Buchanan on NZ’s international security policies

Just in time for US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to NZ, Paul Buchanan calls for more public discussion about NZ’s role in international security operations.

Buchanan laments — rightly — the lack of debate about serious issues and in particular on foreign policy as we near an election. He singles out our international security policy for attention; most urgently our commitment to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) nation-building and counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan needs to be re-evaluated “in light of events on the ground.”

That commitment expires in September. NZ has “approximately 160 security personnel” in Afghanistan, says Buchanan, 140 of them involved in reconstruction work. A few months ago Prime Minister Clark rejected increasing NZ troop numbers there.

It’s a divisive issue, NZ’s involvement providing the trigger for the Alliance’s self-destruction, amongst other things. I have vehemently opposed the Iraq invasion from the outset, but reluctantly accept the need to counter Al-Qaeda and their Taliban supporters. Elsewhere in the blogosphere, Bomber @ TUMEKE! deplores the high rate of civilian casualty, but provides more analysis than prescription (apart from proposing that the west buy the opium crop to make morphine).

The problems in Afghanistan are clear. With the focus on Iraq, too few troops have given the Taliban space to recover and reassert themselves, while increasing the NATO forces’ reliance on airstrikes, with the inevitable civilian casualty toll. And things are getting worse. There is a clear need for more troops to reduce the dependence on airstrikes and to check the Taliban.

Buchanan assesses the options for NZ. We could withdraw. We could keep our presence at current levels, engaged in relatively safe nation rebuilding. As Buchanan writes, this is the most likely option come September, and is the safest, as it keeps New Zealand personnel away from the front lines in relatively low cost support roles, in an election year. The third course is to increase NZ troop numbers, by reinstating the SAS presence or by increasing the regular troops involved in reconstruction activities.

The third option is the costliest and the riskiest, in terms of troop safety and the domestic reaction. However, the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, and it needs to be considered. But it would have to be part of a broader effort, perhaps after the US elections should the US starts to withdraw from the Iraq adventure. And subject to strict time limits and the like.

I’m not very impressed with the arguments in favour of increased involvement on the basis of “special relationships” with the US and the likes. The US has shown too often just how much value such relationships have when push comes to shove. But I don’t think that we can stand by and watch as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda recover their bases in Afghanistan.

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5 Responses to “Buchanan on NZ’s international security policies”

  1. Paul G. Buchanan Says:

    Hi Peter.

    Thanks for linking to the article. Rice’s visit is little more than her farewell tour before the Bush administration leaves office. It comes on the back of her attendance at an ASEAN meeting and several other bilateral visits. Contrary to Winston Peter’s claim that it is a sign of a “special” relationship between the two countries, it merely fulfills a promise she made last year agreeing to visit NZ. After all, she visits with a variety of despots on a regular basis, including “special friends” like Saudi Arabia, so it is nothing to get excited about.

    The working agenda during her visit will likely include asking for more NZ troops in Afghanistan, possible NZ help in negotiating a solution to the impasse over Iran’s uranium enrichment programme (akin to NZ diplomatic efforts on behalf of the Six Party group to convince North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons programme, which were successful, and because NZ has good relationship with Iran and is a player in the non-proliferation regime), thanking to NZ for its general security and developmental efforts in the southwestern Pacific and elsewhere, and exploring certain bilateral security and trade themes. AN FTA with the US will be in the “no can do” basket as it is now election season in both countries and the US Congress will have the ultimate say on such a deal. Since the composition of Congress and nature of the next administration is unknown at this point, she, as a lame duck Secretary of State, is in no position to do anything on that score.

    The rest will be the usual ceremonial puffery and photo ops. It would be nice if someone in the media would ask her some hard questions (say, about Guantanamo) but I doubt that is going to be allowed to happen.

    It is a pity that the public and media do not take a more active interest in the conduct of NZ foreign policy, as it allows the government to basically do as it pleases in that area (similar to authoritarian Singapore, where I am now–hopefully temporarily–living). Yet, as I have found out, this syndrome is fairly common in small democracies, for reasons I yet cannot definitely explain. One would think that it would be just the opposite: in small countries that are economically and physically vulnerable and which enjoy democratic representation, the electorate would take a keen interest in a policy area that directly impacts on their individual and collective well-being both present and future. Pity that it is not the case.

  2. Neil Says:

    Two things

    1. Is the state of debate here in NZ on this sort of issue really so parlous? Iraq was debated quite vigorously, Afghanistan maybe not quite so much – but then there’s been more of a consensus anyway, apart from Keith Locke etc.

    2. Paul, you haven’t addressed the prospect of an Obama presidency. If NZ has troops in Afghanistan even with Bush as Pres then how would Clark react to Obama and his determination to increase troop levels there and get allies to commit more?

    No doubt even Obama as Pres will not convince some that the US is not The Great Satan but there must be many moderate centre-left types that will look more favourably at military ties with the US if Obama is in the White House.

  3. Paul G. Buchanan Says:

    Neil:

    Perhaps it is my focus on international affairs and security issues that leads me to believe that media coverage and public debate about NZ’s international role is a bit sketchy. I just see very little in the way of critical argument about the pros and cons of various foreign policy issues.

    On your second point I tend to agree that an appeal by Obama for NZ to increase its troop commitment to ISAF might resonate better than if Bush or McCain does so, especially if a National-led government is in office (although a Labour-led government could spin it better as being in NZ’s self-interest to do so rather than an attempt to curry favour with the Yanks). Other than committed pacifists and anti-imperialists, I assume that most Kiwis understand that a Taliban victory or restored Taliban control of parts of Afghanistan would be deleterious to regional stability and the broader prospects for a durable peace in South Central Asia and beyond. If the call for a larger military contribution is couched in such terms, it is more likely that it will enjoy public support regardless of who is in power in either the US or NZ. But the case for that has to be made first.

  4. adamsmith1922 Says:

    I am of the view that for far too long we have neglected discussion of foreign affairs and security on any meaningful basis.

    We are happy to focus on rugby, celebrity partner bashing and the like.

    For many I suspect that foreign affairs begins and ends with either all Americans are evil or what are Asian women like, or is confused with not wanting foreigners to live here.

    The fact that it is critical to all aspects of the country’s existence in my view, being inextricably bound up with trade, travel etc is totally ignored by many, that is if they even think of it at all.

    A proper debate needs to be held, after all it was not so long ago that Helen Clark was justifying much of New Zealand’s foreign affairs posturing in the South Pacific as ‘ we live in a benign strategic environment’. I thought that was tosh then and it certainly is now, given the way in which Taiwan, China vie for advantage, plus the long standing rivalry between China and India.

    It is high time much more attention was given to these matters.

    Unfortunately, I d not think that it will be.

  5. underground Says:

    I also agree foreign affairs are not given much media/public attention, unless the US is involved. Most Kiwis don’t know where we have troops stationed (I for one would be guilty of that) and don’t appreciate how much foreign issues influence internal affairs, particular in matters of trade and immigration. However, it is understandable that most people’s focus is with the issues that are perceived to affect them greater and more immediately, such as health, education, crime and the economy. So I do not foresee any change in this focus any time soon.

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