Principled or Pragmatic?

datePosted on 14:23, February 7th, 2009 by Pablo

New Zealand is said to have a “principled and pragmatic” foreign policy. In fact, it is considered a model for small state participation in world affairs. Its support for UN peacekeeping, its role in the non-proliferation regime, its pursuit of open trade, its championing of international human rights and its advocacy of environmental protection are considered exemplary forms of small state behaviour on the global scene. But is New Zealand really following principles when it engages the world?

In spite of its human rights rhetoric, New Zealand actively trades with a host of authoritarian regimes without preconditions or qualifiers. Such trade partners include Iran, Kuwait, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Brunei, Singapore and of course the PRC. Its FTAs with the PRC and the authoritarian partners of the P4 trade bloc have no “after entry” provisions regarding labour rights, working conditions, child labor restrictions etc. That is the general rule. Rather than upholding international labor standards and other human rights baselines when promoting trade relationships, it appears that New Zealand abandons them entirely because it is seen as “bad for business.”

A similar situation holds true in the security field. Although New Zealand publicly trumpets its “blue-helmet” deployments in conflicts zones such as South Lebanon, the Sinai and Bosnia,  it quietly operates with a range of foreign security agencies whose records are less than clean. That includes close cooperation with French intelligence, the perpetrators of the Rainbow Warrior bombing and manufacturers of  false intelligence against Ahmed Zaoui; close military-to-military contact with Singapore; development of military-to-military contacts with the PRC, and ongoing intelligence cooperation on and service with US, Australian and UK military units in conflict zones in which NZ has publicly opposed the stance of its larger partners.

As for the NPT, climate change regime and international peacekeeping, perhaps the reasons for participation are less due to principle than to self-interest. Reducing the amount of WMD in the world reduces the potential for catastrophic confrontations and incidental fall-out, contamination and the like. From a self-interested perspective, the less the possibility of adversaries resorting to WMD, the more the possibility of conflict resolution short of total war. Likewise, if one subscribes to the view that climate change is dangerous to humanity, and that humans are major contributors to climate change, that is, climate change is a universal bad caused by people, then it is in New Zealand’s interest to help lead the charge against global warming, CFCs, rising sea levels etc.  In parallel, participation in international peacekeeping can be seen as a form of insurance policy should NZ ever come under attack and its traditional allies are either involved or unwilling to come to its defence. Small states have a vested interest in multinational peacekeeping and defense simply because they are unilaterally vulnerable to the depredations of larger states. In the fluid international environment that is the post-Cold War era, where new powers are emerging, old powers are in decline, and pre-modern ideological conflicts have re-surfaced with a post-modern vengeance (and high tech weaponry), deploying on UN or regional multinational security missions is a self-interested hedge against the uncertainties of the moment. This includes participation in peacekeeping and policing within the southwestern Pacific, as instability and the threat of state failure in places like the Solomons and New Guinea (and further afield, Samoa and Tonga) are believed to invite the unwanted attention of outside powers and criminal organisations as well as spark refugee flows, cross-border tensions and increased levels of violence region-wide. Rather than principle, it could be that pragmatic assessments of longer-term consequences are what drives New Zealand’s approach to these issue-areas.

Labour is believed to be more idealist-principled in its foreign policy approach, whereas National is believed to be more realist-pragmatic. The irony is that other than the (now resolved) disputes over the antinuclear policy, Iraq invasion and dismantling of the tactical air wing, both major parties have, since the late 1990s, tacitly agreed on the overall thrust of New Zealand’s foreign affairs. The bottom line is that pragmatism governs approaches to self-perceived “core” interests, while principle is left to “peripheral” (rhetorical?)interests not essential to national survival and prosperity. Put anther way, the tacit bargain between Labour and National on foreign policy is to never let principle get in the way of pragmatic opportunity or necessity when it comes to international relations.

Families: picking favourites

datePosted on 06:00, February 7th, 2009 by Anita

Many of you will have already seen this beauty doing the rounds, but if you haven’t it’s worth a viewing

“Fidelity”: Don’t Divorce… from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

It reminded me a little about the power we give the state by allowing it to make the rules about our relationships. But far more strongly it made me think of the way the moral right wants to pick favourites amongst our families; it wants to say those families in the video are less good than het families.

Why does a lobby that argues so strongly against state interference in families simultaneously argue that the state should get to pick which families are better than others?

