Media Link: To the point on NZ and IS.

We already know that John Key dissembles and misleads, especially on matters of security and intelligence. NZ is soon to put troops into Iraq as part of the effort to roll the Islamic Sate (Isis is an Arabic girl’s name) out of that country. For whatever reason Mr. Key will not admit to this even after the British Foreign Secretary mentioned that the NZ contribution will be a company sized (“100 odd” in his words) detachment.

The evidence of military preparation is very clear, with an especially selected infantry company training for desert warfare at Waiouru over the past few months and a detachment of SAS soldiers rumored to be already in theatre. The US and other anti-IS coalition partners have announced preparations for a Northern spring offensive against IS, centred around taking back Mosul from the jihadists.  The decision to launch the offensive and the division of labor involving participating ground forces was made at the working meeting of coalition military chiefs in Washington DC last October (the chief of the NZDF attended the meeting although at the time Mr. Key said no decision had been made to send troops). Since the NZDF cannot contribute combat aircraft, armour or even heavy lift assets, it is left for the infantry to join the fray, most likely with a fair share of combat medics and engineers.

With his misrepresentations  John Key only obscures the real issue. New Zealand has no option but to join the anti-IS coalition (which he has said is the price for being in “the club”) given the international commitments it has already made.

There are three specific reasons why NZ has to join the fight, two practical and one principled.

The practical reasons are simple: First, NZ’s major security allies, the US, UK and Australia, are all involved as are France, Germany and others. After the signing of the Wellington and Washington security agreements, NZ became a first tier security partner of the US, and as is known, it is an integral member of the 5 Eyes signals intelligence network. It therefore cannot renege on its security alliance commitments without a serious loss of credibility and trust from the countries upon which it is most dependent for its own security.

Secondly, most of New Zealand’s primary diplomatic and trading partners, including those in the Middle East, are involved in the anti-IS coalition. Having just secured a UN Security Council temporary seat at a time when the UN has repeatedly issued condemnations of IS, and having campaigned in part on breaking the logjam in the UNSC caused by repeated use of the veto by the 5 permanent members on issues on which they disagree (such as the civil war in Syria), NZ must back up its rhetoric and reinforce its diplomatic and trade relations by committing to the multinational effort to defeat IS. Refusing to do so in the face of requests from these partners jeopardises the non-military relationships with them.

The third reason is a matter of principle and it is surprising that the government has not made more of it as a justification for involvement. After the Rwandan genocide an international doctrine known as the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) was agreed by UN convention to prevent future horrors of that sort. It basically states that if a defenceless population is being subject to the depredations of its own government, or if the home government cannot defend the population from the depredations of others, then the international community is compelled to use whatever means, including armed force, to prevent ongoing atrocities from occurring. There can be no doubt that is the situation in parts of Iraq and Syria at the moment. Neither the Assad regime or the Iraqi government can defend minority communities such as Kurds or Yazidis, or even non-compliant Sunnis, from the wrath of IS.

That, more than any other reason, is why NZ must join the fight. As an international good citizen that has signed up to the R2P, NZ is committed in principle to the defense of vulnerable others.

So why have the Greens, NZ First and Labour (or at least Andrew Little) opposed the move?

The Greens are true to form with their pacifist and non-interventionist stance, but they are ignoring the matter of international principle at stake. NZ First is its usual isolationist self, acting blissfully unaware of the interlocking web of international networks and commitments that allow NZ to maintain its standard of living and international reputation (in spite of having Ron Mark to speak to military issues).

Most of all, why has Andrew Little run his mouth about reneging on the NZDF contribution to the anti-IS coalition (which involves formal and time-constrained commitments)? Little has previous form in displaying ignorance of international affairs, but this level of hypocrisy takes the cake. Does he not remember that the 5th Labour government started the rapprochement with the US after 9/11, and that it was the 5th Labour government that initially deceived and misled about the real nature of the SAS role in Afghanistan as well as  the true nature of the mission in Southern Iraq (which is widely believed to have involved more than a company of military engineers). Is he not aware that a responsible country does not walk away from the security alliance, diplomatic and trade commitments mentioned above? Did he not consult with Helen Clark, Phil Goff or David Shearer before this brain fart (or did they gave him the rope on which to hang himself)? Does he really believe, or expect the informed public to believe, that on defense, security and intelligence issues Labour in 2015 is really that different from National? If so, it is he, not us, who is deluded.

All this shows is that Labour is still unfit to govern, or at least Little is not. If he does not understand the core principles governing international relations and foreign affairs, or if he chooses to ignore them in favour of scoring cheap political points, then he simply is unsuited to lead NZ before the international community. There is a big difference between being a political party leader and being a statesman. It is clear that John Key is no statesman, but his glib and jocular nature gives him the benefit of international respect so long as he backs up his talk with the appropriate walk. By comparison, Andrew Little comes off as some provincial rube who cannot see further than the nearest bend in the road.

Whether we like it or not–and there are plenty of things not to like about getting involved in what could become another military morass in the Middle East–NZ has an obligation to get involved in the fight against IS. The obligation stems not just from the particular disposition of this National government but from years of carefully crafted international ties under successive governments that give practical as well as principled reasons for involvement. Andrew Little should know that, and the Greens and NZ First need to understand that this is not about belonging to some exclusive “club” but about being a responsible global citizen responding to the multinational call for help in the face of a clear and present danger to the international community. Because if IS is not a clearly identifiable evil, then there is no such thing.

In any event the fight against IS is dangerous but cannot be avoided.


