US military chief in New Zealand


The United States Secretary of Defense is visiting New Zealand just days after being appointed to the position. Mark Esper, who replaces former Secretary of Defense and retired Marine General James Mattis is on a five nation trip where conversations will most likely centre around Iran and China.

Whilst so early in the set, I cannot imagine Mr Esper immediately wanting concessions from New Zealand, I do not want New Zealand to be involved in another U.S. military misadventure. New Zealand might be – and should be – friends with the United States, but keeping a bit of distance. I am quite sure most New Zealanders want nothing to do with a potential war against Iran that will most likely achieve at best significantly worsening U.S relations with the Muslim world.

At best a war with Iran will be limited to the United States and Iran. The latter would probably use its considerable special forces to attack shipping in the Persian Gulf, and the Iranian backed militias might launch a rocket barrage at Israel. A greater fear is whether Russia decides to become involved or not. Russia could simply move military assets into Iran or Syria without actually using them as a warning to the United States. But Russian military commanders and politicians have at times made ominous references that a war against Iran would be a catastrophe. At worst it could result in a Russian military response against American forces – at which point a nuclear confrontation is not out of the question.

Perhaps more immediately problematic for New Zealand is China’s growing military assertiveness. It has built an artificial island in the Spratley Islands with an airfield and facilities for ships to dock at. China has since stationed military patrol and combat aircraft there. As vital shipping lanes pass through these waters on the way to/from various nations such as Vietnam and the Philippines, the United States has sought to dissuade China from further expansion.

China’s military expansion is dangerous because it is aligned with more subtle moves such as massive investment in countries around the world. Some critics argue China is literally buying up other nations by establishing Government owned companies that then set up operations in other countries and buy their way into major assets – in Westland recently a dairy company was sold to a Chinese Government controlled company.

New Zealand sees this in Fiji and other small Pasifika nations. A few months ago there was a controversy about a resort being built on Fiji and the destruction of large tracts of coral reef to enable boat access to the resort. When locals and New Zealand expatriates living there tried to remonstrate the owners got aggressive and there were scuffles. Other countries such as Tonga have significant debt to China, which has led to concerns about Beijing’s attempts to extract leverage. And in Vanuatu, although both countries denied reports, there were suggestions that China has been looking for a place to establish a military base.

Whilst New Zealand needs to be careful not to anger either the U.S. or China, it needs to be clear that the south Pacific is the chief domain of New Zealand and Australia. More than it does either of them, the well being of these little island nations is paramount to our well being.

The utopian dream versus the dystopian nightmare: Part 2


Dystopia, the opposite of utopia, describes a society that has strongly undesirable characteristics. It is translated as “not a good place”, and would be possibly similar to what George Orwell describes in his novel “1984” where society is distinctly unwelcoming in all facets.

Whereas a utopian society would not allow a disaster like the Grenfell tower fire in London or the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown to happen, a dystopian society would make a major effort to cover up the disaster, arresting people who asked too many questions, blocking media from finding out what happened. Instead of asking for assistance, the authorities might decide to uniformly evacuate the area around the disaster and turn it into a no go zone. If it involves civilian attempts at showing dissent, the response may be decidedly ugly with a military response like the Chinese employed in Tiananmen Square, with thousands being rounded up.

Agencies relating to social welfare, housing, justice and so forth may be disempowered or completely disbanded. Any remaining functions simple to dispense to those who can afford it. If one cannot afford rental accommodation it is not the problem of the state.

The range of powers and responsibilities that the police have will expand so that a degree of immunity to infractions such as arbitrary detention of those classed as undesirables, denial of legal aid and so forth exists. Rather than being a force for societal good, they start to become the visible enforcement of the state’s will.

The economics of a dystopian society are distinctly unfriendly to all but the wealthiest. Power and wealth assist each other in a relationship that becomes addictive: more wealth means more power and vice versa. A distinct few have near complete control of all of the natural resources, the infrastructure and media. The state assets such as the electricity grid, the railways, the telecommunications are all sold off to investors not based in the country. The wealthy few live a clearly disconnected life from the rest, with trappings that 99% of people probably do know about.

A dystopian techno-state where traditional forms of media simply disappear – newspapers die out or are subsumed – might form. Radio is either taken over and digitized or taken off air altogether. So-called undesirables can be electronically blocked on a system so that they are completely cut off from information and news. Pay screens that only open up to paid subscribers becomes the norm. The same state might use electronic algorithms to monitor peoples internet and media worth, building up a profile as China is currently doing that form a profile on a completely unsuspecting target human

Fear is an instrument used to keep the masses in line. It might be expressed in subtle things such as running adverts asking if you trust your neighbour, your family and friends. Are certain types of activity such as social activism, community groups and the like some sort of menace? Cameras are watching your every move in public. You have no say over what they see and what happens to the footage, or who can use it. To give effect to this, enforcement instruments such as curfews where one has to be in their house by a certain time; segregated areas where ethnic or social minorities are banished to with notably poorer infrastructure and amenities may show up.

