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New Zealand and Afghanistan: Independent Peacemaker or Military Side-Kick?

United States Secretary of State Rice appreciated New Zealand’s Peters’ North Korea nuclear free diplomacy 2007

Guest Blogger John Gallagher writes:

A decision about helping the United States and NATO forces to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan is about to be made. It is about much more than Afghanistan. It is also about New Zealand’s role in the world either as an aligned, client military power, or as an independent peacemaker.

This blog will offer a brief historical perspective. An email sent to the Sunday Group on Chris Laidlaw’s Sunday Morning Radio New Zealand programme, August 2nd, and published in the Brokering Solutions Blog, touches on what I would propose that New Zealand do instead.

New Zealand’s very first offer of military support to Britain was over Afghanistan. That was to send a thousand troops there in 1885. (Lance Beath from the Wellington Centre for Strategic Studies, on Chris Laidlaw’s Sunday Morning program). Fortunately, the offer was not accepted. Afghanistan proved to be unmanageable for the British, as it was to be subsequently for the Russians.

This offer typified how, for the first 120 years, deciding on foreign and related military policies was fairly unproblematic: where Britain went, we went. It then became, in simple terms, “all of the way with the US of A.”

Since the 1950s, following these large powers has caused problems that New Zealand subsequently learned to avoid, while also opening up some other, constructive, more independent options.

Going with Britain got New Zealand into big trouble in the Suez Crisis of 1956, when it supported the former’s invasion of Egypt. Then New Zealand found itself, in the United Nations, voted against by every member, including the United States itself.

In the 1960s, the United States connection saw it bogged down in the Vietnam quagmire until it withdrew unilaterally in 1973. In the 1970s and 1980s, New Zealanders came to realize that a United States military alliance (Anzus) that included acceptance of potentially nuclear-armed United States ships locked them into the nuclear war-fighting strategies of the United States and the Soviet Russians. That was called, justifiably, a MAD strategy of Mutually Assured (global) Destruction.

Learning from these developments, New Zealanders ceased going where Britain or the United States went. It said to the United States that it would make its own independent assessment as to whether their naval ships were likely to be carrying nuclear weapons and, accordingly, whether to accept or reject them. For that, the United States suspended it from the Anzus alliance.

In the media debates of the 1980s and 1990s, superficial controversialists kept trying to say that not following big military allies made New Zealand isolationist. Others of us insisted, instead, that as a small country not aligned with potential adversaries, New Zealand could develop new internationalist credentials and capabilities as an international peacemaker.

So it has begun to be. The United States itself has expressed appreciation of the way New Zealand’s nuclear-free stance helped to position it to engage in diplomatic liaison in 2007 between themselves and North Korea over the latter’s nuclear-weapons development programme.

With the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan after September 11 in 2001, New Zealand again chose to fight alongside United States’ troops with an SAS contingent. However, these were also followed, in September 2003, by a practical provincial reconstruction team in Bamyan. The SAS were pulled out in November 2005, while the reconstruction team has remained (refer the  Afghanistan Conflict Monitor which is an initiative of the Human Security Report Project at the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University and Wapedia on New Zealand and United States relations).

Now, the New Zealand cabinet looks to be set to decide in favour of sending the SAS back in. This would take the country back to the days of military alignment and to going where nuclear powers go once again.

The big issue now facing New Zealand now is whether to further build up its role and identity as an independent peacemaker and practical peace-builder, or to try to return to being a client military side-kick to nuclear powers.

What do you think?

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1 Comment

  1. John Gallagher says:

    The following is an email related to the above blog, sent Sunday 30/8/2009 by John Gallagher to Chris Laidlaw’s Sunday Morning Programme on Sunday 30-8-09, regarding a conversation Chris had then with Terence O’Brien, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Strategic Studies.

    I would like to suggest that the key to a lot of what you and Terence O’Brien are most usefully opening up is not whether NZ is either Western, or should instead nimbly bounce around between various diverse nations and cultures in our region.

    More effectives roles could be developed, rather, as an intermediary, including as a nation with a strong Western background and linkages, in our region.

    Diplomatically, economically and most importantly, electronically in this information age, we could profit ourselves and others as a hub or broker. (you usefully opened up conversation re diplomatic brokering).

    Offering services as an intermediary could also enable us to help our American friends in Afghanistan much better than at present.

    Contrary to Mr O’Brien’s view that NZ should only engage in intermediary diplomacy close to home, Helen Clark and Winston Peters showed how our country could be very helpful with regard to more distant, and very significant conflicts with regard to North Korea, helping communication between that country and the US, and with China’s blessing [as in the above blog].

    Lots of nations in our region, as Terence says, do not see eye to eye – so, lets be in the middle yes – but also, thence, usefully available as an intermediary!

    Strong programmes of track 2 diplomacy involving our universities could also help a great deal. Good academic research and teaching are very much needed, to learn from what we do and how to do more and better – that would help to open up horizons where Terence seems to be uncharacteristically wanting to close them off.