39 thoughts on “Media Link: To the point on NZ and IS.

  1. For some of us, the hesitation is not a sqeamishness about getting involved in a conflict when there are sound moral or practical reasons to do so, rather it is a lack of confidence that there is an aligned political strategy to actually resolve the underlying issues that led to IS’s rise. Certainly there is little reference to this when the ‘case’ gets made to the public.

    In the absence of that, I think that one can hold a legitimate concern that short-term military action will simply give rise to new problems (as it did last time).

    What do you think a feasible political settlement would look like?

  2. Indeed Michael, and as Brian pointed out in his comment on my previous post on the subject of NZ and IS, the root causes need to be addressed as part of a longer term strategy.

    There are two sides to that, just as there are two sides to actually fighting the battle against terrorists (as I mentioned in the post about treating terrorism in the West as a criminal matter for the police as opposed to a civilisational war, with war reserved for the proper battlefields of the ME and Africa).

    The underlying issues need to be addressed via serious reform in both the Arab world as well as in the West where marginalised minorities are subject to extremist recruitment efforts. The latter may well be easier than the former simply because Western democracies appear to understand the issue of domestic alienation at its core, whereas the Arab elites in places like Egypt are too corrupt, obstinate or blind to the consequences of the festering sore that is their rule.

    The Gulf petrolarchies may have money to burn at the moment, with which they can buy popular favour, but even in these countries there is a significant current of unrest that will not be bought away. Reform must be serious and legitimate, and I am not sure that can happen in my lifetime.

    Getting Arab oligarchs onto a program of reform is going to be very difficult, but the existential threat is to them, not the West, so that may be the tipping point with which to leverage an agenda for change. As things stand, IS is a clear and present danger to the stability of the Middle East, and if the anti-IS coalition understands the true nature of the threat it poses it will welcome Iranian participation however covert or subtle that may be (as is rumored to be occurring).

    Iranian participation could in turn open the doors to an understanding between the Shiia and Sunni camps, or at least a diminishing of the geopolitical rivalries between them that have also contributed to the rise of IS (as the Syrian conflict clearly demonstrates).

    My impression is that the anti-IS coalition see the military campaign as a first step, one that is designed to show that IS cannot control territory and physically establish a so-called caliphate. Once (and if) IS is driven out of Irag and subject to a pincer movement in Syria (which will require cutting a deal with Assad, which in turn means reaching an accommodation with Russia and Iran), then the belief is that reform projects can be instituted in both the West and the ME to channel discontent away from the failed prospect of an Islamic State operating as a sovereign actor in the international arena. With the myth of IS destroyed on the ground, the counter-ideological battle can be joined in both the West and the ME.

    I am not convinced that this is achievable but the time is long past to confront IS where it lives rather than allow it to over run and replace extant regimes (however despicable they may be). It is the worst of all evils because of its expansionist pretensions and its global recruitment and incitement efforts, to say nothing of the barbarism that it practices on a daily basis.

    The upcoming battle for Mosul will be a decisive turning point one way or the other, and the NZDF could well be involved in it. That of course will raise NZ’s target profile in the eyes of the IS, but such is the price for being an international good citizen (rather than just as a member of the Anglophone security “club”).

    My final thought is this: since the possibility of NZDF casualties in the anti-IS struggle is very real, will Mr. Key honour the fallen by deigning to attend their funerals or will he run off to visit Wall Street, Hawai’i and/or attend a high school baseball game in the US the way he did the last time NZ soldiers were lost in combat?

  3. ‘Andrew Little should know that, and the Greens and NZ First need to understand that this is not about belonging to some exclusive “club” but about being a responsible global citizen responding to the multinational call for help in the face of a clear and present danger to the international community. Because if IS is not a clearly identifiable evil, then there is no such thing.’

    Maybe i’m missing something but how can this possibly be about responding to a danger to the international community? The biggest dangers to the international community are corporations which are trying to take Canadian tar sand oil out of the ground, another massive danger would be the American and Russian states which both have dangerous amounts of nuclear warheads. I think that if our state, or any state for that matter cared about the international community, which they don’t and never have, then they would simply dismantle their own power.

  4. Douglas:

    There are many evils in the world, and there is much history behind and variety to those evils. The fight against IS takes precedence, as I noted in my comment to Michael, because of the circumstances particular to it and the priority given to it by the UN and numerous NZ allies. The choice of evil to fight, in other words, is not just one for NZ to make (and I take your point that a government such as National sees no evil in corporate greed or exploitation).

    My larger point is that NZ is inserted into a web of international relationships that, rightly or wrongly, compel it to join the fight. Be it for practical or principled reasons politicians should understand that even if their preferred option is to refrain from joining the coalition and focus on other evils elsewhere, there really is no choice given the need to maintain that relationship web in the pursuit of future NZ prosperity and security. That sucks, but it is what it is.

  5. Pablo: I think the way you have articulated your view in your response to Douglas is one I can more readily accept than what I had understood from your original post. But I still wonder: does the international community *really* care about New Zealand sending over 100 dudes (if it turns out to even be 100 – I recall the figure of 12 SAS soldiers being thrown around a few months ago). Can’t we just toe the line rhetorically, and not actively resist American hegemony like we did with our anti-nuclear stance? To me, that would seem enough to maintain important international relationships.

  6. Hi Pablo, for that to make sense you will have to explain to me what the future prosperity and security we are gaining from our state sending troops there, or what security or prosperity we are losing from sending there. Because through history American elites have consistently tried to undermine the security of every population inside it, allied to it, or opposed to it.

