Some very recent developments suggest to me that New Zealand could be on the verge of finding its way in the world, or losing it. Both possibilities are crystallizing at the same time. This situation needs to be grasped, and appropriate choices made.
On the one hand, as noted in recent blogs, New Zealand’s nuclear-free policy has been warmly endorsed by the US Obama administration, and the New Zealand government has lately been seen to act, in Prime Minister John Key’s words, as “neutral and honest broker”.
On the other hand, New Zealand is being drawn ad hoc into a muddle of diverse, potentially conflicting military relationships.
In the last week its ex-ally the United States has been talking of increasing military and other collaboration with New Zealand, and similarly of collaboration with both Australia and New Zealand (albeit that this is not seen as a revival of the Anzus military pact). Beginning to lift off the ground also are army and naval relationships with China. A second Chinese naval visit is due this September. China is also fast becoming New Zealand’s largest trading partner, whilst also being the major US geostrategic rival. Meanwhile Australia is itself, predictably, leaning strategically towards the United States, and both countries are describing China as a potential security problem.
New Zealand decision-makers need to understand a serious potential problem. Theirs is a small country with a mixed, unresolved policy history (in military alignment, with whom, or nuclear-free, independent and what ways neutral?). New Zealand lacks, just now, a coherent and viable international identity.
Consequently, ad hoc responses to diverse military requests could take it into situations where it finds itself pulled this way and that by diverse larger powers, powers that can at times be at loggerheads with one another. Ultimately, this can result in invidious pressures to line up with one side against the other where this may be detrimental to its interests (trading or other) or into situations which are just downright dangerous.
The trick a small country like ours has to recognize and learn is not to allow itself to drift visionless into positions where it feels pressured by what others may want, but rather to develop services and amenities that diverse, sometimes conflicted others can benefit from. Especially ones that help create harmony and peace between them!
When New Zealand went nuclear-free in the 1980s, its government and people showed great courage, and this opened up new, constructive and much respected ways of relating to the wider world. Now, it seems to me, the country is facing another moment of decision, one that presents unprecedented opportunities for constructive activity from local through to international levels.
Successful small countries that offer some cues are Switzerland and Singapore. In their own ways, they have each turned their small size to positive account. The thrust of their strategy has been to make useful and valued services and amenities available for, and most significantly also, between, numerous diverse powers and interests.
The Swiss established a paradigm for neutral diplomatic and other forms of brokering, and both they and the Singaporeans have in various ways made themselves into major international financial centres. Singapore also kept on leveraging new information and communications technology developments as they came on-stream.
Most importantly, Singapore also understood the need to recognize and engage their diverse cultures be they Chinese, Indian, Malay, or for that matter English or American. These populations are a natural source of linguistic and cultural knowledge and connections when it comes to connecting with both the maturing economic power centres of the West and the rising ones of the East.
I must emphasize that learning from others about international services in no way requires or implies a slavish imitation of everything, or of anything in particular, that others have done.
1. From President Obama
A starting point for a uniquely New Zealand approach is the potential for diplomatic brokering opened up by its unique nuclear-free policy. The US President Obama gave the New Zealand prime minister a mission to focus his country energetically and effectively on helping to bring all other nations into the nuclear-free fold.
2. From the 2009 Australian Defence Review, a vision
An ostensibly unlikely but powerful source of support for international brokering work in the whole Asia-Pacific region is the 2009 Australian Defence Review. This review presents a dazzling vision of much needed regional collaboration and community building. To work, it will require unprecedented communication and relevant skills and amenities so that highly diverse nations, interests and cultures will be able to relate well to one another. The review’s vision and program for regional stability and development ambitiously calls for regional engagement
that embraces the United States, Japan, China, India, Indonesia and other regional states within a community that is able to engage in the full spectrum of dialogue, cooperation and action on economic and political matters, as well as future challenges related to security. The [Australian] Government has proposed the development of an Asia Pacific Community by 2020 as a means of strengthening political, economic and security cooperation in the region in the long-term.
This is a vision and regional communications-building programme that a neutral nation specialising in diplomatic brokering and prioritizing resources for a strong related infrastructure could do much to support. For instance, New Zealand academia could be resourced to bring in regional students and adjunct staff to help design and execute relevant research and track 2 programmes, including conferences.
Such a vision of its place and role in the region and the world could provide a stimulus for a new, innovative New Zealand culture to develop, one that could flourish while helping others in this wider environment also to flourish.
This new culture could be underpinned by a relevant socio-cultural infrastructure from local levels/villages upwards. The process could begin simply with a hospitable welcoming of diverse cosmopolitan newcomers by established populations in their localities/villages and places of work and education, including universities. New, combined narrative-creation projects in localities such as have been proposed on Village-Connections could enable the new local villagers and others who might otherwise remain more inward-looking to connect more effectively, together, with the wider world in projects on any number of fronts.
By such means, considerable new energies could be created and tapped into that could ultimately enable and support developmental, diplomatic and business connections and projects with or between many other parts of the region.
Economically, a New Zealand that embarked on such development should become incomparably better than at present in building up trading networks and knowing how to source useful materials and create valued products, then get them to places and people who wanted and valued them. These products would, of course, have a higher informational content and correspondingly less material componentry, processed also with much lower energy-inputs.
Such a project could be described in the terms of Village-Connections philosophy as being at the same time both “locally grounded” and “cosmopolitan”. It draws together civic engagement and socio-economic development at both local and wider, ultimately global levels. The concept of civic cosmopolitanism has been theorised by Gerard Delanty, albeit without the economic facets also built in here (Citizenship in a Global Age (Open University Press, 2000).
So, which would you prefer?
To be part of a nation with localities that were looking ahead and working with a wider vision like the one described here?
Or to be part of a country that felt beholden to welcome Chinese naval vessels in its ports and region today, United States ones tomorrow and both “the next day”? Regardless, to boot, as to whether international tensions were at the time building up that New Zealand could do little about, because today its decision-makers were not looking ahead?
Do you agree? Your views welcome.