New Zealand's Foreign Policy

Gerald McGhie with Rev Akuila Yabaki Wellington 2012
New Zealand’s Foreign Policy: New Zealand’s 
Place in the World *
By Gerald McGhie 

Gerald McGhie is a former career diplomat who served as ambassador to Moscow and Seoul, High Commissioner to Port Moresby and Commissioner in Hong Kong. Now retired, he is a past director of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs and was chairman of the New Zealand chapter of Transparency International.

The December – January issue of the International Review contains the text of a talk given to the Institute by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and, later, of Defence, Hon Phil Goff. Mr Goff, now Opposition spokesman for Foreign Affairs drew on his lengthy experience in both portfolios to discuss New Zealand's place in the world.

As Mr Goff explained, the fundamentals are clear – New Zealand, small and isolated is deeply dependent on overseas markets. Even so we have played an almost disproportionate role as an international citizen particularly in overseas wars. The First and Second World Warsi gave us the credentials for an early seat at the major international organisations – particularly the League of Nations and the United Nations where we have played an active part in discussions on major international issues including the work of the Specialised Agencies. Mr Goff expressed opposition to the United Nations Security Council permanent members’ veto and was critical of the “lack of will and commitment” among member states to reach agreement on solutions and implement them.

The Opposition spokesman wants to see Wellington making its own decisions on what alliances and international commitments New Zealand enters into. In deciding on the key issues a Labour government would be guided by the values and principles that underpin New Zealand society. Those principles fit us well to become involved in international conciliation and mediation issues.

It is not possible to cover in detail the comprehensive range of issues discussed by Mr Goff which included climate change, Doha, disarmament, non-proliferation and conflict prevention. He also refers to his wish to rebuild the Ministry of Foreign Affairsii.

There is a comment that four economists will express five different viewpoints on a given issue. Perhaps foreign policy commentators have a similar disposition. Be that as it may, I offer the following as a supplement to Mr Goff's views.

Walter Lippmann iii considered that to establish a balanced foreign policy a nation must maintain its objectives and its power in equilibrium; its purpose within its means; its means equal to its purposes; its commitments relative to its resources; its resources adequate to its commitments. Without these factors in line it would not be possible to undertake an effective foreign policy. Lippmann’s comments provide a valuable foreign policy perspective – for both small countries (New Zealand) and large (the United States, now the world’s largest debtor nation).

The Global Financial Crisis (GFC), the rise of militant Islam (not Islam as such) and the growing international presence of China are significant factors for change in the current international scene. Many countries are having to rethink both domestic and international policies as a result of mounting debt levels. The end result may not mean radical shifts in foreign policy but, as the United States has shown in relation to the Pacific, a certain on-going process of re-emphasis and de-emphasis is required to adjust to the new realities.

Given Hillary Clinton’s attendance at the most recent Pacific Forum and the statements she has been making it is surprising then that Mr Goff made only the briefest reference to the South Pacific – our Near North. In March 2011 Mrs Clinton made her position quite clear. “Let’s … talk straight Realpolitik”, she told the United States Senate foreign relations committee. "we are in competition with China. We have a lot of support in the region which embraces our values.” iv
n a statement at the 2012 Forum she modified her position to say that the Pacific was big enough for both China and the US to work together in but an early indication of the continued competitive context is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, the terms of which we do not yet know but which promise to have a profound effect on our trading relationships and internal regulatory processes. China is not a party to the TPP and is watching developments closely particularly as New Zealand's military/defence relationship with Washington firms up. United States Assistant Secretary of State, Kurt Campbell wants to see New Zealand undertake "strong dialogue" with Chinav but it will require refined diplomatic choreography for New Zealand to maintain an appropriate balance in relations with the two major powers and Australia. The situation is rendered even more complex by the ready embrace of our closest ally, Australia, not with New Zealand but with the United States.

Mr Goff welcomes New Zealand’s bilateral cooperation with these countries but he does not wish to surrender decision-making to the judgement of officials or statesman in Washington and Canberra. Given New Zealand's long-term desire for an “independent” foreign policy Mr Goff's comments are understandable. The difficulties, however, lie in the detail.

China is deeply involved with Fiji; a contact Suva welcomes. Moreover, at their celebration of 50 years of independence in 2012 the Samoan Prime Minister welcomed Chinese aid to his country noting that Beijing could provide development assistance that neither Australia nor New Zealand could. So far, China has made aid commitments of about US$ 600 million for infrastructure, technology and agriculture in the Pacific. According to a report by the ANZ Bank, trade between China and the Pacific Islands has risen from US$180 million in 2001 to US$1.5 billion in Some commentators consider Chinese aid to be “non-transparent", and debt-generating". As Steven Ratuva says, however, "the Pacific Island states realise they need to move on as mature global citizens and look for alternative alliances outside their immediate postcolonial circle controlled by Australia and New Zealand"vii.

