Opinion: NZ's 'independent' foreign policy is a myth


If there is one thing that politicians love to spout it is the notion that New Zealand has what is termed an “independent” foreign policy. 

By independent, they really mean independent of the United States and, to a slightly lesser extent, the United Kingdom.

That definition also implies that freeing New Zealand from the yoke of Washington means that policy is one that is highly principled.

It is a notion that politicians will keep spouting — especially those seeking office in September's general election — because there is sizeable domestic audience gullible enough to believe it is true or wants to believe it is true.

Source: 1 NEWS

That audience clings to the delusion of independence as the outcome of the country’s adoption of the anti-nuclear policy in the 1980s and the United States’ consequent cutting of defence and intelligence ties.

The politicians wimped out, however. Making independence the modus operandi for operating foreign policy was too scary. And likely too costly. 

Take one example. As a trading nation, New Zealand’s prosperity is contingent on long-established shipping routes remaining open to all.

The only guarantee of that continuing is the latent power of the United States Navy. Just witness last week’s highly provocative “freedom of navigation exercise” conducted by an American destroyer which sailed within 12 miles of a disputed island in the South China Sea claimed by China.

The exercise incurred Beijing’s wrath. It was as much a reminder to other countries, however, that relying on the Americans to ensure international maritime rules continue to apply in the increasingly turbulent waters of the South China Sea requires those countries to pay their defence dues elsewhere. 

Mr Brownlee's first task will be dealing with a nuclear North Korea as Bill English rejigs his Cabinet.
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That is one reason why New Zealand has military personnel training  troops in Iraq.

The idea that New Zealand has an independent foreign policy is thus a myth pure and simple.

The awkward truth is that even before New Zealand politicians had thumbed their nose at Washington by writing the anti-nuclear policy into law in 1987, they were endeavouring to thumb a largely free ride on the American military machine.  

The continuing hypocrisy was exposed in stark fashion by the weak stance New Zealand took on a resolution debated by the United Nations General Assembly two weeks ago.

That stance has largely escaped public attention. The National Party should be grateful for that.

The motion was the latest in a string of attempts to secure justice for the former inhabitants of Diego Garcia, a small atoll in the Indian Ocean. 

Part of the Chagos Islands archipelago, Diego Garcia is in the middle of nowhere.

That inevitably meant it would be the focus of conspiracy theories surrounding the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. There have been weird and wild claims that the Americans shot down the off-course aircraft for fear it was about  to mount a terrorist attack on what, unknown to most people, is one of the United States’ biggest military bases.

No conspiracy theory comes close to matching the awful truth of how that base came into being, however.

That was back in 1966. In one of the most disgraceful episodes in British colonial history, the 2000 or so inhabitants of the atoll were herded on to a cargo ship and transported more than 2100km to Mauritius, never to see their homeland again.

They were the expendable commodity in a deal under which the British leased the atoll to the Americans in return for a discount on the purchase of American-made submarine-launched Polaris ballistic missiles.

It was theft pure and simple. It was theft made more sickening by the fact it was carried out by two supposed bastions of democracy.

Fast forwarding to 2017, Britain made it very clear it would ignore the outcome of the vote on the Mauritius-sponsored resolution placed before the General Assembly.

That was despite the motion merely seeking a non-binding advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the legal status of the archipelago.

In what has been described as testament to the poor diplomatic skills of Boris Johnson, Britain’s blowhard foreign secretary, the resolution was adopted by 94 votes in favour, with 65 abstentions. 

Britain's Foreign Secretary accused key ally Saudi Arabia of fighting what he called "proxy wars".
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Only 15 countries voted against the resolution. New Zealand was one of them. According to notes of the debate compiled by UN officials, New Zealand said the issue “should be resolved at the bilateral level”.

That was exact same line taken by Britain which declared that it would not consent to a bilateral dispute being submitted for judicial settlement.

Given decades have passed without any discernible progress in resolving the dispute on such a basis, Britain’s argument was spurious.

In siding with Britain, New Zealand has made a mockery of its longtime championing of the United Nations as the forum for resolving international disputes.

It has made a nonsense of its insistence that countries comply with international law — and that nations who consider they have suffered harm from a breach in that legal fabric ought to be able to seek redress at the International Court of Justice.

So much for New Zealand’s upholding of human rights as a major foreign policy objective.

So much for the claim that New Zealand punches way above its weight in an international context. 

It adds a whole new meaning to the word “lickspittle”.

But New Zealand’s backing of a morally bankrupt British policy is no great surprise. Backing the resolution would not have helped this country’s efforts to secure a free-trade arrangement with the United Kingdom once that country is out of Europe.

It might be argued that New Zealand’s membership of the Five Eyes intelligence-gathering network was a major factor in determining which way it voted.

If that was the case, New Zealand could have followed Canada’s example and abstained. That might well have been viewed by the British as just as bad as supporting the resolution, however.

It can be argued that it is wrong to draw conclusions about the direction of a country’s foreign policy from a single vote at the United Nations.

Maybe. But the vote followed Gerry Brownlee’s capitulation to Israel’s bullying following New Zealand’s co-sponsorship of a United Nations Security Council resolution last December criticising the expansion of Jewish settlements into Palestinian territory.

Israel retaliated by withdrawing its ambassador and putting a freeze on all bilateral engagement with New Zealand.

Briefing papers show this country’s new foreign minister was following the advice of his Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials.

They identified Israel as what it called an “early visibility” issue for their new minister and urged him to shift the relationship “back into a more normal space”.

That advice is the sound of a mouse which once roared its independence on the back of its anti-nuclear policy even if that was a pretence.

When it comes to injecting moral fibre into its diplomacy, New Zealand can now barely raise a squeak.

Maybe Brownlee ought to be congratulated for being honest and exposing the myth of independence for what it is.

Maybe he is wise in recognising that the New World Order is increasingly and most worryingly a New World Disorder. 

In such an uncertain geopolitical environment, Brownlee’s seeking of safe haven in the harbour of collective security makes sense.

But try telling that to the Palestinians and the Chagossians — as the former inhabitants of Diego Garcia call themselves.

Who is next in line to be sacrificed for New Zealand’s self-interest?

Brownlee has been New Zealand’s foreign minister for all of two months. For those who want to believe New Zealand still has an independent foreign policy, his tenure has been two months too long.

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