Waitangi 2009. Do we need a national identity anyway?

datePosted on 19:52, February 6th, 2009 by Jafapete

Today’s the day that we tend to reflect on New Zealand/Aotearoa as a nation: its foundations, its continuing tensions, and the possibilities and threats that lie in its future.

So I was interested in the “Waitangi Eve” discussion at the War Memorial Museum last night, featuring Sir Paul Reeves, Moana Maniapoto and others as part of a must-attend series featuring music and debate.

Because, you see, I’m not entirely convinced that we need a “national identity”, except maybe to inspire creative endeavours. After all, don’t we live in a globalised world? Arguably, the concept of the nation state dates from the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, and now it seems so twentieth century. And just look at all the trouble nationalism has caused. Wouldn’t we be better off without it? (Who wants to be like the hyper-nationalistic Aussies, anyway?)

I should admit that for many years I was ambivalent about my “New Zealandness.” Hardly surprising, since I was born in London, and my Waikato farming cousins gave me a hard time as I was growing up in the 1970s for being a “whinging Pom.”

Never mind that our mutual ancestors had mostly arrived here in the 19th century, as far back as 1842. Never mind that, having no memories of Merrie Olde England, I could hardly make any comparisons with NZ. Who’d want to belong to such a dull, narrow-minded, backwater?

But it shaped me, too. When I eventually got to London, I discovered that I am a stranger in the city of my birth. Like so many in this century, I am not entirely at home anywhere. But I am most at home at the bottom of the South Pacific. I have come to think of myself as an “Anglo-Kiwi.”

Back to the museum. Sir Paul noted, I think, how apt was the location of the discussion: in the magnificent Maori Hall, encased as it is in the Grecian-Roman colonial monstrosity that is the Museum. Moana Maniapoto provided one of the real insights of the evening. This quest for national identity, she said, is a Pakeha thing. True, how true.

For the past decade, the quest has been led by Helen Clark, who made it a very personal quest, with pilgrimages to Gallipoli and so on. The linkages with creative endeavours are clear, especially to those in the arts community. And a shared national identity may help us to find a way to get along as “one nation, many peoples.” The putative linkages with economic progress I’m less than convinced about.

I’m more concerned that national identity is often used to conceal the very real differences between the haves and the have nots in society. Look at the U.S.A. And gives way to mindless patriotism, all too easily exploited, especially by the right. Look at the Patriot Act.

If we are going to forge a national identity, let it be considered and thoughtful, not like some others. And let it be based on that traditional value that marked our shared (Pakeha, at least) value of the past that deserves to be reprised: a concern for other New Zealanders.

Kiwipolitico’s January

datePosted on 14:44, February 6th, 2009 by Jafapete

Kiwipolitico readers and commenters will know that this blog has quickly established itself as a platform for considered debate about issues of concern to informed kiwis. This is what it’s all about, and it has been very gratifying for those of us posting to see the generally very positive response and constructive tone of discussion.

For a more precise picture, we have some stats. The wordpress blog stats tell us that we had 23,502 views in January. It took jafapete’s weblog months to reach that level of traffic, when it got into the Tumeke top 20.
We didn’t have a proper stat counter operating until 16 January, and can report that over the period 16—31 January unique visits averaged 293. According to the wordpress stat counter, the number of views in the second half of January was about the same as the second half, so the figure is close to what we would have seen for the month as a whole.
Calculating Tumeke’s score most probably places us in the top 20 for January!

290 + 19 + 14.5 + 80 = 403.5
Average daily unique visits = 290
Technorati “Authority” = 19
Average posts per week: 58 ÷ 4 = 14.5
Average comments of top 4 commented posts (96 + 84 + 75 + 66) = 80

Section 71 of the Coroner’s Act prevents the media using the phrase “the death is suspected to be suicide” and instead requires the media to use euphemisms. I have heard two explanations for the restriction – preventing additional suicides and respect for the family – neither hold water because we permit overt reporting of suicides providing that the conventional euphemisms are used. It’s not even necessary to canvas the dubious argument that reporting cases of suicide may inspire other suicides, because the reality is that suicide cases are reported on and everyone knows it. 

Media organisations have argued against the restriction for years on the grounds that it unnecessarily restricts press freedom. I’d also like to add the argument that it reinforces a culture of shame and secrecy for families dealing with the pain of suicide – a truly awful experience only compounded by the message from society that we must not speak of it.