Dystopian society can creep in, slowly like the shadows moving. It might be confused at times with increasing authoritarianism, as some of the traits are distinctly so. It does not make overt moves unless politicians with authoritarian ideas have managed to take power.

New Zealand has fortunately not shown any overtly dystopian notions but we only have to look across the Tasman Sea to Australia to see flashes of dystopia manifesting. The out pouring of grief following the 15 March 2019 terrorist attacks might not have happened in another western country. In Australia a combination of traditional conservatism mixing with overt hatred of minorities, topped off with a burning paranoia about refugees and asylum seekers, has seen Australian Government ministers show almost callous disregard for minorities.

 

 

National’s foreign policy plan is tone deaf


On Monday National released a policy document outlining its foreign policy. A mixture of old well known positions, with a few surprises such as bypassing the United Nations to impose our own sanctions, the document is for the most part, vintage National.

The announcement comes at a time when New Zealand is feeling the squeeze by both the United States and China, both indirectly and directly. Indirectly as both continue a trade war that has had the markets on edge, New Zealand has been exposed to the turbulence as much as other countries. And directly as it tries to find common ground with other nations on dealing with hate and lone wolf terrorism.

Interestingly enough, Mr Bridges also appeared to signal his intent to woo China, by doubling trade with it to N.Z.$60 billion per annum. I assume this would mean substantial growth in Chinese-New Zealand tourism, investment in dairy despite it having clearly peaked, further expansion of Huawei and other technology firms, input into education and property.

To me, this is an incredibly tone deaf foreign policy. It ignores our core role as one of the key players in the South Pacific where we should be investing 80% of all the time, money and resources that go into foreign affairs. These are the nations whose well being most seriously impacts on our national security behind Australia. These are the nations with the biggest geographical and cultural links to New Zealand. The Pacific nations of Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, and to a lesser extent Vanuatu are where we go on holiday in our thousands.

Perhaps Mr Bridges is trying to woo both super powers at once in an attempt to keep them onside. If so it is a risky proposition. For all their supposed friendship, neither the United States or China understands the delicate state of the South Pacific, why it should be New Zealand’s top priority and nor do they care. They might ask why they should, and the answer is fairly simple: as one of the leading nations in the South Pacific and one with a significant Pasifika population these nations are our  backyard and long time friends, and for us to be well means they must be well.

Perhaps Mr Bridges believes that America is still the same America that won international respect by providing the armaments and large ground forces to help the Allies win World War 2. And that if this is the case, America by default is a force for the good, cannot do any wrong and must be supported at any rate.

It does not change the fact that America is turning itself into something of an international pariah with its belligerent behaviour towards friends and foes alike. Far from trying to wind up the War on Terrorism, Mr Trump has turned it into an exercise of Pax Americana. More strongly left-wing types would use the word hegemony to describe what they believe America is trying to impose, and perhaps that might yet reach a point where it becomes accurate, but there are rays of hope. Moderate Republicans and Democrats alike are becoming exasperated with Mr Trump and realize America risks alienating large tracts of the international community if it continues down this path.

New Zealand needs to be careful with China. It has invested vast sums of money into this country. It competes with others for the rights to build infrastructure and puts significant effort into building ties with political parties, notably National and A.C.T. This is not a red neck screaming “Yellow Peril!” at the top of his lungs. Nor is it an anti China statement to criticize the Chinese Government, but 2 weeks out from the 30th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and with the Great Fire Wall of China as strong as it has ever been, we need to remember China is not a democracy – it is an authoritarian regime that will hang on to its power using whatever means are necessary.

The election result no one saw coming


Nobody saw it coming: An Australian Liberal Party victory that even stunned its leader, Scott Morrison, who whilst hoping for a miracle, must have been a nervous man throughout Saturday as millions of Australians voted in the Federal Government elections.

I was just as stunned this morning when I read that Australia had returned the Liberal National coalition to office for a third term as I imagine most of the left-wing of Australia’s political spectrum were last night. It reminded me of New Zealand Labour’s slump to their disastrous 2014 defeat against New Zealand National, where Labour barely managed to hold its ground, let alone make inroads into National. In the aftermath of that election Labour leader David Cunliffe found himself walking the gang plank as Labour plunged into another round of blood letting. After a while they settled on giving Andrew Little a go.

It does not look like there will be any of that in this Australian Labor Party. At the same time he was making his concession speech, Labor leader Bill Shorten also announced his resignation as leader of the Party and indicated that he would maintain his seat in Maribyrnong. Already deputy leader Tanya Pilbersek and fellow Labor M.P. Anthony Albanese are lining up as candidates, and with the dust still settling on the election, it is possible that others may yet join.

