Treading the South Pacific foreign policy tight rope


Over the years New Zealand has been involved in many events on the world stage. Most for the right reasons and a few for somewhat questionable reasons. New Zealand has – depending on the Government of the day, said we have interests overseas and closer to home in the South Pacific.

When one looks at the major problems around the world, particularly in the Middle East and Europe, New Zealand is a comparatively minor player. Most of those problems are not ones worth investing our time, money or resources in. Our time, money and resources are best invested in the South Pacific, which is our proverbial back yard. And there are good reasons for doing so.

China has been expanding its interest in the South Pacific for years. It has turned a blind eye to the Frank Bainimarama regime of Fiji committing human rights abuses against Fijians. In return for such activities being ignored, South Pacific nations have permitted Chinese mining and forestry companies to set up businesses on their lands. One might ask what the problem with this is?

Simple. These island nations will not see the economic benefits. They might be employed to work on building the roads, but there is unlikely to be any sharing of the royalties taken from the business. It also remains to be seen how much tax if any that the Chinese companies will be made to pay to their Governments so they can provide basic services for their people.

It is not to say that Western companies are any better. The Ok Tedi mine where tonnes of pure copper sulphate solution was allowed to pour straight into the local river, completely destroying the ecosystem is one example of a mine project gone bad in Papua New Guinea. The company responsible was B.H.P. Billiton. Whilst litigation of the case happened and resulted in a $29 million pay out in the 1990’s the environmental, economic and social costs of the damage will take an estimated 300 years to fix.

These countries have very weak legal systems, and endemic corruption at all levels. Because of this, several South Pacific Island nations are potentially at risk of becoming failed states with governance that simply does not work properly any more. The corruption means that there is a risk that organized crime or militants linked to terrorist groups might use these nations as a back door into Australia and New Zealand.

A good example of this was Papua New Guinea’s decision to import 40 Maserati vehicles for A.P.E.C. which was held over the weekend just gone. Despite not being able to properly fund its social welfare, education or health systems, Papua New Guinea, with China’s help was able to somehow spend tens of millions of dollars on a three day talk fest that wound up being a farce.

A.P.E.C. was meant to be a summit to talk about the economic challenges facing the Asia Pacific region. Instead it became a U.S./China debating competition. The tensions rose to the point that Chinese officials barged into the Papua New Guinean Prime Ministers office and demanded changes to something that had been agreed to and only left when threatened with arrest. No joint statement was agreed to by the delegations and the other nations including New Zealand were reduced to being spectators to a super power argument.

Few of the issues on the agenda that need tackling would have been.

All nations are quite vulnerable to climate change and the outlying parts of Kiribati, Tuvalu, Niue are at risk of becoming uninhabitable in the next 50 years. Over fishing and deforestation are also likely to impact on their economies.

This is where New Zealand and Australia become very important players. As the regional powers with the means to influence the United States and China, both nations have an obligation to look after their smaller Pacific Island neighbours and act as role models in terms of how their governance should be in an ideal world. The bulk of our foreign policy effort should be in the South Pacific. New Zealand should be showing that we are their best friends.

And in terms of understanding the underlying problems, the culture and the needs of these nations, New Zealand and Australia are best placed to do so.

Mr Peters will also be well aware of the growing influence of the United States on Australia. The United States is expanding the deployment of U.S. forces in Australia, which is part of a change in doctrine that President Donald Trump’s predecessor Barak Obama instigated to counter Chinese influence in the South Pacific.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence talked about protecting the South Pacific nations maritime and sovereign interests. I found that interesting since alongside Chinese influence, the next biggest threat to their sovereignty is environmental degradation making the smallest of them uninhabitable – something the U.S. Government of Donald Trump all but denies existing.

So, tell me now. Who has the the South Pacific’s interests most at heart? The U.S.?
China? Or New Zealand and (maybe) Australia?

 

What did we learn from W.W.1 100 years on?


