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Turkey & New Zealand – From World War One Antagonists to Peacemaking Partners? (Part 1, 2010)

From Old Enmities to Collaborative Peacemaking?

Events around New Zealand’s military commemoration, on April 25, throw into relief some new possibilities for relating to the wider world.

The commemoration, called ANZAC Day, recalls the tragic loss of many New Zealand and other lives in Gallipoli, Turkey in 1915-16. There, along with Australians as fellow members of the British Empire, New Zealanders fought alongside British and French soldiers against the Turks. “ANZAC” stands for “Australia, New Zealand Army Corp”.

There were terrible casualties: 2721 New Zealanders, 44,000 from France and the British Empire, including 8500 Australians, and 87,000 Turks. The campaign lasted about 8 months (official Australian website on ANZAC DAY).

New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key attended the ceremony at Gallipoli, after which he was to proceed on a Middle East trade tour. Then an air force helicopter crashed back in New Zealand, killing 3 service personnel. So he cut the trip short to return home for the funerals (Key heads home after loss of Iroquois)

He was to have gone on from Turkey to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to lead a 90 strong New Zealand trade delegation that was also making a wider sweep through the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman (PM Key quits Gulf trade mission after fatal helicopter tragedy)

Questions have been asked as to whether he should have so prioritized a military funeral in New Zealand, or left that to a deputy and supported the development of New Zealand Middle East trade (readers comments)

Opportunities Taken and Missed (So Far)

I think that a much bigger issue than military funerals or trade is being missed here.  It is to do with the significant new opportunities for constructive diplomatic activities that have been created by President Obama’s very recent Nuclear Security Summit (13-14 April) – opportunities to collaborate with the United States and many others to help create a peaceful, nuclear-free world.

I would like to propose that New Zealand decision-makers like Mr Key, and his advisers, could usefully look at how to follow up on such opportunities by building a new relationship with Turkey based on the following factors:

  • just two weeks ago the United States president and vice president told Mr Key how New Zealand’s nuclear-free policy provided New Zealand with credentials to play a leading role in working with the United States to help create nuclear security and a nuclear weapons free world (President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit, & NZ Villagers)
  • currently, the United States is much exercised about Iran’s nuclear development programme, on the basis of suspicions that it may involve nuclear weapons development. The United States has sought to have United Nations sanctions imposed on Iran, and has threatened to attack its nuclear development installations (World edges towards sanctions on Iran)
  • Both Iran and the United States have accepted Turkey as a mediator on the issue. Its mediation efforts have already helped to stall United States action on the threats made to Iran, and begin to open up more peaceful possibilities (Turkey sees progress over Iran; US rules out military strike for now)
  • John Key happened to be in Turkey last weekend for the ANZAC commemoration, when he made contact with its prime minster, who is involved with this mediation

Brokering nuclear-free solutions: what President Obama wants, and most people in the world want

So I think it is a pity that John Key departed so hastily from Turkey to attend the military funeral in New Zealand after signing a trade-related deal with his Turkish counterpart. There were other very important matters that they could also have explored in depth.

There was, and there still remains, an opportunity to forge a new kind of partnership for peace with the Turkey that New Zealand fought against in world war one.

If John Key has not himself yet begun discussing this, hopefully New Zealand’s embassy at Ankara will be soon showing a keen interest in  Turkish mediation efforts, asking if it could be briefed on them, and indicating a willingness to support them in any possible way.

It has already been proposed on village-connections (January 2009) that New Zealand work through its embassy in Teheran to help strengthen  communication channels between Iran and the United States (First Winston Peters and North Korea – now, Murray McCully and Iran?)

It could be very productive now for the New Zealand government in Wellington to instruct its embassies in Tehran, Ankara and Washington to engage in communication with relevant officials and politicians about Iran-United States and relations, and how communication between these nations might be improved. All of which would also enhance New Zealand’s international profile, its ability to make high-level contacts and its prospects for increased, mutually beneficial trade with both the United States and the Middle East – but that is a whole other subject.

Note: the previous labour government has already engaged in nuclear-free liaison between North Korea and the United States. (Welcome, Mr US Ambassador David Huebner – open letter by John Gallagher)

Your feedback, comments and links most welcome


  1. Antipodean says:

    Nuclear arms containment and reduction are very much in the news. A few weeks ago United States President Obama held a Nuclear Security Summit, and now about to begin is a Nuclear Non-Proliferations (NPT) Review Conference. More than ever, small nations that lack strong vested interests but have good nuclear- free credentials are needed to work with others to help movement towards a nuclear weapons-free world.

    The official business of the NPT Review Conference to be held in New York from May 3-28 is to pre-empt or help reign in nuclear proliferation. However, entrenched conflicts between protagonists such as the United States and Iran, as well as Israel and the Arab states of the Middle East are likely to feature strongly and could divert attention and energy from this goal.

    It is worth noting that despite antagonisms between them, the United States has felt a need to give the highly controversial Iranian leader President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad permission to attend the United Nations-sponsored conference at its headquarters in New York.

    However, Sectetary of State Hilary Clinton has warned him “not to divert the
    conference focus” and both parties accuse each other of violating the treaty.

    1. Clinton warns Iranian president not to divert NPT conference’s focus 2010-04-30 03:52:03
    2. Ahmadinejad, Clinton face off at U.N. nuclear meeting

    Here nations without strong vested interests can play valuable roles in helping to keep attention focused on progressing nuclear non-proliferation. Some communications-brokering between protagonists about surrounding issues that agitate them and might cause them to distract the conference from its goals could also be very useful.

    A new complication, albeit a potentially productive one, is that the United States is now joining Egypt and others to press for a Middle East nuclear-free zone. A part of the US motive is to help add to pressure on Iran which it says is developing nuclear weapons – something that Iran itself denies. This initiative is another one that needs all the non-partisan help it can get from those who are in a position to offer it.

    Usefully, at President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit just a month ago, nuclear-free New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said that New Zealand could offer leadership on the nuclear issue. As he remarked:
    “We’ve got to the position….President Obama would like to see the rest of the world,” Mr Key said, referring to New Zealand’s nuclear-free status and the US leader’s drive to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles.”
    Key lends support to Obama nuclear efforts
    By TRACY WATKINS in Washington DC
    The Dominion Post 13/04/2010

  2. Antipodean says:

    According to the Wall Street Journal, Egypt and the United States are negotiating how to progress making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone.
    This would have direct implications for Israel which is widely known to have nuclear weapons, and Iran which many believe or suspect to be developing them. Iran itself claims its nuclear development programme is entirely peaceful.
    Israel says it is not opposed to the idea, but would want it to be a part of a comprehensive set of Middle East peace agreements involving all the countries in the region.
    1. the Wall Street Journal 1 May 2010
    2. The Israeli paper Haaretz 1 May 2010
    3. The Cairo publication, Al Ahram
    Egypt’s situation is especially interesting. It has developed strong brokering roles within the Middle East, as well as between it and the West. Cairo also hosts the headquarters of the Arab League. Al-Ahram is a valuable source for news and comment on many such developments.

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