For an Independent and Appropriate Defence Policy

The Green approach to defence starts with identifying global goals, what the main obstacles are to achieving them, and how to overcome those obstacles.

One key goal today is minimising global warming, which threatens to hurt everyone on the planet. That lies within our general goal of achieving a sustainable world, in economic and environmental terms.

We also want a socially just world, without the huge differences between rich and poor which currently exist, both within countries and between countries.

And we want the world to be democratic, so that people truly control their own destiny.

And of course, we want our world to be peaceful, not only in terms of relations between countries, but within countries, communities and families.

We believe that if you have a sustainable, democratic and socially just world, there won’t be much violence in it, and there will be very little need for defence forces.

In fact, the amount of the world’s resources currently devoted to the armed forces of the world is a scandal. Over one trillion dollars is being spent on the military worldwide, and less than one tenth of that on overseas development assistance.

In so far as these arms are being actively used today, this is largely not to improve our world, but to uphold tyranny (as, for example, in Burma) or to protect the interests of the rich and powerful (as in the US occupation of Iraq).

Key to the development of any defence strategy is an analysis of the United States government’s role, against our own nation’s goals.

It isn’t a good record. The American government has been conspiring with other nations against the Kyoto protocol, the international agreement to address global warming.

In its global economic policies, the desire of the American government to advance the global spread of US-based multinationals, and protect their profits, over-rides and contradicts what little it is doing in the area of development assistance.

The American government is hardly a consistent proponent of democracy, supporting friendly dictatorships, such as in Saudi Arabia, while organising against democratically elected leaders, like Venezuala’s president Hugo Chavez, when they speak out for the poor against US corporate interests.

It is widely accepted now that the Bush administration is setting a shocking example in the field of human rights. The right to justice has been denied to thousands of people, most obviously those who have been detained at the US facility in Guantanamo Bay. Vice President Cheney recently went beyond the pale, explicitly endorsing the water torture of prisoners.

The Bush administration is fundamentally challenging international humanitarian law, and its incorporation into the rules of war.

This is not the only international norm being challenged. The long-standing respect for another country’s sovereignty was violated in the invasion of Iraq. America’s commitment to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is rather hollow, in that the US (and the other nuclear states) have done little to keep to their side of the bargain — that is to move seriously towards total nuclear disarmament.

Much as we oppose North Korea’s testing, we can’t overlook the American government’s thousands of nuclear weapons, its star wars programme, and its covert support for Israel and India developing their nuclear arsenals.

When you go through that damning record, it’s clear that in many crucial respects the Bush administration is at odds with the thinking and direction of New Zealanders, and therefore can’t be considered to be an ally.

Which isn’t to say that we should shun the Unites States government where there is common ground. We are always looking for common ground, with all countries. One area where the Greens views strongly coincide with the US governments is on Burma — where the Greens and the Bush administration are for taking a stronger line against the Burmese junta than, for example, are some ASEAN nations.

So who are our strategic allies?

Here, we should first mention the many millions of Americans who are challenging their government’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, their Kyoto policy, the breaches of human rights, and the reliance on nuclear weapons. Many Americans don’t want to go to war for Exxon or Texaco.

Of course, there is an alliance between these US critics and the critics abroad, as was symbolised very nicely in the UN General Assembly recently when Venezualan president Hugo Chavez held up the book Hegemony or Survival, written by the great American thinker, Noam Chomsky.

The world alliance against the Bush administration’s policies includes most the people on the planet, although this isn’t always reflected in, for example, UN resolutions. Many governments (particularly less wealthy ones) moderate their criticisms of the United States for fear of the economic and other consequences from the world’s superpower.

So where does New Zealand fit in.

We are a relatively rich country, one that for many decades was subservient first to British foreign policy, and after the Second World War increasingly to American foreign policy.

However, as a people we have come to see more clearly the problems with the American government’s corporate agenda. It was appropriate, for New Zealanders, that this month George W Bush likened his problems in Iraq with those of former Presidents during the American occupation of Vietnam.

Vietnam was a great learning experience for the New Zealand people. Where we witnessed huge demonstrations, by New Zealand people, against the American war and the part New Zealand troops played in it. A large chunk of the present Parliament, from the Prime Minister down, marched against the Vietnam war.

Iraq today, like Vietnam before it, is proving to New Zealanders a fundamental truth, that you can’t get away with using force of arms to dictate to people their political direction.

In fact, military interventions are likely to produce more problems than they solve, which is what we see with the sectarian violence in Iraq today.

