Archive for ‘February, 2012’

Blog Link: A New Containment Policy in the South Pacific

datePosted on 12:23, February 24th, 2012 by Pablo

The latest “Word from Afar” column focuses on revelations that New Zealand is part of an effort to curtail Chinese influence in the South Pacific. How it proposes to do so while reducing its work force by a fifth is another matter.

The lunatics have taken over the asylum. Not only has National adopted an incoherent foreign policy in which it attempts to straddle the fence between China and the US by tying its trade fortunes to the former and its security fortunes to the latter (something that it thinks is hedging but which is untenable given the looming strategic conflict between the two great powers). It has now decided that it can dispense with 305 MFAT employees, including diplomatic staff assigned abroad (as it closes embassies and consulates). This, at a time when global interdependence is increasing and the range of international relations is getting more rather than less complex.

Diplomacy and its support infrastructure are good value for money because the service it provides helps NZ’s position in the world. For the cost of diplomatic and home office salaries, travel, conferencing, housing (abroad) and foreign aid programs, NZ can avoid military entanglements (the costs of which are exponentially higher than diplomatic chit chat), engage in negotiations on matters of national interest (for example, non-proliferation, arms control and climate change), and generally steer a safe course in the turbulent seas of the post 9-11 world. To do so requires personnel with varied skill sets, so reducing the complement of personnel dedicated to diplomatic functions reduces NZ’s capacity to engage its foreign interlocutors on a broad range of issues. Numbers do matter here.

The market zealots of the National razor gang want to cut all perceived public sector fat regardless of consequence. This is like choosing a skinny marathoner to run an Antarctic ice race instead of a distance runner with a sturdier (read thicker) constitution: the short term look may seem impressive, but once the choice is placed into real context it is bound to suffer, likely fail and in the end be more costly to maintain. We have already seen the domestic consequences of such logics. Now we will see them in our international affairs.

Add to this the privatization of NZAID programs in which fostering business opportunities is given priority over human developmental assistance, and what you have is foreign policy debacles in the making.

Of course, the National government may be doing this because it already knows that it is going to lose the next election and does not care if it saddles Labour (or more likely a successor Labour/Green government) with the costs of the diplomatic re-build after McCully and co. have reduced NZ’s diplomatic footprint to that of a child in the sand. But that, in a phrase, captures what National is all about when it comes to foreign policy: a child playing an adult’s game without regard to long-term consequence.

Eventual ratification of the much hyped Trans-Pacific Partnership, should it occur, will not save National from its folly and will in fact exacerbate the tensions between the Chinese and the US. That in turn will have very negative consequences for NZ since it is increasingly dependent on China for trade and on the US/OZ for security. This, with less people employing the skills to smooth over the differences between the two contradictory positions.

Couple the above with the erosion of morale and skill sets within the NZDF as a result of similar cost-cutting measures, and what is left is a shell of NZ’s former international presence. Sometimes the bottom line is not measured in monetary terms but in terms of competence, reputation and committed presence. This is particularly true for international relations, where the belief that NZ punches above its weight in international affairs is being put paid to by National’s incompetence and dogmatism.

In my opinion National has put ideological partisanship ahead of the national interest. If the proposed cuts are more than a bargaining chip, then the only questions left are who will profit from National’s increased privatization and out-sourcing of the country’s international relations and who will pay the price? I suggest that in response to the latter, all Kiwis will pay a price for this decision, including the private interests who may short term profit from National’s grossly myopic and self-interested approach to foreign affairs staffing. Let us remember: most developed states consider foreign policy making and implementation to be an essential and universal function of government not susceptible to narrow partisan logics, precisely because of the long-term common need for diplomatic continuity in a difficult world.

