Thursday, March 22, 2007

Paying homage

Helen Clark has been in Washington for the last few days, meeting President Bush and various other US officials. So far the trip has had its expected outcome: none. So why did she bother going?

It's a question worth asking, because the brutal fact is that we have very little to talk about with the US. We are not interested in talking about the things they want to talk about (Iraq and Iran), and they are not interested in the things we want to talk about (human rights free trade). And there's little point in "building relationships" with a lame duck administration which has only 670 days left in office. The sorts of things we both want to talk about can easily be handled by officials - so why a high profile (for us) Prime Ministerial visit?

The answer is that we are paying homage to the hegemon. Just as the feudal nobility would travel to court to kneel on bended knee, we are making a public display of friendship and loyalty. But with the US further from our shared values than it has ever been, I don't think that is something we should be doing.


In terms of Iran, new zealand (finally) has condemned the weapons programme of iran a position shared by teh US and heaven forbid the UN It seems you dont want to condemn Iran breach of its international committments. .

The current administration still has two yaers to run and it for all we know a republican administration may be returned. Everyone thought they didnt stand a chance in teh last election. So it seems to suggest that becuase you do not like a democratically elected leader we should do nothing with them (even though it is in our econonmic interests to have a close relatinoship.

Just because you are anti-american doesnt mean that all degree of rational thoguht should be thrown out the window. You are very quick to criticise the US without criticising the beloved UN and their clear incompetence (when are you going to post on Sudan)

Posted by Anonymous : 3/22/2007 01:02:00 PM

As for "us" wanting to talk about free trade, there is quite a bit of debate not happening about it. I, for one, am pleased that there aren't any moves towards an FTA with the US at present (despite all the talk).

What on earth benefit will it have for NZ? I can vouch for the fact that there has been very little benefit for Australia (other than being locked into law echoing the US's copyright and other stupidities). For example, when tendering, you can't exclude US companies over local - when it comes to economies of scale, who will win most tenders? Not the local firms. That's just one example of "free trade's" negative impact on an economy.

Posted by Unknown : 3/22/2007 01:26:00 PM

It is always easy to be cynical. But good relationships are maintained through good and bad times. I thought Clark's speach in Washington yesterday (as reported) was pretty unequivical on where NZ stood on various issues, including Iraq and didn't pull that many punches.

We do have a lot in common with America and Americans. A lot of shared values, beliefs and, if you hadn't noticed, a shared language. Not all these commonalities are positive.

So ranting about a PM visit to an unpopular president is pretty knee jerk stuff and a bit lame. Pretending America isn't important to us is a joke. And yes, I support our stance on having a non-alinged anti-nuclear policy - in some ways that makes these sort of visits *more* important and significant.

Danyl, sure it's good PR for Helen Clark, good for GWB also, put that doesn't mean it is a waste of time.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/22/2007 04:03:00 PM

........... maybe Clarke had one of those invitations you really cant say no to.

So we've condemned Iran?, just who have they invaded lately?.

Its a shame but its true, we do have a bit in common with the U.S.A and when the natianal party is in power its a case of where uncle sam goes we follow.

Which is why we were very fortunate that the nats were not in power when the invasion of Iraq took place.

Most people in NZ would know this invasion was based on false reasons and whitehouse fear mongering. If there is a conspiracy about 9/11 its how Bush and the present administration manipulated the al quada attack into being a driving force for the invasion of Iraq. war on teror ppppfffffft

The present whitehouse has what I would call the " cult of the bomb" thinking and seem deluded into thinking the might of the american army can reshape the middle east.

And look where its got them.

Anyway lets hope hellen was able to offer george some good advice

Posted by Anonymous : 3/22/2007 07:36:00 PM

I/S - your post, and some of the comments on it, regrettably mirror much of what passes for a discourse on foreign and security policy in NZ, viz. we look at matters such as NZ's relationship with the US in an emotional gut feeling sort of way -'I like what they're doing' or 'I don't like what they're doing'.

Foreign and security policy is too important to be considered in any way other than a cold, hard and careful calculation of how the world is and where NZ's interests lie. This is particularly so in the dangerous times in which we live. Get it wrong, and the consequences can be dire.

For good strategic reasons, it makes sense for NZ to keep onside with the Americans. The PM's visit to Washington usefully contributes to this, and therefore to our national interests. Equally, it makes sense to deepen our relationship with China. Clark's government has also been fairly adept here also.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/22/2007 09:18:00 PM


I see a lot of assertions in your comment, and not a lot of arguments. Can I quickly say that I do believe that such arguments exist, but that they are Truly Not Obvious to many, if not most people who don't work outside the Defence / Strategic studies area, and thats virtually all of us. They really need to be spelled out, we cannot just take a "strategic expert's" opinion on faith, especially when there are so many intelligent public intellectuals who openly disagree with a lot of the orthodox realist position which seems to dominate strategic studies.