There is a further dimension. In spite of some rapprochement the relationship between New Zealand and Fiji remains strained. Let me state again I do not condone coups. But if we are talking about realism in foreign policy (as Hillary Clinton says she is) and we continue to see ourselves as having a special relationship with the Pacific we might also adopt some fa’a pasifika attitudes. Dealing with the Bainimarama government is no easy task. Suva is unhappy with the language and attitudes displayed by Canberra and Wellington since the 2006 coup and remains confused by a sanctions policy which most recently denied a visa to the CEO of the National Provident Fund to hold a series of meetings in Australia with investment advisers. If sanctions are designed to target only those involved in the coup this particular visa refusal would appear to go further and affect every Fijian worker. Perhaps the narrow interpretation given to sanctions by Canberra is more indicative of internal trade union politics in Australia than the overall requirements of relations with an important Pacific partner.

For their part Australia and New Zealand continue to stress the need for elections in Fiji. Surely elections are only part of what a functioning democracy is all about. Governance, the rule of relevant law and working governmental structures are also vital. There have been 10 elections in Fiji since 1972 and five coups. That represents a coup every two elections or every eight years. Elections as such seem not to hold the answer to Fiji's deeply complex socio-political problems. The Hon Murray McCully, New Zealand's current Foreign Minister said, in relation to the latest problems concerning constitutional reform, "these things are often more complex than they appear on the surface" viii. That indeed is the beginning of wisdom. It might also be said that in the Pacific states generally the basic requirements of democracy are not noticeably in evidence. Corruption is endemic.

As other powers become more involved in the Pacific it is time to recognise that Fiji's isolation has worked to exclude the dominant South Pacific state from a leading role in a number of key issues currently exercising all the Forum states – particularly those framing adjustments to regional policies on trade agreements being negotiated with Australia and New Zealand and the European Union. Pacific states’ unease about these negotiations has been expressed by their seeking an independent adviser on the regional trade negotiations - Pacer Plus - as well as for the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union. Fiji may not at present be a full member of the Forum. It is, however, a fully accepted and respected member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group which contains the wealth and power of the Pacific. In 2013 Fiji takes over as chair of the Non-Aligned plus China group.

The Forum and other countries have produced the Cairns Compact, an agreement designed to coordinate aid to the Pacific. China has rejected an invitation to join the Compact. Clearly Beijing wants to run its own development assistance programmes. Pacific countries are well aware of China's position.

Perhaps the developing situation in the Pacific was reflected in the remarks made recently in Sydney by the PNG Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill, where he called for Australia’s aid strategy in Papua New Guinea to be geared towards his government's development priorities and programmes. He emphasised economic infrastructure, education and public service and stated that what he wanted was a "total realignment" of the Australian aid programme.ix Mr O'Neill’s unease will have a sympathetic resonance among PNG's Pacific partners.

It would have been useful to have Mr Goff’s analysis on how he sees a Labour Government dealing with these complex and developing issues in the area in which, internationally, New Zealand is regarded as having some pre-eminence.

Mr Goff mentions Human Rights an issue with which, during his time as Foreign Minister, he was closely identified. His position reflected New Zealand’s long and well documented involvement in human rights issues but when deciding current priorities it is pertinent to recall President Obama's salutary remarks on accepting the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize when he said "the promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach – and condemnation without discussion – can carry forward a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door."

In 1973 Norman Kirk, then Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs said, " … To base our foreign policy on moral principles is the most enlightened form of self-interest. What is morally right is likely to be politically right. What appears in the short term to be a part of expediency is all too likely to lead into a blind alley".x Like Mr Goff, Norman Kirk saw New Zealand pursuing a more independent foreign policy. He wanted frankness and openness in the government's public discussions of foreign policy and a more magnanimous approach to the distribution of development assistance. It is 40 years since Mr Kirk's comments but President Obama has underlined the problems in our new world of an overemphasis on morality in foreign policy.

Mr Goff is critical of the Security Council veto to block a collective response to assist opponents of the Assad regime in Syria. Perhaps New Zealand can best support multilateralism through promoting what Mr Goff describes as a "values and evidence-based approach" to the problems the world confronts. This may be so and if New Zealand is elected to the Security Council next year we could usefully work for reform at the UN including work on the veto. There is no denying the terrible crimes committed by the Assad regime (and other similarly disposed authorities elsewhere). The question is if New Zealand, through the UN, intervenes in Syria then what? Collective will and a sense of purpose are not sufficient. Nor should we imagine that the global rule of law is an inevitability. The real question is whether powerful states will live up to their responsibilities. On the evidence to date the reply would seem to be not really.