 

Exaggeration as a prosecution strategy.

datePosted on 10:33, February 20th, 2012 by Pablo

Judging from the media coverage of the Urewera 4 trial, including video and audio evidence given by the Crown to the press, the prosecutorial strategy is quite clear. It consists of three interwoven strands that together offer a narrative about politically-motivated armed criminal conspiracy. The first is to say that the activities depicted in the evidence were serious military-style (paramilitary) training. The second is to characterize the exercises as, in the words of the Crown Prosecutor, “training for…guerrilla warfare,” something that implies a target and an objective. The third is to claim that this training constituted a clear and present danger to the New Zealand public, or at least to the political elite who the defendants in the alleged conspiracy commonly oppose. Although the usual sub judice protocols are said to be in place, selective  leaking of the video and audio tapes (whose legality is in dispute) helps the Crown backdrop its case, in a form of trial by media in which there is no right to rebuttal. The release of the audio and video evidence was done for prejudicial reasons, not because the Crown had to.

The problem for the Crown is that the video and audio evidence covertly collected by the Police suggest something less than dangerous proficiency on the part of Tame Iti and his activist comrades. There is no doubt that the camps had a paramilitary flavor to them. So do hunting camps, paintball competitions, male-bonding sessions and survivalist exercises. More tellingly, the video shows rank amateurism and indifferent commitment by the people involved.  As an example, Omar Hamed, an original defendant who is not on trial, is seen in close up video coverage looking like an excited 12 year old with his first rabbit hunting.22 (which was the actual weapon he was holding) as he stares directly but obliviously at a surveillance camera a meter away (which suggests a lack of situational awareness given that the Police claim that Mr. Iti repeatedly warned his activist colleagues to beware of “eyes and ears” on their activities). His pea shooter may or may not have been loaded. Mr Iti’s concerns, as it turns out, were justified.

In the video some people march purposefully and some shuffle listlessly and mill about while others converse and apparently shoot at unspecified targets. Some give instructions. Some wear balaclavas. A car bonnet is used to prop up a shot. There is rudimentary martial arts training seen in the video, but it is farcical given the skills of the people involved (in a creepy sidebar with relevance to this aspect, it is suggested in some quarters that Mr. Hamed is more dangerous to activist Left women than he is to the status quo). Audio of cluster fire (cluster fire is the overlapping of multiple shots from several weapons in order to saturate a target area) does not identify who was doing it or what they were shooting at, and the presence of spent cartridges under a pock-marked tree tells little in light of the amount of hunting that occurs in the Ureweras.

Frankly, I would be more concerned if the videos showed the activists on a boar hunt, slitting the throats of piglets while yelling “death to imperialism!” The activities shown are far from that and much more about make believe. From what I have seen, the NZ public have little to worry about from this crowd.

As I have said before, it is not a good look for anti-war, Maori and environmental activists to be playing at commando. But it is not a crime to do so–many other people do–so the prosecution’s case is built on a grand exaggeration. It attempts to show a level of competence, organization and training focus to the paramilitary exercises that simply was not there. If anything, the video evidence is an embarrassment to those in them, whether or not they had a political motive for being at the camps. That is curious because neo-Nazi groups do the same type of “training” with a better (yet pathetic) level of competence and a definite, publicly stated political goal of preparing for racial conflict, yet somehow have avoided being the subject of a Ruatoki-style Police response and four year Crown prosecution.

The Crown exaggerates its case not only to secure convictions but also to smear and deter. Mentioning the phrase “guerrilla warfare” indirectly introduces the word terrorism into the juries’ minds. By overlapping the two concepts the prosecution smears a certain type of Left activism with the dreaded “T” word. Even those not on trial–we should remember that all charges were dropped against  13 defendants–are tainted by their association with that word even though no formal charges of terrorism have been laid against any of them. The purpose of raising the specter of guerrillas in our midst is clearly to smear the defendants, but also to deter others on the Left who might wish to add paramilitary skills to their activist inventory.