When Europe spiralled into war in 1914, there was an almost euphoric, gleeful, delightful jolly mood throughout Europe. What a jolly thing they all said. It will be all over Christmas and we’ll be having pudding on the table, with presents under the tree and a roast for dinner.

So off they all rushed to war, this jolly good European jaunt. The Commonwealth nations excited to be supporting Mother Britain all began to mobilize. The Canadians, the Australians, the New Zealanders, Indians and South Africans all put out calls for troops.

Within weeks the first casualty counts were coming in. The Germans had somehow stalled on the banks of the Marne River. No worries everyone thought. Things will get going again soon. The days turned into weeks. The weeks into months. The nights began to become longer and the days colder. The trenches that were supposed to be temporary were starting to take on a degree of permanence.

No peace would descend on Earth in 1914. Instead the first of many bloody battles up and down the Western Front over which a few square miles of land would be fought with fanatical savagery had begun. Battles costing thousands of lives a piece had happened at St. Quentin, the Marne, Albert, Yser, Ypres (No. 1 of 5) and a host of other places. The ground that would become a muddy hellhole over the next four years was starting to be ground up.

The mincing machines of the Somme, Verdun and Passchendaele were still over a year away. But as the mass of pill boxes, bunkers, tunnels and barbed wire accrued on both sides of no mans land the men who sat in water logged dug outs eating, washing, and otherwise trying to live in close quarters to many other men, the task of finding ways to break the stalemate and win the war became a priority.

The plane as a weapon of war was still in its infancy. The tank was still years away. But other sinister developments were taking shape. Desperate to gain the military initiative, the Germans, French and British had begun experimenting with chemicals as weapons. The initial attempts were unsuccessful, but in 1915 the Germans introduced chlorine.

Tactics were changing too. The creeping barrage that moved in front of advancing soldiers had been introduced. A moving wall of exploding shells would proceed the soldiers across no mans land, chewing up and spitting out already mangled land and bodies. Another one, the bite and hold strategy of biting a small chunk out of the enemy lines, consolidating and moving on was another.

By the time the Somme and Verdun, two blood baths with a combined total of nearly 2 million Allied and German dead between them, were over, the French were ready to mutiny. The Russians, sick to death of their wealth hoarding Tsar and no longer able to stomach any further fighting against the Germans were ready to revolt. Food shortages in Germany and Britain were dire and no one knew how or when this giant mangling machine would end.

Conditions were no better in the Commonwealth countries. New Zealand and Australia were permanently scarred by their experiences in Gallipoli in Turkey where they had been trying to take the Dardenelles and secure a supply line to Russia. Canada, South Africa and India were also bleeding steadily. All had further bloody confrontations awaiting them at Passchendaele (Ypres III), and elsewhere.

And so, Passchendaele got underway with the misgivings of just about everyone involved. Only the Generals seemed to be keen for it to happen. The 100 days of mud and blood that followed earnt it a special place in the collection of hell’s that World War 1 was.

Whilst that was happening the Russians had the second of two revolts that toppled the Tsar. Communism became a new term in the language of politics and within months, Russia and the Germans had cut a deal that enabled the Germans to flood the western front with fresh forces.

The German offensive of 1918 temporarily terrified the Allies, moved rapidly west for a month and then, unable to sustain their supply lines, failed. Another 688,000 Germans and 863,000 British, Commonwealth, French and American lives later and it was over for Germany. Before they could recover, the Allies 100 days offensive that would end with the Kaiser abdicating and Germany calling for an armistice began. It took back everything the Germans had taken and was closing on the German border when the Kaiser abdicated.

So what did we learn from World War 1? Apparently not a lot, other than that type of war is criminal. Suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was apparently cowardice, for which one could be shot. Soldiers went home and suffered permanent mental break downs as a result of what they had seen and done with no redress of any sort. And in that 4 1/4 years, enough progress was made on the technological front to unleash horrors unheard of in 1913. Historians to this day argue over the true meaning of the battles that took place, though all are in agreement that it was a truly appalling time in human history.