Mr Goff refers to the problems of countries "acting in their self-interest and not the interests of the wider international community". Has it ever been different? Thucydides records an early example of ruthless self interest in the Athenian dialogue with the hapless Melians during the Peloponnesian War.xi This may be a extreme example of so-called realism in foreign policy but international relations cannot be divorced from the realities and complexities – even perversities - of human nature.

Syria may be a headline issue which, with some justice, produces a sense of outrage within the international community. But a well founded foreign policy assumes a strong domestic policy. With debt levels at an historic high and some of our traditional markets showing signs of weakness New Zealand needs to be cautious about spreading itself too widely internationally. Many Western Governments struggle to present an appearance of business as usual but, after four years of the Great Recession, there is little realistic prospect of a return to the “old normal”. As Colin James says in “Making Big Decisions for the Future” (3 December 2012) after the GFC, which he characterises as a disjunctive event, "… the social, economic and political landscape, the context for fiscal decisions, will be qualitatively different." James looks to fiscal policy to be resilient. As with fiscal policy so with foreign policy.

New Zealand's problems are varied and solutions will inevitably need to be eclectic. This in no way ignores the need for a wide ranging, hard-headed and realistic assessment of the options but it does mean introducing not only a great deal more pragmatism (until recently a strength in New Zealand) but also an understanding of the processes of human motivation, psychology, anthropology (particularly in the South Pacific) and organisational behaviour. The economist, John Kay, emphasises the need for meticulous observation of what people, businesses and governments actually do.

We cannot foresee the full range of outcomes or the options available but, as noted in a previous article,xii leadership must ensure that policies reflect the basic principles that nurtured our own economy and society. But no policy or society remains static. With some 30.7% of New Zealand's population now categorised as non-European, New Zealand's traditional values may be subject to a rather different emphasis in the 21st century. In projecting New Zealand's values and interests overseas, a new government could greatly assist in rethinking, if not the traditional values of our society, then at least the shift of emphases emerging from our increasingly multicultural society. New Zealand must take into account the implications for our foreign policy not only of multiculturalism, but also of the adjustments to our internal structures that have occurred in the light of the ongoing financial crisis and the emergence of new markets.

The implications of the Trans-Pacific Partnership could well play a central role in such a debate. Free trade agreements as such have been used by New Zealand for opening up markets for years (the Australian apple market, for example), so we should not be surprised if FTAs are used by other countries as vehicles for their own agendas. It is well to remember, however, that aspects of the TPP do not sit easily with the view expressed in some quarters that it is a "model free-trade agreement". xiii International trade agreements aren't just to do with trade. They may influence, shape, limit and even on occasion pre-empt domestic social policy. For this reason, the proposed TPP should be open and subject to challenge.

In the previous article mentioned above I have referred to the contribution made by David Skilling to the foreign policy debate. The current Secretary to the Treasury has also outlined some issues relevant to New Zealand's foreign policy – New Zealand's dependence on foreign capital and the need for foreign direct investment as providing a direct line to international expertise, technology and ideas. The Government 's science advisor Sir Paul Callaghan, has emphasised the need for technical and entrepreneurial innovation if our society is to meet our expectations in a changing world of the 21st century. There is no question that these aspects are important as we consider inputs to foreign policy.

This all adds up to the need for a coherent national debate on foreign policy settings. A new government could greatly assist by establishing the structure and key issues for that national debate. Globalisation has deeply affected New Zealand as a country, the way in which we approach international issues and particularly our way of life. People now expect to become more involved in decision-making processes at all levels of society as, increasingly, foreign policy decisions are included.

Foreign policy is an area where not only the Opposition but also the Government could now demonstrate a willingness to undertake collaborative governance in relation to issues such as those commented on above particularly by providing full disclosure of terms of any proposed agreements (the TPP for instance) well before any commitment is made.

i1 Our first overseas intervention was of course the South African War 1899 to 1902 where New Zealand was quick to offer troops to support the British cause.
ii2 The process of “restructuring” MFAT may by now have advanced to the point where a “rebuild” would amount to a total reconstruction.
iii3 Walter Lippmann 1899 – 1974 journalist, media critic, philosopher..
iv4 Financial Times 4 March 2011
v5 Kurt Campbell Dominion Post 17 December 2013
vi6 quoted in Steven Ratuva, New Zealand Listener, 7 May 2011.
vii7 ibid
viii8 Hon Murray McCully, interview, Radio New Zealand 3 January 2013.
ix9 Papua New Guinea Post-Courier 29 November 2012
x10 Norman Kirk, Introduction to the Annual Report of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the year ended March 1973
xi11 Thucydides 431 BC The Peloponnesian War Chapter XVII “The Fate of Melos
xii12 Gerald McGhie, International Review September October 2012
xiii13 Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 2011 volume 35 No. 6

*  Published in  International Review Feb/Mar 2013.