    Historically, the New Zealand elite has chosen to be obedient to the ideas created in American universities, that is the ideas of neoliberalism, which has been disastrous for our own population. While other states in the anglosphere like Sweden have chosen not to be obedient to these ideas, and are better off because of it.(in my opinion)

    So what do you think is going to happen to New Zealanders if we decided not to send troops? Are there any case studies of what has happened to states in the anglosphere that have decided to drop out of similar agreements?

  7. From “Fighting terrorism is a matter of law enforcement”:
    There is no reason for Western democracies to go to war. Whatever its motivation, terrorism poses no existential threat to any stable society, much less liberal democracies. Only failed states, failing states and those at civil war face the real threat of takeover from the likes of the Islamic State or al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. For Western democracies under terrorist attack, the institutional apparatus of the State will not fall, political society will not unravel and the social fabric will to tear. But there is a caveat to this: both the democratic state and society must beware the sucker ploy.

    Going off on yet another middle east adventure – isn’t it a sucker play?

  8. Alex, Douglas and Andrew:

    Thanks for the considered comments. Let me try to answer them in order.

    Alex: As for NZ being independent and autonomous like it was during the anti-nuclear days–that ship sailed a long time ago. Regrettable as that is, with the signing of the Wellington and Washington Declarations NZ committed itself to the US military alliance structure much in the way its participation in 5 Eyes sees it firmly and willingly in the embrace of the Anglophone signals intelligence network. This trend began in the late 1990s and accelerated after 9/11 under the Clark government. So there is no possibility of NZ just rhetorically toeing the line.

    As for the contribution itself, I see the infantry company deployment as proportionate to NZ size given the contribution of others. My understanding is that the attempt is to build up to a division sized complement of foreign troops mostly drawn from regional partners. The NZ troops will be attached to the Australian complement, which is regiment-sized and consisting of at least two battalions (approximately 600 troops). This is in addition to the SAS from these countries and others, whose numbers are not disclosed but are considerably more than 12. So the die has been cast as far as the how and where is concerned, with the when being a matter of government notification.

    Douglas: Basically, NZ is exchanging loss of sovereignty for future security. But we must differentiate between economic sovereignty and security. Although issues of trade and security can and do overlap in specific instances, the domination of market-driven ideologies is analytically and practically distinct from security policies (neoliberalism is the wrong term to use because that was a specific type of monetarist policy crafted by Milton Friedman and his students to push the deregulation of financial and trade markets in the 1970s and 1980s after years of state capitalism. What is going on now is more than that, even if it is a market-oriented and supportive follow up to the original neoliberal ideas).

    Sweden and the other Northern Tier countries are a good example of this separation. These countries are close security partners of the US-led Anglophone alliance, including in the anti-IS coalition. They quietly go about the business of security and intelligence while adhering to their own core economic principles, which are much more concerned about maintaining social harmony via redistribution than pro-market ideologies. My view is that NZ should follow this model rather than what it has done, but then again the die has been set on that score.

    The point is that NZ is locked into an alliance structure whether we, the common folk, like it or not (and I do not like it in considerable measure). Refusal to honour formal commitments will result in a backlash not only in security, but in trade and diplomatic relationships as well. Unless we want to change our foreign policy and security orientation and fully align ourselves with China, Russia or other powers (the costs of which could well outweigh the benefits received), then we are stuck with what we have. I agree that this was an elite decision in which you and I were not consulted, but that speaks to the quality of NZ democracy rather than the fundamentals of NZ foreign and security policy.

    Andrew: There are two sides to the counter-terrorism effort. The domestic side is a police matter. The foreign side is the more appropriate arena for a military approach given that the likes of IS (which is now establishing beachheads in Afghanistan and Libya, the irony of which is not lost on me), al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and al-Shabazz have gained control of physical territory and are acting as de facto sovereigns of the places that they control.

    This poses an existential threat to the states that border them or are under siege by them. Although the states in question are also largely ruled by despots and should be the first to join the fight against the extremists, the hard fact, again whether we like to or not, is that they are pro-Western and need help. So a lesser evil approach is being applied that, if clearly hypocritical, is simply the way international politics gets played and NZ has decided which side it is playing for.

    Ironically enough, the fight against IS might actually get Russia on board in exchange for a brokered deal preserving the remnants of the Assad regime. They can say “told you so” and the US, France, Germany and UK will have to eat crow, but sometimes common enemies make for strange bedfellows.

    The IS and AQ grand strategy is indeed a sucker ploy on large scale. But the saving grace in the response is that these groups kill more Muslims than anyone else in their quest for power, something that is now noticed by the so-called Arab “street.” This has caused Arab Muslim nations to put aside some of their differences in order to join the fight against IS. They key to success in this struggle will be to get various Arab elites to stop arming and funding jihadists of various stripes (I am thinking particularly of Qataris, Saudis and Emiratis) and put boots on the ground in that fight against IS and regional al-Qaeda branches rather then have Western proxies do the dirty work for them. That remains to be seen.

  9. You say that we have signed a security agreement with the US and we should keep it. That we have no choice, but to go along with them, provide a token effort in their war that is doomed to fail like Libyan intervention failed, like Iraq failed, like Afghanistan failed, like Somalia failed, like Vietnam failed, like Korea (half) failed.

    The US has no long-term plan, once they have killed a sufficient number of ISIL fighters for the Iraqi Army to finish them off they will leave and then there will be no-one to stop the Iraqi and Syrian (and Iranian) governments from doing the same thing to the Sunnis that ISIL has been doing to everyone else.