Suicide must be reported on respectfully, it must not be sensationalised and the media must respect the pain of the family and friends. The Coroners Act does not require any of those, all is asks is that media use well recognised euphemisms.

Meaningful referenda

datePosted on 06:00, February 5th, 2009 by Anita

Later this year we will have the opportunity to vote on a referendum asking:

Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in NZ?

There are two pretty serious problems with the question. Firstly, it has rolled two ideas together but we only have one vote. What say I believe one should not criminalise good parenting (“No” to the explicit question) but I believe that smacking is not good parenting and should be criminalised (“Yes” to the implicit question)?

Secondly, if the referenda succeeds what should the government do? The referenda is intended to be about repealing the current section 59 and replacing it with an explicit permission to use physical discipline for correction, but that’s not what it says. The government would be entirely justified in saying that the law as it stands is not criminalising good parents.

So we have a question that is not straightforward to answer and which doesn’t actually say what it wants.

I believe we should change the process for setting the question for referenda so that they are clear simple questions which provide an unambiguous direction to government. This probably means groups providing a description of the issue as well as possible questions if they wish then the Office of the Clerk getting the possible questions checked or new questions drafted so that the group can be given a choice of questions which are simple, clear and directive.

RfP: Electoral systems

datePosted on 14:56, February 4th, 2009 by Anita

National has promised us a pair of referenda over the next 5-ish years on whether to retain MMP or move to a non-proportional system.

Many of us have strong feelings about how our system should word: proportional or not, electorates or not, how much parties should have, and so on. So this is a request for posts, would you like a chance to put up your opinions for discussion? 

If you’re interested please email us at or put a comment onto this post.

And with further ado I’ll put up our first post in the series. Many thanks to Ari for kicking this off with the first of two posts arguing for open lists.

Why would someone give $100,000 to a political party? Because they know that money makes a difference in politics, even if they don’t want a personal pay back, they believe that the money will help the party advance its agenda. 

One of the principles of democracy is described as “one person one vote”, which is to say each voter should have equal influence. If money can help buy a party influence, then the amount of money each person can given to political parties should be equal. This requires capping political donations to a level everyone can afford, which is going to be pretty low.

The usual counter argument is that I’m suggesting restricting free speech, but I’m not. Everyone can speak as often as an loud and as enthusiastically as before, what they can’t do is buy political influence: that’s not free speech.

Principle III: equal money for equal influence – individual’s donations to political parties should be capped at a level every voter can afford.

RMA – National’s changes will go to Select Committee

datePosted on 17:44, February 3rd, 2009 by Anita

Well the broad outline of the changes has been announced, and it’s looks pretty ugly for both sustainability and community involvement, so no surprises there.

On the plus side, firstly and this is a huge plus given National’s behaviour last year, the changes will go to Select Committee. Last year’s arrogant undemocratic practice of major changes without public consultation might, hopefully, be over. That said whether the committee will listen to the public remains a pretty big question.

Second good news, again genuinely good, according to the Greens’ analysis the ludicrous loophole allowing the Crown to breach consent conditions and preventing Councils from stopping them looks like it will go.

Other than that… it looks like we’re trading community voices and a sustainable future for a chance to pave our way out of a global recession.

P.S. As usual the best analysis is over at No Right Turn

A secular state is not an atheist state

datePosted on 06:00, February 3rd, 2009 by Anita

Like most New Zealanders I believe in a secular state, like most New Zealanders I have religious faith.

A secular state is one which does not privilege one set of religious beliefs above another, and in which religious institutions do not control its affairs. Yet more and more often I hear our state described as if it should be an atheist one – one where religious belief is not permitted to influence policy or action.

When people spoke out for and against section 59 from a position of faith their views were real and deserved to be heard and valued, not dismissed or ridiculed as religious.

When I argue against genetic engineering from a faith based position (humans have no right to alter the fundamental building blocks of other species) my view is real and deserves to be heard and taken into account.

When people speak out against a development from a position founded in spiritual beliefs their view is real and deserves to be heard and taken into account.

There are two reasons that our secular state must taken into account views that are founded in faith. This first is that our society was built on Christian principles and they remain entwined in our morality today, denying those foundations in faith would leave us unable to examine them. Secondly, the majority of the people who make up this country do have strong personal belief – ranging from Catholicism, to atheism, to Buddhism – when we speak the state must listen to our whole voice.

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