For instance, for most of us, its not obvious how a general, agreeable, premise like:

"Foreign and security policy is too important to be considered in any way other than a cold, hard and careful calculation of how the world is and where NZ's interests lie."

morphs into:

"For good strategic reasons, it makes sense for NZ to keep onside with the Americans."

where the latter essentially means that a high profile "bended knee genuflection" visit is desirable and in our national interest. (You're obviously defending such a visit with the second of your quotes above)

For instance, where is the entering into the "cold, hard, and careful calculation" of the following ideas:

(a) that by criticising breaches of human rights by our friends, NZ and other small countries can consistently and legitimately criticise human rights violations by others, and hopefully advance the cause of HR, which is surely in our long term interest.

(b) that by criticising unilateral actions by our friends, and instead working towards multilateralism, NZ as a small country is advancing its long term security, as well as increasing the likelihood that through multilateralism we'll get other good outcomes that we're otherwise unable to acheive by ourselves (prevention of global warming, etc).

(c) even the realist position over a slightly longer term is relevant, that by not cosying up to the USA we're likely to be seen as neutral in years to come by future superpowers.

(d) what about the effects on the people of NZ? How does a group of people who largely oppose war, torture, lies, corruption, and oppression cope with the knowledge that they're turning a blind eye to that just for later gains? How do we feel about immoral means for security and other ends, particularly financial ends, and how does the knowledge we've accepted that tradeoff change us?

I don't know the answers to these, but I have my intution, and many people share it. So until 'strategists' can prove they've considered these supposedly 'soft' or idealist questions, why should we take such strategists seriously, or consider them experts with assertions worth listening to.

Natural sciences are technical enough that the layperson has little intuition for the correct answers, and is happy to delegate authority... with social sciences less so, especially new ones which appear to be not much more than fronts for particular ideological positions.

I haven't looked at your webpage, so I'm not sure whether you're well regarded in your field or just a guy who likes putting on the coat, but what you're saying isn't convincing to most people here, or in most of society, and we can't trust your judgement per se - you'll need to make some serious arguments to be taken seriously.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/23/2007 11:08:00 AM


For someone who proclaims himself as being against assertions you've made quite a few yourself, e.g., "what you're saying isn't convincing to most people here, or in most of society." Unlike you I do not claim to speak on behalf of most people in society (I wonder how you are so sure that most people agree with your views).

You should also reflect on the wisdom of playing the man rather than the ball. You make some good points, and I'm happy to respond to these, but sly digs about my ethics, expertise and ideological leanings does you no credit. Again, for one who is against assertions, you seem to have made some pretty big ones about my world view.

To respond to your points:

"They really need to be spelled out..." - Yes, I agree, but the level of debate we have in NZ concerning defence, security, foreign policy, often does not lend itself to rational argument and debate. Mention NZ's relationship with the US, and quickly an emotional slanging match, dominated by nuclear ships and Vietnam, and animated by a general anti-American feeling, develops.

Re. '"high profile "bended knee genuflection" visit' - I don't consider that the PM's visit is a case of toadying to the US. It is visit from the head of state of one country to the head of state of another - this is what governments do, Tim, for a range of practical reasons, such as advancing security cooperation, trade arrangements, exchanging views about the world, advancing particular policies and so on.

I have no problem with the PM raising issues concerning human rights, unilateralism vs multilateralism – but if we raise these matters we should think carefully about where they sit in relation to our national interests, rather than simply because it makes us feel good.

Keeping onside with the Americans, or the Chinese or whoever, is not the same as cosying up. For a small country like NZ it makes sense to have good relations with the key players in our region, both for the practical short to medium term benefits these bring (eg, trade opportunities), and as part of a longer term security insurance policy. We can have good relations and advance our interests – the two are not mutually exclusive.

Ultimately what I'm saying is that when it comes to foreign, security and defence policy, emotional reaction, political grandstanding and cheap point scoring is a cop out. It is not a good basis for policy making. It may make us feel superior when we take the moral high ground (conveniently ignoring our own less than stellar past and present), but it does little for ensuring that in a dangerous world the safety and livelihood of our people are secure.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/23/2007 04:11:00 PM

Lets face it, this present white house has been bad for world and humans on numerous fronts.

The U.S.a has become a country which effectivly practices torture, has exempted itself from any world courts, has trashed its own constitution and generaly made the world a more dangerous place. Not all of these things were started by bush but he has entrenched, expanded and accelerated them.

Their attitude of ' your either for us or against us ' shows their stategic vision and place in the world.

Helen might have had one of those invites you really cant say no to but lets hope there is no "closer relations" untill a more rational and sane administration takes over.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/24/2007 11:46:00 AM

I see there were a couple people commenting who think this trip was good PR for Helen? I don't really understand how it can be good PR to be seen in the same room with someone quite that unpopular. I mean, sure, it might be good PR towards the 20 or 30 people left in NZ who actually like Bush, but they are never going to vote Labour anyway, so....what am I missing here?

Posted by sethop : 3/24/2007 04:34:00 PM