    The US does not bring security to the world, it is in fact the primary cause of insecurity. Mostly this insecurity is bred from its economic policies, but its repeated invasions of foreign countries also play a significant role.

    You recognise that the US economic ideology is seriously flawed and regret that we follow it, but say that we should maintain a security alliance/arrangement with them? That if we don’t then we must buddy up with China or Russia?

    I disagree. There are other options. I would look to Europe, Brazil and/or India for arms to defend ourselves against any potential US invasion for the US is the only country in a position to invade us. NZ is just not worth the political capital to attack, even without protection from the US. We could also expand the diplomatic corps and work hard to build positive relationships for the purposes of trade, etc with Latin America, the more progressive European states (Nordics, Greece, etc), India (difficult I know), Africa and possibly ASEAN.

    We may suffer US trade sanctions (a la Cuba), but I doubt the US could cajole many others to get behind them and as Cuba has shown in recent weeks US power is weakening.

    There is an alternative. We can refuse the United States with little short term damage and much long term gain. The US and Saudi Arabia are the true enemies of peace in West Asia, not ISIL, which has only grown because of them.

  10. oops don’t know what happened there, I’ll try again.

    Hi Pablo.

    Thanks for this, it’s the only thing I’ve seen that gets towards presenting a plan I could support.

    The problem I have though is that what you outline here is a long way from what is being sold. We are being told that there is no risk, that we will be ‘behind the wire’ and all the rest of it.

    Further, Hammond’s statements about how the Iraqi govt is ‘picky’ around who it wants involved, (preferring English speaking nations, staying behind the wire), would seem to fit with what appears to be happening on the ground as sectarian forces push IS out and secure the ground taken using time honoured methods of collective punishment and the like.

    This report has quotes saying Badr is being given operational command over Iraqi Army forces

    These realities shape the political outcomes, no?

    I wonder how the Iraqi govt intends to put all this back in the box when they are done, or if they even intend to.

    On the Arab speaking powers stepping up to the fight, this piece is of interest:

    It looks like ‘same old, same old’ to me. And the way the war is being sold to western populations doesn’t suggest much change.

    If we were to demand the local neighbors step up or we’ll leave them to it, that would be one thing. But we aren’t, so I suspect they will just let us do the lifting and avoid the payback as is usual.

    On Syria, things are even more grim. Shall the battle over Kobani end up with it being returned to Assad and the Kurds stabbed in the back once again?

    So like I said, there is the potential for something I could support, but the honesty in selling it is lacking. The thing I could support, is not what I am being asked to support. Instead, I would have to trust that I am being sold a lie, and that actually, everything will fall into place in spite of what we are being told, and in spite of what is happening on the ground.

    At a minimum, I want to see public demands made of local neighbors, and promises made to the Kurds, (for example).


  11. Hi PB, thanks for stopping by. It has been a while.

    There are several issues in your comment that need addressing.

    First, the Western sales pitch. Unlike others I think that there is a plan in place, and that both the justification and military strategy have been thought through. But politicians, especially in NZ, appear to not want to be honest about the why, what, how and when of the plan. I noticed that JK started talking about “defending human rights” as a reason, which is laughable given who NZ trade partners are in the ME and Asia. But he did not invoke R2P, which makes a lot more sense and does not require a formal collective agreement in order to be invoked. The US and UK publics are war weary but could be convinced to support a limited war option, but only if the Arab allies join and lead.

    But the other 50-odd coalition partners all have military assets that can be used, so if they manage to build a division sized foreign intervention force to back the Iraq Army, get Assad’s cooperation across the border (which will require non-IS rebel groups to honour a cease fire, which the al-Nusra front likely will not do unless convinced by foreign backers to do so), then the possibility of rolling back IS territorial gains is possible.

    That brings up the second point. The Arab states must join with ground troops and must be seen to be leading. If they do not the effort will be futile. Given that the UAE has already curtailed its participation in the wake of the immolation video, their cowardice is already coming to the fore. The Jordanians seem ready to avenge the loss of the pilot, and remember that in several countries like Jordan Bedouins constitute the best troops (Berbers are used in other Northern African states as elite troops as well). The use of these warrior tribes can help reduce internal concerns about killing fellow Sunnis.

    But if the Arab oligarchies refuse to face the fact that this struggle is mostly about them and not about Shiia or Western affronts to Sunni Islam, then the effort will be futile.

    Which brings up Saudi support for IS and AQ. The 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui has just testified that he and others in the 9/11 planning group were in direct contact with several Saudi royals and that the Saudi support for IS and AQ continues to this day. This has been independently reported for some time and there is evidence that the Qataris are involved in financing IS. All of this apparently is due more to a concern about Iranian influence in the Gulf and Levant, but whatever the reason that has to stop and the West will have to make that clear and enforce an end to the financing and equipping of IS by Arab elites. That is going to be very hard to do.

    The final point is that the depredations of Shiia militias on Sunni Iraqis allowed and encouraged by the Malaki government have to stop and the Iraqi Army has to be seen as focused solely on IS and not collectively punishing all Sunnis. The same can be said for the Kurds, who will not be kind in their treatment of any IS fighter that falls into their hands and who will need to be restrained from targeting populations they feel have aided and abetted IS while it was all-conquering. The need for self-restraint can be used as leverage on Assad and the Iraqi central government. That will be put to the test in Mosul in the months ahead.