In fact they can encourage even more extremist forces.

The same is true with Afghanistan.

There is no doubt now that the main achievement of the US military offensive in the south and east of Afghanistan (and the more recent NATO offensive) has been to give the Taleban Islamic extremists a new lease of life.

In the New Zealand Herald (October 26) there was an interesting article which said that many Afghans “now see them (the Taleban) as a national resistance force against international troops”. And that trucking companies are now paying the Taliban to protect them against the Afghan National Army which demands “money at gunpoint from every driver on the main roads in the south.” The NATO pact with warlords and opium poppy growers is coming back to bite it. And the way NATO fights the war, using air attacks and superior fire power, has come under considerable criticism — particularly after an estimated 60 civilians were killed in the bombing of Panjwayi on October 24.

There are big parallels between the earlier Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the current US-led assault. Both were motivated by geopolitical aims, but using the cover-story of being concerned for the rights of the people, particularly women, against the Islamic extremists.

Yet both the Russian and American assaults actually helped the extremists by providing them with a mantle of fighting for the national cause against a foreign invader.

I have spent some time discussing Afghanistan because it has direct relevance to New Zealand, in that there were three rotations of New Zealand special force troops fighting under the American-led Operation Enduring Freedom in the south of Afghanistan. Sadly, by being in such a force, they contributed to the resurgence of the Taleban.

The New Zealand government has yet to face up to this. In reality the motivation for sending the special forces to Afghanistan had less to do with trying to help the Afghan people, and more to do with helping improve New Zealand’s relations with the United States.

The subtext is a plea for Washington not to be hard on New Zealand for taking a strong anti-nuclear position, and being independent on some other matters, like Iraq, because New Zealand special forces were fighting with the Americans in Afghanistan.

The problem, as the Greens see it, is that New Zealand’s foreign affairs and defence policy is not yet fully independent of America’s and the commitment of special forces to Afghanistan showed that. There are other, low profile ways, in which the New Zealand government demonstrates subservience to the US. One is the satellite communications interception station at Waihopai, near Blenheim in the South Island. This is part of the US National Security Agency-headed electronic spy network, made up of five key Anglo-Saxon nations. Another is the permission New Zealand gives to US air force transport aircraft to stop over at the Harewood airport in Christchurch when carrying materials to the joint CIA/Australian spy base at Pine Gap in central Australia. Another is New Zealand’s involvement in the American-run Proliferation Security Initiative, which aims to intercept ships in international waters, in violation of the Law of the Sea.

New Zealand currently has a ‘dollar-each-way’ foreign affairs and defence policy. On the one hand being a bit independent of American, British and Australian policies, but on the other going out of the way to prove its essential loyalty to the Anglo-American alliance.

The links with the American intelligence and defence organisations are somewhat low profile, not only so New Zealanders don’t get too upset, but also because the government does not want to get too offside with European interests, and those in the developing world. New Zealand’s participation in the five-nation Anglo Echelon intelligence gathering network is not too popular in Europe, particularly when Echelon is being used to spy on governments and businesses there, to get access to confidential military, political and economic information. And of course the more independent New Zealand can appear, the more respect it has in the developing world, which helps in marketing and in political dealings.

The Greens projection is for New Zealand to be fully independent, and to present ourselves as a peace-maker and peace keeper.

We have already done some excellent peacemaking and peacekeeping on the island of Bougainville, and the Greens see this as a model to be extended beyond the Pacific region. We would like New Zealand to join Norway as a specialist peacemaker, perhaps helping them out in places like Sri Lanka, where New Zealand has some credibility and cultural links — not the least through both countries being members of the Commonwealth, and both being keen on cricket.

To be an effective peacemaker you have to have respect for all parties to the conflict and they need to have respect for and confidence in you. Of utmost importance is having an understanding of the deep-rooted social and structural problems and grievances that underlie the conflict. You must resist the temptation to just side with the government of the country concerned, and see its opponents as “rebels” or in the modern parlance — terrorists. In Sri Lanka, for example, both the government and the Tamil Tigers have engaged in dastardly acts, killing civilians, and if you look at it statistically, most of the killing has come from the government side. So to say only one side are terrorists is to wrongly portray what is happening, and not allow you to be part of the solution.

Western governments who have simply proscribed the Tamil Tigers as terrorists have done a great disservice to the peace process — the latest being those in the EU. By dropping its neutrality in the Sri Lanka conflict the EU made it unviable for Sweden, Finland and Denmark to remain part of the Sri Lanka ceasefire military monitoring mission. Thankfully, Norway and Iceland are still there. And thankfully New Zealand has not proscribed the Tamil Tigers, so can still potentially play a peacemaking and peacekeeping role.

