war, to a decisive American victory from which there was no Japanese recovery possible. In those 15 minutes three Japanese fleet carriers I.J.N. Akagi, Kaga and Soryu were crippled beyond repair and either sank or were scuttled. I.J.N. Hiryu was crippled later the same day and was scuttled.

U.S.S. Yorktown was attacked twice. After the first attack the Americans managed to get her underway again. After the second attack there was no hope and she had to be abandoned. A Japanese submarine finished her off two days later.

Today is the 75th Anniversary of that.

You can say all you want about America. But on this day, 75 years later, with a copy of the the Japanese invasion plans for New Zealand understood to be in Te Papa, I would like you to join me in saying three words and three words only:


I will come back to Passchendaele in late July.