    Contrary to what Korakys misread, I am not advocating this war and am very aware of the potential for it to become another disaster such as those he mentioned. I am merely stating a) that we are locked into our security alliance agreements–some of which I opposed signing– and b) the move to join has practical and principled reasons worth considering.

    The key to success is the participation of Arab states. If the conflict can be seen as something other than “staunch defenders of Islam versus infidel occupiers,” then the possibility of a military victory, at least in terms of capturing back the territory taken by IS, is possible. Without Arab military contributions that will be impossible, and without the reform projects I mentioned in an earlier comment then the ideological basis for violent extremism will continue unchecked.

    As an aside, I noticed something in the 22 minute immolation video of the Jordanian pilot. Besides the slick production values and depravity of his filmed demise, there were three things that struck me.

    First, IS obviously extracted very good intelligence from him, as he revealed which Arab states were contributing military aircraft to the fight. Besides the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar, who knew that Morocco was contributing F-16s to the fight? I think that Egypt is also committed. So it appears that there is cross-Arab support for at least the air campaign. It is a pity that now IS knows the details of that campaign.

    The second aspects is the chilling intimidation at the end of the video, where pictures of Jordanian pilots, the bases from which they fly (using Google maps and GPS coordinates) and in some cases their addresses are shown along with an invitation for people to kill them in exchange for a 100 dinar bounty. That is bound to have a chilling effect on Arab soldiers and shows the intelligence extraction possibilities derived from the capture of just one of them.

    Finally, I think that the graphic filming of the pilot’s death, including grotesque close ups filmed from several angles, is bound to produce a backlash on the Arab street and undermined the message sent earlier in the video where images of mangled children and bombed out towns were used to elicit outrage against the air campaign.

    While it may be true that one aspect of Arab fighting culture is extreme brutality, the point driven home by the nature of the pilot’s murder is that IS kills fellow Muslims. It kills fellow Sunni Muslims as much if not more than it does Shiia, Jews or Christians. It kills Arabs more than anyone else. It is, indeed, a death cult. But its morbid focus is increasingly exposed by videos like this as being innerly-directed, that is, against Sunnis who are not Wahabbists or Salafists and against Arab tribes that prefer local political autonomy rather than the central rule of a larger caliphate.

    That, in the end, may be the primary reason for its demise, but for that to happen the other pieces mentioned above must fall into place.

  12. Andrew Little doesn’t come across as a “rube who can’t see anything beyond the next bend”. I wonder if he has decided that the political gain from opposing this military adventure is greater than the potential loss of having to flip flop if he takes power. Or perhaps he’s signalling that he intends to renegotiate the international commitments and relationships NZ has entered into since the 5th Lab Govt.

  13. Art Croft:

    Previous statements by Little on issues of foreign affairs demonstrate that he is a neophyte in that field. And if you believe that Labour is going to be significantly different from National when it comes to issues of security and foreign affairs, then you are much more optimistic than I am.

    For me the issue is simply one of Labour trying to score political points by opposing the IS contribution. I was disappointed to read that Phil Goff supported Little’s opposition to the contribution (but I guess what is Phil going to do otherwise?). They seem to be basing their opposition on the lack of a coherent plan and exit strategy, which is fair enough. But as I mentioned above I believe that there are in fact timetables and milestones in the anti-IS strategy, it is just that the National government prefers not to share them with us.

    Once the cricket world cup is over, then National might be more forthcoming (since the government clearly wants to wait rather than invite trouble at the cup by making the announcement about deployment before it begins).

    The first test of Labour’s supposed “difference” will be in the parliamentary select committee hearings on intelligence later this year. I do not think that they will be joining the Greens in calling for a fundamental revamp, overhaul, reorganisation and reduction of NZ intelligence activities any time soon, and the same goes for our foreign diplomatic, trade and security commitments.

    What differences exist between Labour and National are largely on matters of domestic policy, not on foreign affairs or national defense and security.

  14. My point was that we are not “locked into our security alliance agreements” and that the consequences of ending the agreements are less than you expect.

    Your language reminds me of the “there is no alternative” phrase when neolibralism was introduced.

    Can you point to anything that indicates that we are locked in?

  15. Korakys:

    We will have to disagree on this one because treaties are essentially mutually enforcing contracts. Failure to abide by the terms will result in penalties even if they are not specified up front, and I guess that is where you and I disagree. You think the exit option is viable and alternatives can be found. I am not so sure and think that the exit costs may not be outweighed by the benefits of new alliances or a fully non-aligned and independent status.

    For the record, I was opposed to the signing of the Washington and Wellington agreements, which I felt severely impinged on NZ’s independence and autonomy in the security field. I am opposed to the TPPA as it is presently constructed, which I also think will negatively impinge on NZ economic sovereignty. I oppose these de facto treaties because of their contractual nature. If there were an easy escape clause to either arrangement I would have said “fine, lets try it out and see if and what works for us and then decide if we want to continue with the arrangement.” But that is not how they work.

    I have publicly proposed that we have a societal debate on our involvement in 5 Eyes (where I believe that we could redefine what we will and will not do for the alliance) and have also proposed in a public forum that we consider the idea that NZ become the first country to renounce lethal drones as an instrument of warcraft.

    Neither of those proposals got so much as a look-in from any political party. If they will not give such small initiatives consideration, do you really think that it is plausible that they would seriously consider renouncing the core alliances of which NZ is part?

  16. I thought contracts stipulated penalties for breaking them. I shall have to have a look through the declarations.

    Well a mere cursory glance at what has been written about them suggests that NZ is under no lawful obligation to join in on an assault against ISIL. Sure that may break with the spirit of the declarations, but not the legalese. And do you really think the US takes any of alliances or agreements (excepting maybe NATO) seriously?