It was meant to be the war that ended all wars. The Germans would be vanquished, and unable to conduct offensive wars ever again. It would be punished and made to pay huge reparations. Yet on 01 September 1939 World War 2: The Really Really Dreadful Sequel started.

The pill boxes and the grave yards that litter fields in Belgium and France are silent testament to four years of abject madness where political pride and military prestige were more important than the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians. If nothing else, on this 100th Armistice Day Anniversary, we would do really well to remember that. They did not die for nothing.

The U.S. mid terms: a view from New Zealand


Every four years, in between the other every four year cycle in American politics, the United States and the world around it  tune in to see how the mid term elections turn out. These are the elections in which the composition of the House of Representatives and the Senate are determined. Always as fascinating as it is mysterious, thrilling yet frustrating to non Americans, myself included, it helps to serve as a rule of thumb on what the President of the United States might be able to achieve (or not) in the next two years.

One of the many mysteries to myself and others no doubt is why only some House and Senate seats get contested each mid terms. Every other nation whose domestic politics I follow send all of their elected representatives to the ballot box at the same time. At any given time there seems to be some sort of electioneering going on in the United States. This raises a few interesting points:

  1. Such as whether or not the constant electioneering grinds on people and puts them off politics
  2. Is this actually the most efficient and effective way of running a political system in the U.S.?

Another mystery is how deeply embedded some of the representatives and Senators become in the system. Whereas in New Zealand unless one is high on the party list and/or in a secure electorate seat that has not changed party colours in recent times, the frequency with which electorates do move along their incumbent Members of Parliament is quite high.

The reasoning that could be behind the apparent embedded nature of representatives in the system is the use of classes of senators. There are three classes – one of 34 senators and two of 33. The idea behind the classes came about in the original drafting of the U.S. Constitution Article 1 Section 3 Clause 2, which stipulates that Senators get six year terms and are re-elected in staggered array so that the entire Senate is not emptied at the end of six years. Yet the founders wanted a timetable of frequent elections to stop a build up or purposeful combining for “sinister purposes”.

Still in 2018, it seems to me like the build up of Senators who are not fit for office or who have motives not in keeping with the spirit of the U.S. Senate has been achieved anyway. When people like Nancy Pelosi (Democrat), Mitch McConnell (Republican) are basically doing this as a well paid retirement gig and to serve personal ends, given that was probably not the intended spirit of the Senate when it was founded, should they not get the memo and retire? Apparently not, given that there are no term limits.

Contrast that in New Zealand. After the 2002 election rout, National set about clearing its caucus of “dead wood”. Members of Parliament who were seen to have done their time and not be serving a major useful purpose were encouraged by the party President to resign from Parliament. And following the thrashings of Labour in 2011 and 2014 similar calls were made for them to move their “dead wood” along.

So whatever happens in the 24 hours between this publishing and the article for Thursday, one can be assured that some interesting observations will be made of the United States mid terms. Whether the day comes when Americans observe electoral processes in other countries just as a matter of interest to see whether anything can be learned or not is another story altogether.

Trump betrays democracy – and every nation believing in it


In a single press conference in Helsinki yesterday, after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, the President of the United States dealt what might be a death blow to democracy. With the refusal to hold Russia accountable for a dozen Russians indicted for interference in the 2016 United States Presidential election, Mr Donald John Trump effectively conceded to the Russian Government world view: trust no one.

In the last 18 months since he took office, Mr Trump has shown his utter disdain anything good that the West has tried to achieve. By withdrawing from the Paris Agreement just as the only nations not in it were preparing to sign up, Mr Trump has signalled his contempt for the environment. By withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Mr Trump has done likewise with human rights as his Immigration and Customs Enforcement ratchet up their campaign against anyone whose reasons for existing in the United States look even the slightest bit dodgy – whether they are being another story altogether.

But most of all, Mr Trump has given global consensus built on democracy a truly frightful knee to the stomach.

