Time, it is often well said, keeps moving on. Keeping up with it can require a regular reinterpretation of historical events and contemporary relationships.
This will not be the kind of Anzac Day commentary that you would normally come across, although it will update another blog with the same title written last year. It will first look briefly at the changed nature of conflict in the present-day world. Then it will mention some simple and specific ways in which two original Anzac antagonists could begin to connect right now in initiatives that are underway to help make peace between other, contemporary antagonists. Is this connection-building is already underway? If so, to what extent?
Historians describe the unsuccessful campaign by New Zealand and its fellow British imperial allies to wrest Anzac Cove from the Turks, begun on April 25 1915. Commentators also typically deplore the carnage, lament those who fell and make general statements about the need for peace. Not much is said that is directly or specifically useful for understanding how the nature of war has changed since 1915 and how peace might be more effectively made in contemporary circumstances.
What kinds of developments might it be useful for contemporary Anzac Day commentators – and most importantly also, relevant policymakers – to look into? These include positive and negative factors and clarifying first some of the negatives will help bring positive possibilities, and the value of prioritizing them, into a much clearer focus.
On any scale, war has of course always been the most repulsive way of resolving differences. Additionally now, as was obvious to Einstein and many with him, the use of nuclear weapons in 1945 radically upped the stakes of war. As he said, if a third world war was fought with nuclear weapons, any fourth would be with sticks and stones. In a similar tone, Lord Louis Mountbatten ventured, perhaps with bows and arrows.
One lesson to learn from world war one is how a world war can grow out of just one small incident like an assassination in a hitherto little-known part of the world. The continually increasing international proliferation of nuclear weapons in today’s increasingly interconnected global village will make it increasingly more imperative than ever to prevent wars, large or small, and to have effective, readily available ways of ending them if they do break out.
The increasingly interconnected nature of events means that as never before, violence from below anywhere can suddenly trigger off retaliatory violence in other, far distant parts. That was clearly illustrated last month when the burning of a Koran by a fundamentalist pastor in Florida fuelled rioting in Kabul in which about a dozen people were killed, most of them United Nations’ staff.
While the main nuclear-armed nations have yet to dismantle their nuclear-stockpiles (why?), nuclear-proliferation also continues. A prospect that many hardly dare to contemplate is how circumstances and events could come together if volatile extremists came into power in a country or countries with nuclear arsenals. A contemporary possibility is a politically and socially fragile Pakistan, which is situated between two other nuclear powers that do not get along all that well together….
All of which steers very neatly into updating New Zealand-Turkish relations in ways that would also put New Zealand firmly on track, at last, to make the constructive contributions its 1980s nuclear-free policies situated it to make.
Although little noted in New Zealand, Turkey, with the strong support of Pakistan, is currently a major driving force for helping to bring parties together for Afghan peace talks. Interested parties include Afghans – both government and Taliban – as well as the United States and China. Norway has also chosen to be in the liaison loop. (Turkey plans huge new regional conference on Afghanistan in November)
Apparently with United States support, Turkey is considering allowing the Taliban to set up an office in its capital, Ankara, to enable the Taliban to better communicate with interested parties.
Last year the Afghan President Karzai appointed a 70 member High Afghan Peace Council that has been liaising extensively with the Taliban, as well as visiting Pakistan and Turkey
I wonder how much note the New Zealand government is taking of these initiatives? And is it expressing to Turkish and Afghan governments a clear interest in being kept informed and perhaps indicating a willingness to provide any assistance should it be useful to do so? This is what I am sure the Norwegians will be doing.
Blogs on this website have made similar recommendations before to the Foreign Minister Mr McCully, but it is difficult to tell how far (if at all?) he and his staff act along these lines. There is very little indication to date as to whether or not they are doing so and a full term in office has almost expired. Opposition parties also seem quiescent on these matters, so I wonder they could begin to do some relevant probing and proposing?
Acting tactfully along such lines, as recommended in several contexts in blogs on this website, would give New Zealand much a wider diplomatic presence and could powerfully assist its campaign for a seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2015-16. Last time (1989-90), its brokering roles between parties trying to find solutions but locked into impasses was well appreciated.
As one of its former representatives on the council, Terence O’Brien has written in the New Zealand International Review, Sept-Oct 2008
“Once elected, it was important that New Zealand played, and was seen to play, a constructive middle role on the big Security Council issues of the Balkans, Iraq, Somalia, Rwanda, and North Korea. Amongst the fifteen council members, New Zealand was one of two or three members that did not owe allegiances through military alliances or other political groupings that influenced its position on issues before the council.”
New Zealand needs to clarify and prioritize building up, now and into the 2010s, a professional profile as an independent diplomatic broker. This is its pathway to its making the contribution that its nuclear-free policies of the 1980s situated it to make.
That is, recognizing the significant niche contribution it can make to helping create a world that is free of the threat of nuclear weapons and the insecurities, problems and conflicts that drive and goad people and nations to want them.
At the Washington Nuclear Security Summit a year ago the United States President Obama himself looked to Prime Minister John Key to get his nuclear-free country to play a leading role in helping to create this nuclear-free world.
As a 3 news television report on the meeting between the two said, Mr Key commented after it that “We can offer leadership. We have got to a position where President Obama would like to see the world free of nuclear weapons. The fact that we don’t have nuclear capability or nuclear industry doesn’t mean we don’t have a strong voice.” The report added that earlier Mr Key told New Zealand Press Association Mr Obama had made significant progress on nuclear issues and New Zealand was happy to lend its anti-nuclear credentials in support.
Times certainly change. How well will New Zealand’s politicians keep on keeping up with them?