    To be clear I am not saying that nothing should be done about ISIL, but rather that NZ should develop and advocate a long-term plan for the region (even if we can’t get it implemented) rather than sending a mostly token force to assist the ISF. I believe the below map should be the basis of that plan.

    To allow Assad’s Syria and Shi’ite Baghdad to regain control over their lost territory would be a mistake.

  17. “My larger point is that NZ is inserted into a web of international relationships that, rightly or wrongly, compel it to join the fight.”

    I am not sure that is correct. It was once thought that NZ had to accommodate nuclear armed, or nuclear capable, ships from the U.S. but that belief turned out to be erroneous.

    When I hear the words “there is no alternative”, it reminds me of the rhetoric from Roger Douglas when he was Finance Minister. There is always an alternative for those that are prepared to find one.

  18. Ross:

    The ANZUS Treaty did not specific anything about accommodating nuclear weapons and was thus rightly put to the test. That the consequences were relatively minor had a lot to do with the strategic balance at the moment, where the USSR was in obvious decline and the US concern with maintaining tight alliance structures with peripheral nations was lessened as a result.

    Of course there are alternatives to joining the coalition. The question is whether opting for any sort of non-partcipation option will prove more costly or beneficial to NZ than joining the coalition of sixty nations (and counting) given NZ’s alliance commitments, trade and diplomatic relations. It is there where the “locked-in” effect takes hold.

    I find it interesting that no one in this comment thread who is opposed to joining has anything to say about the R2P principle. Is there no place for principled action in international relations any more or are people just cynical and skeptical of the coalition motives? I would have assumed people on the Left would support R2P and the need to offer more than rhetorical help under its banner, however reluctantly (I hold no such hopes for the Right).

    I can see opposition on pragmatic grounds–that the intervention will not succeed, that there is no exit plan, that it is too little, too late. But that raises the question of alternatives once again. If nothing is done to militarily counter IS, then what?

    Ot is local opposition a case of isolationism, hatred of the US, knee-jerk pacifism and/or solidarity beginning and ending at home?

  19. Pablo, as for R2P, there was a post at Imperator Fish yesterday, but I’m having trouble persuading it to open today (Great Firewall problems it looks like), so to sum up, it was asking in typical fashion “Why go after IS and not Saudi Arabia? Why this conflict and not the myriad others around the world? Why go after this tyrant when we leave so many others alone or happily trade with them?” Which are all fair questions. Our world leaders are happy to dither, pontificate, posture and argue like spoilt 3-year olds while so many are killed, as they have done for decades, if not centuries or millenia, so why are we going to go charging into this particular fight?

    I’m uncomfortable with NZ involvement in the ISIS fight on the pragmatic grounds you cite. But yes, what alternatives? Could NZ offer to train Iraqi troops in Waiouru in forced isolation from the sectarian, ethnic and tribal loyalties ‘back home’? Would that help? I suspect the answer is ‘nice idea, but nah, not really…’

    “Ot is local opposition a case of isolationism, hatred of the US, knee-jerk pacifism and/or solidarity beginning and ending at home?”

    I’m still 3 weeks away from returning to NZ, so I can only comment based on what I’ve seen online and memory of when I did live there, but I can see ‘all of the above’ being factors. I, myself, am prone to a kind of isolationism, in that I sometimes think NZ should just stick to the Pacific where we are a big enough player to actually make a difference, and leave all those far away conflicts to the locals of those regions and the truly big players who can actually make a meaningful contribution. But reality often dictates that we do get involved in those far away conflicts, and being a small player doesn’t mean we have no influence beyond the Pacific.

    So, I don’t know what NZ should do, and I don’t know what can be done.

  20. Thanks Chris, and good luck with your return to Aotearoa.

    The major difference is between Saudi Arabia and IS is that, whether we like it or not, the former is a duly constituted nation-state recognised by the international community whereas the latter is not. One has a recognisable system of laws and institutions whereas the other is at best attempting to impose its administrative fiat on the populations it has conquered. We might think of the nature of their rule as being the same but the international community does not.

    One axiom of international politics is that the global community enshrined in the UN take a very dim view of armed non-state actors who attempt to usurp the political status quo. This has meant a generally negative reaction to revolutionary regimes such as those of Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, the early Soviet Union and PRC, or national liberation regimes like Algeria, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique. That has led to covert wars and other duplicitous behaviour by established state actors that see such regimes as proxies or instruments for larger objectives, but the general rule has tended to hold. Only those usurpers who manage to gain effective state control and resist the foreign pressures against them are eventually recognised as legitimate actors by the international community, and even then they often have to compromise on their original ideals in order to do so.

    In the case of IS the issue is compounded by the fact that it not only holds territory in two nation-states (Iraq and Syria), but it has proclaimed its intention to conquer others and spread its influence world-wide. That also is an international no-no: the global community does not take kindly to ideological proselytisers whose views are not universally shared and who do not respect the doctrine of sovereign non-intervention. Those that do get away with doing so, such as the US, can only do so due to their economic and military power. In the scheme of things IS does not have much of either yet is has great ambitions for its caliphate, to say nothing of a genocidal approach to all non-believers and apostates.

    IS is already making inroads in places like Libya and Egypt. Saudi Arabia may be a medieval tyranny bankrolled by Western interests that funds various causes but it has no such imperial pretensions.