Homer the first said…
We are a sovereign state. Enough said! Coups are not the solution... but democracies gained through coups maybe a a solution? I await the squealers to scream...
Gatekeeper said…
Norman Kirk's remarks are recalled. For we were in Wellington when he made them in 1973. President Barack Obama's comment is insightful and typical. "The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach - and condemnation without discussion - can carry forward a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless the choice of an Open Door". (The capital letters are added for emphasis).

Hon Murry McCully has provided a huge understatement of reality by reinforcing the obvious. Of course "these things are often more complex than they appear on the surface". How does he imagine we saw the 1997 constitution eventually through to the light of day? Several years of very hard-work, deep concentration with painstaking consulation and dozens of games of golf. To what eventual end? And from the very beginning, it was always made quite plain that the situation on the ground in Fiji was highly complex, becoming more-so with every year and one would have thought that President's Obama's recipe would have featured early on. Not way-down-the-road permitting more deeply-entrenched division to ensue. Think Burma - yes, Burma. Witness the actuality of communal attacks and the need for internal security measures. Witness the presence of the Opposition Leader resolutely engaging with the Military in the face of these attacks. There can never be an alternative to a process of engagement which will take stock of constant re-positioning required to address immediate/ominpresent threats to the safety and security of civilians. No matter the status of those civilians nor how they are perceived. The duty to protect is pre-eminent and the UN Security Council is moving now to give force to this: viz the Democratic Republic of the Congo initiative. More such interventions will be required. Mali is just the beginning. The Sea of the Sahara is not unlike the Sea of the Pacific.
Anonymous said…
Crosbie you working so hard to cover up the military regime. But you seem to miss the point completely. The regime has failed to win support despite 7 years in power.Do you ever wonder why people like Father Barr, Rev Yabaki, Chaudhry, Felix Anthony, Shaista Shameem, and others who suported the regime in 2006 have become the opposition voice? Bainimarama has to do much more if he wants to win elections and get immunity. In any case, Cros I dont understand why he even needs immunity? Did he break any law Crosbie? please tell me.
Anonymous said…
Dear Croz,

I would like to repeat the question from above. Has Bainimarama broken any law?

If he hasn't why can't you just advise him to drop the immunity issue, stay with the 97 constitution and them with his overwhelming support in a popular vote, earned by his honesty, good governance, respect for the people of Fiji and the law, he will have have the overwhelming majority he needs to legitimately guide the refinement of the constitution without any doubts about the legal status of the outcome?

If he has broken any law, why is he still worthy of your unfailing support?

Please let us have your usual wise and balanced response to these very reasonable questions.
"We went to war in Iraq on a lie". (BBC Panorama - based on evidence to the Chilcott Enquiry).

The Intelligence was based upon wishful-thinking to fit a pre-conceived idea of a War of Necessity. General Sir Michael Jackson describes some of the intelligence as 'Fools' Gold'. So, in March 2003 4,000 US and British soldiers and over 100,000 Iraqis (mostly civilians) were killed in Storm & Awe. Based on the lies of several Iraqi Informers, one named 'Curve Ball' - a dissident Iraqi General.

Lies, fabrications, deceits and a desire to fit the evidence to justify a war. Look closely at the faces of those who were paid to protect the innocent: see them at the UN and hear them now. Listen to the French who took another view because they had 'other' informants and they were sceptical and rational 'comme il faut' when the 'Lives of Others' are at stake. In January 2003, in California listening to survivors of the Holocaust make their plea for "No War in Iraq", one asks now "Was anybody listening"? Only two months to go. Now Iraqi children die of cancers on an unprecedented scale coupled with gross birth deformities.

How familiar is this? 'A March of Folly' without end. Lies beget more lies ad infinitum. Foreign Policy based on lies will find its own reward: the cries of the innocent and the judgement of history.

Crosbie Walsh said…
@ Anonymous... Of course he broke the law. A coup is unlawful as is a revolution. But there are many occasions in human history where a law has been broken and a government overturned because they were seen to be unjust. Think the American revolution against colonial rule. Think of Mandella's actions against apartheid. The list is endless. How unjust some laws were in Fiji and whether there was sufficient reason to break them is a matter of interpretation, but right or wrong, Fiji cannot stand still.
Anonymous said…
Not according to Frank. He is THE LAW !!!

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