The Crown imputes coherent motive to the defendants when it speaks of guerrilla warfare. It claims that it has evidence of such. But even if a common motive was established (perhaps hatred of “Da Man”), the inference is that this motive was focused on preparing to use armed violence against specific targets in pursuit of a unified goal. That is a stretch, not only because of the varied causes that the original group of defendants espoused, but also because of the clearly different levels of enthusiasm and combat skills they exhibit, none of which come remotely close to credible guerrilla organization and tactics.

Thus, from what the press coverage has been so far, the Crown prosecution of the Urewera 4 is much ado about nothing. The process is the punishment, because after four plus years of uncertainty, expense and de facto restrictions on their movements (some of the original defendants have been refused entry to foreign countries, which means that their names are on an international security list very likely provided by the NZ authorities), those on trial today, their Urewera colleagues and others on the activist Left (since the neo-Nazi Right appears to be immune) will think twice about making like Warriors even if this trial results in acquittals (the most likely case for conviction will be firearms law violations). Regardless of the outcome of the trial, in that regard the Crown prosecutors and the Labour and National governments that have overseen them will have won. Engaging in procedural delays, legal manipulation of charges and prosecutorial exaggeration is a successful Crown strategy regardless of the formal outcome.

That is the most troubling aspect of the entire affair. By stretching the definition of what constitutes a serious threat of domestic guerrilla warfare in order to prosecute a well-known group of Left-leaning fantasists (who may or may not have had wanna-be militant ambitions), in what appears to be a specifically targeted vendetta, the Crown has played loose with the basic rules of democratic jurisprudence. In doing so fairness and justice in the legal system has been sacrificed at the alter of political opportunity, which is a far worse outcome than the individual fates of the accused.

There may be new and alarming revelations to come that would substantiate the Crown’s case against the Urewera 4. But from where I sit, using what is currently in the public domain, this appears to be a prosecution based on malice, not facts.

 

Blog envy or blog petty? Corrected Version.

datePosted on 17:18, February 15th, 2012 by Pablo

A fellow named Andrew Geddis posted on another NZ blog a post about electoral reform in which he takes a swipe at KP for not having “dirt under its fingernails.” I do not know this fellow, and he certainly does not know me. Nor does he seem to know that KP is a collective, not an individual effort.

I take it that he believes that KP (whether singular or plural) does not practice what it preaches, as if KP was some sort of effete armchair intellectual circle jerk that is not grounded in real life praxis or any experience with real politics. In a word, he appears to think that KP is all bluster and no substance.

I cannot speak for the other KP members but I know them and can say with some confidence that we, collectively and individually have, are and/or will continue to engage in real politics as well as in political discussion and debate. My experience was mainly in US government service of one sort or another as well as academia (teaching aspects of politics), and after I came to NZ, in voluntarilly helping in the defense of Ahmed Zaoui  and the Urewera 18 against scurrilous charges of terrorism, among other things academic and not.

I am therefore somewhat perplexed by Mr. Geddis’s negative mention of KP. Does he have a beef with one of us? Is there some history I am unaware of? Otherwise I am at a loss to explain what in any event appears to be an unprovoked jibe that has no basis in fact.

Can anyone illuminate me as to what might be going on?

Update:  As several readers including Andrew himself have pointed out, the remark that I found untoward was in fact a joke. As I said in the comments, that pretty much confirms that I am humorless, or at least thin-skinned where KP’s integrity and “grounding” is concerned. I apologise to Andrew for misconstruing his words. What is interesting, once again, is that in contrast to more thoughtful posts, this post on a trivial matter enjoyed a strong upward spike in page views. I guess even reasoned people like to read about unreasonable silliness.

Russia and China True to Form.

datePosted on 11:58, February 6th, 2012 by Pablo

The double veto cast by Russia and China against the UN Security Resolution condemning the Syrian regime’s repression against unarmed civilians and calling for Bashar Assad to step down in favor of a coalition government harks back to the obstructionist logics of the Cold War. Besides confirming the ingrained authoritarian ethos in both countries (an ethos that does not see human rights as universal values but as contextually constructed), the blocking of the resolution stems from a mix of realist and idealist perceptions.

