From a principled but pragmatic to a pandering approach to foreign policy.
Posted on 17:11, June 27th, 2010 by Pablo
My latest article on New Zealand foreign policy after the Cold War has appeared in Political Science Quarterly. Unfortunately the article is behind a pay wall but there is a synopsis that outlines its basic thrust (copyright provisions prevent me from reproducing it here). In the essay I examine the economic, diplomatic and military threads of New Zealand foreign policy after 1990, arguing that New Zealand has combined realist, idealist and constructivist approaches in a “principled but pragmatic” foreign policy that has allowed it to punch above its weight in international affairs. The reason for that was because the principled but pragmatic foreign policy gave New Zealand diplomatic autonomy and independence even as it maintained traditional alliances and UN commitments while forging new foreign relations. That provided NZ with room for policy maneuver and an international role uncommon to small states. Since the article is in a refereed professional journal there is a fair bit of theoretical discussion and conceptual framing, but for the lay reader the important thing to note is that by the end of the 1990s and some minor differences notwithstanding, this broad approach to foreign policy was shared by Labour and National alike, something that gave consistency, continuity and respect to New Zealand’s international endeavours.
Not any more. Over the last year it has become apparent that National has de-emphasised, if not abandoned the idealist and constructivist strands of post Cold War foreign policy, and has replaced true realism with what can only be characterised as a pandering approach to international affairs. The latter is characterised by obsequious solicitation of larger states in pursuit of material favours, no matter how unsavory the regime, unhappy the involvement or demeaning of Kiwi notions of democracy, universal human rights and international peace that approach may be. Be it the shifting rationale for having NZDF troops in Afghanistan (and shifting assessments of their chance of success), trade deals with Arab oligarchies and Asian despots, reorienting NZ aid programs towards cronyistic business ventures, the failure to pursue justice over the sinking of the NZ-flagged Ady Gill (and the illegal arrest and trial of its skipper), or in John Key personally apologising to the PRC for Russell Norman’s antics at parliament during a visit by the Chinese vice president, it appears that the National government will bend as far over as it can to accommodate the desires of its foreign patrons, even if at the expense of its hard won reputation in the international arena. Career diplomats must be shaking their heads in disbelief as they see New Zealand’s image as an honest international broker and independent global citizen tarnished by this pandering, solicitous approach to foreign affairs.
To put things bluntly: After a long history of of conducting itself with dignity and autonomy on the international stage, New Zealand has become just another cheap trick on the boulevard of small states. Like the difference between house call escorts and street hookers, the difference between National’s foreign policy and that of small island states that exchange their votes for cash and credit in the International Whaling Commission is one of degree, not substance. That is a shame, and quite shameful. After all, a reputation built over decades can be ruined in days due to impaired judgement, narrow self-interest and opportunistic alignment. When it comes to foreign affairs, National appears to be saddled with all three vices.
The question is whether the damage it is doing to New Zealand’s international reputation will outlive National’s hold on government. One can only hope that MFAT is working hard to ensure that it does not.