For Labor and Green party candidates this will have been a horrible night. A night in which, right up to the close of polls Labor had been expected to take office had been snatched from right beneath their feet. Apparently climate change, refugees, Australia’s support of Trump, the Centre Link debacle and the hugely disproportionate spread of wealth across the country are not priorities to Australia. Far better to listen to Peter Dutton rabbiting on about refugees taking Australian jobs and offering nothing but criminal activity appears to be the verdict of Dickson voters.

In some respects though this has actually been a very modest swing to the centre. Shorn of Toxic Tony (Abbott), the Liberals appear to have realized some of their fringe members are a liability. But most of the swing has probably come from the apparent demise of One Nation, a refugee and Aborigine hating, gun loving, climate change denying mob from the Queensland woop woops, led by Pauline Hanson. I guess that is the price paid for having a certain Member of Parliament launch a ferocious and totally uncalled for attack on refugees on the same day 50 were slaughtered at Al Noor mosque in Christchurch. No great loss to see him getting egged by the electorate.

So, in conclusion, much as it pains me to say so, Congratulations must go to Prime Minister-elect Scott Morrison and his Liberal Party who might yet be able to form a government without National assisting. Right through out his time as Prime Minister, even when Labour had opened up a 5-point lead in the two party preferred stakes, Mr Morrison consistently led Mr Shorten in the preferred Prime Minister stakes, sometimes by as much as 9 points. And during the last two months whilst Labor still maintained a lead in the polls, Mr Morrison managed to close the two party preferred to within 2 points of Labor.

Where Mr Morrison goes from here with his Liberal or Liberal/__________ coalition remains to be seen. However, tax cuts are a certainty, as is a deadening lack of progress on Australia’s abomination of a refugee and lack of constructive indigenous policy.

 

 

Australian election 2019: Uninspiring and typically divisive


So, it has come to this. Two uninspiring parties significantly detuned from the Australian electorate are in a near dead heat for what will either be a miraculous third term of the Liberal National Party coalition or the first term of a Labor led Government.  Australian Labor Party led by Bill Shorten is expected to at least maintain its tight grasp on the throat of the Liberal National Party coalition led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as Australia go to the polls on Saturday. But after months of dysfunction and no real change in politics or policies on offer just how enthusiastic are Australians?

Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten does not strike one as all that inspiring. Indeed for much of the last 3 years Mr Shorten has ridden the consistently superior Labor polling in the two party preferred stakes with a margin of anywhere between a dead heat at 50/50 out to 56/44. Yet at the same time Australians desire for his leadership has consistently shown the leader of the Liberal Party to be the preferred Prime Minister.

But what leader(s) was/is that? Over those same three years that Mr his party has been behind in the polls, Australians have clearly and consistently signalled that they want a conservative leaning Prime Minister. The infighting in Labor between former leader and one time Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was a significant and potentially lasting turn off for many Australians, who would have been hoping it would be better remembered for the apology to the Aboriginal people; acknowledging climate change and moves to keep the Australian economy moving along.

Oh yes, that is who it was. A man by the name of Anthony (Tony)Abbott, who denied climate change, thought that Australia started when the British arrived to establish a penal colony, insisted that Nauru and Manus Island Detention Centres were not only legitimate, but also necessary for Australian protection of its borders. His time as Opposition leader was defined as a man with one mission only: destroy however you can, the Government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. So short on ideas was he and his Government, that before the end of the first term, he was gone, replaced by Malcolm Turnbull though never to yet shut up, sniping, barracking and carrying on from the back bench.

Sadly Mr Turnbull was no better and in terms of the treatment of detainees on Nauru and Manus Island, possibly even worse. A weak Prime Minister whose fledgling government barely escaped being confined to the annals of Australian political history, Mr Turnbull has been shunted by his inept Ministers from one disaster to another growing next to it. With crises ranging from extraordinarily expensive combat jets for the Air Force to Centre Link, Pauline Hanson’s ongoing crusade against Aboriginals, Muslims and Chinese, a wad of by elections causing losses at regional and at State level, Mr Turnbull might be quietly looking forward to a bit of quiet time before deciding how and where to end his career having surrendered to Scott Morrison last year.

And then there is Scott Morrison. The treasurer of the Abbott Government appeared to have only tax cuts for the immediate corporations on his mind, with not any thoughts as to how Australia’s governmental services would operate. And after a tenure trying to find ways to cut the taxes instead of looking at which ones work best an A$326 billion debt grows in the background; Member for Dickson and Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton’s paranoid character assassination of detainees

The Liberal National Party coalition managed to fit all of this into 6 years of Government that was childish, polarizing and showed Australia in a decidedly negative light. I imagine it is dreading Saturday, for all of the above reasons and more. But can the untested and consistently less popular Bill Shorten do any better?

Watch this space!