Imagine that. An American President declaring that no one should be trusted, thereby throwing into doubt decades of anglo-saxon co-operation. Imagine that. An openly contemptuous American President declaring that a country whose Government has long sought to undermine the United States at every opportunity, whose contempt for democracy is as legendary as its ability to rally in times of crisis.

It is a signal to every western nation. You are on your own. America no longer values or cares about you. It is a signal that global co-operation is somehow a bad thing and that the last 70 years trying to build more civil world and prevent World War 3 is all for nothing. It is a signal to N.A.T.O.: go stuff yourself.

But should we suddenly now kowtow to Russia and Vladimir Putin? To China and Xi Jinping? Because apparently strong men with grandiose visions of global influence, heading countries with strong militaries, and an authoritarian rule of their own people are suddenly good according to Mr Trump?

And what does that mean for little ol’ New Zealand, in the South Pacific? Does that mean we are on our own in a sea of increasingly hostile nations trying to make the best we can for ourselves? I hope not. New Zealand is too small to influence the big nations in a military or economic way, but not so small that we cannot set an example through how we treat other peoples, nations and cultures.

New Zealand needs to tread carefully, but that does not mean we should give up our values and principles. New Zealand needs to look after its own needs. We need to forge a path that suits us, whilst keeping in contact with as many friendly nations as we can – Canada, France, Germany, Britain. Just because America is determined not to be a part of the free world any more does not mean the rest should just give up all that lie in those many war graves in Europe, north Africa, the Pacific, where brave New Zealanders gave their lives for our freedom so bravely fought and died for.

Never.

Foreign ministers to Trump: Appreciate your allies


Numerous present and former Ministers of Foreign Affairs from around America’s allies have signed a letter to United States President Donald Trump with a warning:

Respect your allies as there is not that many of them

Former New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Don McKinnon is one of those who has signed the letter, said to be fiery in its warning to Mr Trump. The letter comes as Mr Trump arrives in Brussels for a meeting with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (N.A.T.O.)leaders amid deteriorating relations between America and its all important western allies.

Mr Trump has been critical of N.A.T.O. countries for failing to increase their defence spending, and claiming that the United States provides the bulk of the expenditure. This has touched off criticism as – aside from being untrue, it was also the United States that instigated the formation of the N.A.T.O. alliance during the Cold War as part of its containment strategy.

Germany has agreed to increase its expenditure. This however will not be lost on Germans who will no doubt still be wary of putting too much emphasis on defence policy individually, and instead preferring to align it with a general increase in spending across western European nations. In a continent still trying to get away from its colonial past and two hugely destructive World Wars, increases in defence spending are not the sexy beasts that they are perceived as by conservative politicians and commentators in the United States. Germany needs to remember this as it tries to figure out just how big its promised increase will be and on what it will be spent.

Meanwhile in Britain, the Conservative Government of Prime Minister Theresa May has hit the skids. Wobbling violently with two Ministers gone as well as the Vice Chairs of the Conservative Party, one watches with interest to see whether Mrs May can stave off a collapse or will she be forced to for the second time in 15 months call a General Election. Despite being a deeply conservative Prime Minister, Mrs May and her Government have tread the line of making savings throughout Her Majesty’s armed forces, but for how much longer?

The Netherlands and Belgium, scenes of ferocious battles in World Wars 1 & 2, need only to attend a service at the Menin Gate in Belgium at 2000 hours every night to be reminded of the cost of war. Perhaps they would be doing well to drag Mr Trump to one of these ceremonies to remind him just how much some of America’s smaller allies suffered. All around western Belgium and northeast France lie memorials saluting the French, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, British and other nations who suffered dreadful losses in battles such as Passchendaele, the Somme, Verdun and others – whether it makes any difference or not for Mr Trump to be reminded is another story altogether.

In a week where so much is at stake with the politics of N.A.T.O., it might be just as well the F.I.F.A. World Cup Final will distract hundreds of millions of people. Maybe Mr Trump and the other leaders can watch it instead of tearing each other to shreds. And reflect on a beautiful friendship between the U.S., and her allies like so many have been reflecting on their relationship with “the beautiful game”.