    Heck, even if IS was based on peace, love and dope, its transnational pretensions were bound to cause an adverse reaction by the international community because not everyone in the community of nations is into peace, love or dope.

    After the Rwandan genocide and the institution of R2P, the invocation of that principle has been problematic. The US and NATO invoked it in Libya, arguing that the intervention was not focused on regime change when in fact it was. This led the Russians and Chinese to call BS on the attempt to invoke R2P in Syria, perhaps rightly so. But the motivations of the US and NATO in Libya and Syria may not be the same as those of NZ with regards to the IS and those living under its rule.

    So from the perspective of a small open democracy that champions human rights and the like, R2P would seem to be a natural fit when it comes to justifying NZ participation in a foreign military adventure. John Key may want to use it merely as window dressing on a decision made for other reasons, but more decent people have to weigh their commitment to a principle such as R2P against those of pacifism and non-intervention. That is a debate well worth having.

  21. I think R2P doesn’t work for the left because they expect the intervention to fail to stop the violence. And because it is seen as the US’s problem and they don’t want NZ to be a party to the US’s solution, which is likely to fail to achieve anything in the long term.

    It’s not about not wanting to aid people, it’s about wanting to aid them in a way that doesn’t just put a band-aid on serious underlying problems that is only meant to last until Obama leaves office.

    The left typically looks toward the future and the right to the past.

  22. The trouble is that, just like in emergency medicine, you have to first staunch the bleed before you can address the underlying problem without the patient dying. Because the wound is infected and spreading, that is the first priority. Over the short term it does not matter what underlying or intermediate factors led to the wound–you fix that problem first and then focus on the root causes.

    Unlike emergency medicine we all know what the underlying and intermediate causes are in the case of IS, but there are serious differences on how to address them. Given that fact, is it ethical to simply avoid intervening altogether?

  23. The initial airstrikes to halt ISILs advance was the right thing to do.

    Continuing the airstrikes while aiding proven oppressors of Sunnis and refusing to address the underlying problems, or developing any more of a plan beyond destroying ISIL, is harming more than its helping.

    Waiting until ISIL are “defeated” or routed is too late.

    NZ would do better to table a plan for a long-term solution at the UN. Even when it fails to be accepted it will start discussion. NZs standing could rise quite a bit if we can convince a few countries to praise it (maybe Brazil) and I think that NZ will suffer little damage to its trade by not joining “the club”.

    You will never get positive geopolitical change by constantly appeasing the US.

  24. Korakys:

    I agree with you that a plan to address the underlying causes needs to be formulated in parallel with the military campaign against IS, and like the idea you propose in your fourth paragraph even if I fear that is will not prosper or will be watered down into nothingness by the horse trading process that characterises UN bargaining. Perhaps Helen Clark can offer something concrete by way of the UNDP, which could also help her General Secretary candidacy.

    Although the US may lead the anti-IS struggle, it is not alone. There are many others who have joined, including Muslim states and liberal democracies. The US only leads because of its military capabilities, but the moral imperative comes from others as much as from it, and there is a fair bit of diplomatic convergence on the issue. So it is not entirely a matter of “appeasing” the geopolitical ambitions of the US. It is about being a good international citizen that shoulders a share of the global security burden.

    However, and here is where I again agree with you, Mr. Key and his minions may in fact be trying to appease the US while dressing up NZ participation as something else. References to the “club” and having the British foreign secretary refer to NZ as “family” (presumably the bastard step child) do nothing to allay the fear that NZ is just kowtowing to its masters without full regard for the consequences of its actions.

    The reference to “club” and “family” were very undiplomatic choices of words that may well belie the true feelings of these two officials. I can imagine that senior MFAT staff were dying inside when the words were uttered. Whether they be slips of the tongue or deliberate seeding of the narrative, they should occasion a full debate as to why NZ feels the need to join the fight.

    As I said before, I think that NZ has little choice but to join given its international position. But it would be good to have the government forced to defend its decision rather than unilaterally commit the NZDF without proper debate (since consultation with the opposition appears to have been ruled out).

  25. Thanks Pablo for this clear argument, which is the clearest case made for NZ participation. But that is exactly the problem. New Zealand is not being provided with a reasoned case as to why NZDF should participate, just more of the evasion and dissembling which has unfortunately become characteristic of JK in office. For that reason you are too harsh on Little. If the government is not prepared to make the case, how can he support it?

  26. Thanks Jonas:

    Your point about JK not making a good case and leaving Little with nothing substantive to go on is well taken. My prejudice against Little stems from some very ignorant things he said in the ABC leadership battle about the uselessness of foreign aid and the need to cut back on it etc.

    Certainly NZ foreign aid provision has many problems and under National it has gone from being focused on human and economic development to business promotion, which is an aberration. But it is a key instrument of soft power and if used judiciously can even be an instrument of smart power, so his seeming disregard for its importance for a small democracy like NZ makes him seem like a banjo playin’ hick.

    If he does not know the worth of soft power, then how the heck can we expect that he has a clue about the measured use of hard power, much less how it can work hand in glove with soft power to push the sort of parallel approaches discussed above?

    In fact, has Little said anything of real substance with regard to NZ foreign affairs or outlined his vision of NZ’s role in the world? If so, I missed it.

  27. Yeah thats right Islam causing a lot of trouble even in my own street. We have two new Eastern dudes in the off street on the street who park in front of my driveway.
    They think they can sell cars in front of my house and use my driveway Pablo, only for a day or so; then I scared them off.
    Surveillance Pablo.
    Car, photo, identity

  28. Pablo

    I appreciate your comments.