The idealist perceptions are rooted in the principles of non-interference and sovereignty. Russia and China argue that the UN’s actions amount to externally-forced regime change. That would be true. In their view the right to self-determination, no matter what brutality is evident in a regime’s behavior, is more important than the defense of unarmed populations against the depredations of their rulers. Dating back to the Treaty of Westphalia, sovereignty is the founding principle of the modern nation-state system, and other than as a result of a declared state of war it is illegitimate to attempt to externally impose a political outcome on a sovereign state (exceptions to the rule notwithstanding).

Russia and China are well aware that in recent years the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine has been formalised as part of the UN mandate. R2P states that the international community must act, with force if necessary, to protect vulnerable populations from state violence or in the face of state unwillingness or incapacity to prevent atrocities committed against innocents.  The genocide in Rwanda was the catalyst for the R2P and it has been invoked in the Sudan and Somalia, among other recent cases.

Most importantly, R2P was invoked in UNSC resolution 1973 authorizing the use of external military force in Libya. Starting out under the pretext of protecting Libyan civilians from military assaults by the Gaddafi regime, it morphed from enforcing a no-fly zone to arming and advising anti-Gaddafi forces on the ground in pursuit of regime change. The Russians and Chinese had flagged this surreptitiously planned mission creep from the onset, and had warned that misuse of the R2P to justify armed intervention against a sovereign state government would set a bad precedent.

That is the precedent now being applied to Syria. The Russians and Chinese know full well that external intervention in Syria in pursuit of regime change is on the cards, using R2P as the justification. They also know that military intervention in Syria, should it come, has nothing to do with protecting innocents and all to do with the geopolitical balance in the Levant.

That is where realism enters the equation. China and Russia are partners of Iran. Iran is the Assad’s regime’s closest ally. Under Assad Syria has facilitated the extension of Iranian influence in Lebanon and Gaza by providing land routes for the provision of Iranian weapons, money and advisors to Hezbollah and Hamas. Should the minority Allawite Assad regime fall to a Sunni-majority coalition, then Iran will likely see its influence curtailed significantly, which in turn places Hamas and Hezbollah at greater risk from their enemies (Israel in particular). Moreover, Russia has a military base in Syria and has long been a strong military ally of the Assads. Taken together with Chinese and Russian diplomatic and commercial ties to Tehran, the Assad regime’s forced demise could spell trouble. It will remove a source of Russian influence in the MIddle East. Amid all the sabre-rattling about Iran’s nuclear weapons program, it will leave Iran feeling more vulnerable, at least in its own eyes, to Western machinations and internal subversion at home. This not only increases the risk of war but diminishes China and Russia’s ability to act as negotiators between Tehran and the West. Thus the fall of Assad means a diminution of their respective influence in that part of the world.

Thus, by standing on principle (non-intervention in sovereign states), Moscow and Beijing are protecting their geopolitical interests, and their relationship with Iran in particular. It may seem callous for them to do so in what increasingly looks like a civil war between the Assad regime and its people, but it is also in their short-term interest to do so. By holding their UNSC veto power, they can exercise leverage in pursuit of a more favorable accommodation that, if it does not allow Assad to remain in power, does protect their respective spheres of influence in the Middle East.

That is what is behind the double veto. In the absence of universal values and standards in the global community (due to the so-called anarchic state of nature that all realists perceive as the founding principle of international relations), the matter boils down to national interest and the exercise of power in pursuit of it. As such, Russia and China are just doing what they have to do to ensure an outcome more favorable to their respective interests, and by that logic humanitarian appeals and the invocation of the R2P simply have no place as either genuine concerns or as ruses designed to camouflage external meddling in Syrian affairs.

Sad but true.