To date, New Zealand has starred more in peacekeeping work than peacemaking. We have our defence people stationed in many countries, the most prominent contingents being in East Timor, the Solomons and Afghanistan. When I talk about Afghanistan I make a clear distinction between the past combat role of New Zealand’s special forces in the south of the country, and the peacekeeping work of New Zealand’s Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamian province. Bamien is a Hazari area, not suffering the conflict of the Pushtan south, so the New Zealand operation is of a peacekeeping nature. I understand that after some years there, the New Zealand forces have never had to fire a shot. The Greens support the good work they have been doing in this peacekeeping role.

Clearly, the Greens want our defence forces to be well-equipped for this peacekeeping role, and we have given general support to the re-equipping programme, involving new helicopters, vehicles, and the new Multi-Role Vessel, which has a significant transport capacity.

The general direction of defence re-equipping has been better than in the past, when priority was given to buying equipment that was optimised to fight in a larger American or British-run combat force. The Skyhawks were a case in point, and the Greens are glad we no longer have an air strike wing. We also favour phasing out the frigates, which are clearly not optimised for our defence needs in the South Pacific. The Multi-Role Vessel and the new Patrol Boats are much more relevant, and cheaper to purchase and operate. The Defence Force, in its Long Term Development Plan, has just announced an equipment modernisation plan for the frigates, which will cost over $500 million. The total cost of the new Multi-Role Vessel and the six new patrol boats in only $500.

Beyond peacekeeping we see our armed forces having a role in protecting our maritime zone and helping our South Pacific Island neighbours do the same. We also want to be able to respond promptly with disaster relief, and to help with search and rescue, both here and in the South Pacific.

We want our army geared according to the tasks I have outlined. The Multi-Role Vessel and the patrol boats are clearly useful for work in and around New Zealand and more generally in the South Pacific, as are the Orions surveillance planes, the Hercules transports, and our helicopters.

The one thing I haven’t talked about much today is terrorism, except in reference to Sri Lanka — which is an illustration of how when considering this question you have to look at both the terrorism of the state and the terrorism of non-state forces, the interaction between them, and the social causes underlying the conflict.

It is not productive to simply accept the American government propaganda that there is some sort of terrorist threat to civilisation. As Osama bin Laden once said, “then why don’t we bomb Sweden”.

The actions of al-Qaeda, as despicable and objectionable as they are, have political goals — mainly to remove Western or Western-inspired military activity in the Islamic world.

If New Zealand doesn’t buy into George Bush’s interventionism in the Middle East and Asia, then the threat from al-Qaeda here is virtually zero.

Looking at the broader world picture, the idea that we are in some new age of terrorism is not in accord with the historical facts. I challenge you all here to go back and look at the statistics for the 1970s and 1980s, can compare them to today. In the 1970s and 80s you have Baeder Meinhof gang in German, Red Brigades in Italy, Weatherpeople and Symbionese Liberation Army in the US, the Red Army Faction in Japan, the IRA bombings in Britain, Palestinians regularly hijacking planes, and Cuban exiles doing likewise.

Today there are a lot less incidents — particularly in the US where there has been virtually nothing for years, outside of the horrendous September 11 downing of the World Trade Centre.

And from what we know about the 7 July 2005 London bombers, they were motivated, to a significant extent, by Britain’s invasion of Iraq. The lesson is that we can eliminate any threat of terrorism largely by not invading other people’s countries.

That is a good lesson for Australia too.

It is unfortunate that political and defence relations between Australia and New Zealand have been undermined by Australia’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq, and John Howard’s obsequiousness towards George Bush over a range of issues, from Star Wars and the doctrine of pre-emptive strike to the critical Kyoto agreement to combat global warming.

However, the Greens are in favour of New Zealand and Australia working together wherever possible, as we have in East Timor and the Solomons quite effectively, and on several other Pacific issues.

Hopefully, if there is a shift in Australian policies we can work together on some of the peacemaking too. West Papua stands out here, and it is good that the human rights situation was addressed in the final communique at the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Suva last week.

But real progress on this issue requires both Australia and New Zealand to stand up to the Indonesian government over its intransigence over West Papua and apply some of the lessons learned in peacemaking elsewhere in the South Pacific — such as in Bougainville and New Caledonia — where the option of full independence in their self-determination process remains alive.


Australian Defence and Strategic Studies Forum