    Of course IS is a relatively new group. It’s only a few years old. If it is destroyed or degraded, then isn’t is reasonable to assume that another (similar minded) group will fill the void? Then what? Do we go through this process all over again?

    I have no doubt that this government has already made a decision to send troops to Iraq. So much for a public debate.

  29. “The ANZUS Treaty did not specific anything about accommodating nuclear weapons and was thus rightly put to the test.”

    That might be true but I recall a lot of flak was directed at Labour for having the temerity to ban nuclear powered or capable ships. There were the usual doom and gloom merchants from the political Right saying our trade would be affected, etc. The reality was somewhat different.

  30. “The ANZUS Treaty did not specific anything about accommodating nuclear weapons and was thus rightly put to the test.”

    The W/W Declarations did not specify anything about foreign military adventures and thus… one was undertaken anyway.

    What would we gain from sending troops? Perhaps some international political capital in the short term. We would gain more kudos in the long term if we take an independent action now.

  31. Actually Korakys, the W/W Declarations very specifically mention counter terrorism and humanitarian assistance as joint areas of military endeavour. More broadly, countries do not sign onto military alliance agreements without full knowledge that they potentially involve commitment to foreign combat deployments. It is not all about training exercises and handing out care packages and the NZDF well knew this when it supported National’s move to sign the protocols.

    I said it at the time of the signing and I say it again: signing military alliance agreements is akin to getting married. There is an expectation of fealty and divorce is costly. You may feel that divorce is the better or less costly option but I am inclined to believe that National does not.

    Here is an option that has not been discussed: A friend suggested to me that the best way the NZDF could “do its duty” is to set up and operate a refugee camp in Iraq for people displaced by the conflict.

    Think of that for a moment. The NZDF would provide engineers and medical personnel as well as camp protection. The camp could be otherwise staffed by civilian UN personnel and could house any number of people depending on its location and the ability to service them (again, more of a civilian rather than a military problem). By doing so NZ fulfils its coalition and humanitarian obligations.

    I should note that no matter where such a camp is located it would become a target for IS, and that an infantry company plus some combat medics and engineers might have trouble defending a large camp (say, housing 5-10,000 people) in an area removed from allied support bases. But providing the initiative to build, support and defend such a camp might attract support from other states reluctant to send combat troops but which have signed up to the coalition for similar reasons as NZ.

    Moreover, it would clearly demonstrate that the main reason NZ is participating is for R2P reasons rather than the more practical or opportunistic reasons of trade, diplomacy and collective security. It avoids the issue of double standards and hypocrisy. Political and diplomatic capital would be earned, although the material costs and length of commitment could well be higher and longer than for a “training”/combat deployment.

    I believe that my friend’s idea has merit and should be among the options discussed. Unfortunately I believe that movement has passed and the mission has already been defined.

  32. Defending a refugee camp located in Jordan or Iraqi Kurdistan would be an excellent idea I think. My primary objection is collaborating with Shi’ite Iraq or Assad and to a lesser extent the reckless USA and other autocrats in the region.

    By the way I’m talking in hypothetical terms because obviously decisions have already been made and National would most likely choose the same course if they do it again.

    PS: Do you know where I could locate a copy of the W/W Declarations to read?

  33. The visit by the Iraqi foreign minister pretty much seals the deal, obfuscation notwithstanding:

    The W/W Declarations can be accessed on the US Defence Department and NZDF websites. They also should be on the MFAT and US State Department web sites. Look for “international agreements” “memoranda of understanding,” “security agreement” “international partnerships” and the like. You can search the State and Dod sites for “Wellington Declaration.”

    They are also published in various fora at the times of signing, So the Herald might have them in its archives. A Google search might suffice.

    The DoD and NZDF records should be more complete and specify details ( I say should because I looked at them a while ago and it is possible that they have been condensed or edited since then).

  34. Pablo,

    Your first point is sketchy, your second point couldn’t be more wrong and your third point is irrelevant.

    1, Our security agreements exist with the Five Eye partners and some South Pacific nations. IS presents negligible security threat to any of these nations. We do not need to be involved. US and UK having security agreements with Saudi, Jordan, Israel and Iraq doesn’t mean we do.

    2, Our fastest growing trading partner is China and they will soon be our largest trading partner – as long as we do not stuff it up. China is strongly opposed to UN involvement in Iraq. Especially whilst sitting on the Security Council committing ourselves with the pro-war US/UK faction and against China is going to be problematic.

    3, Since Rwanda there have been incidents in Congo and Sudan where we have done nothing. This inaction has not caused us any problems.

  35. Running a refugee camp is commendable
    I mentioned an enclave on kiwiblog. It sort of goes further than running a refugee camp.
    simpleton1 says: February 12th, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    I am in favour of starting the the refugee camp concept, though I can see where the future will lie, as people wait for years to be taken in by another country.

    However it is a start and if locality can be suitable may be able to change and become self sufficient in becoming a growing enclave as I thought of in my comment.

    To change what we are doing and to get a better result is the aim.

  36. you gotta be careful Pablo, he the 39th parallel shifted south, but no one told you, why would they

  37. Pingback: Paul Buchanan on Islamic State | Kiwiblog

  38. Pingback: Deploying to Iraq: NZ & the nouveau (Facebook) isolationism | Sparrowhawk/Kārearea

  39. Buchanan,it is hard for me to write in columns which have political and international relevance. I don’t mind if you have more intellect than me or you know more. I know that already. Give me a point here within the challenge. it is two to you an tww to me

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