Sending New Zealand troops

The Green Party is pleased the government has agreed to our request for a special debate, before any combat troops are deployed to the American-led task force being gathered around Afghanistan.

Sending New Zealand troops into a combat situation is a very serious matter, because we are putting the lives of our soldiers at risk. There needs to be very good grounds before such action is taken.

In the case of East Timor, the nation is united in favour of the commitment. I have been to East Timor with representatives of other parties to support our troops there. We have all mourned the loss of Private Manning in combat defending the Timorese people from the militias.

Let us start by establishing the points of agreement the Greens have with other parties in this House.

We join with them, and all New Zealanders, in mourning all those who died in the bombing of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. September 11 was a day of great sorrow for all New Zealanders as we watched the tragedy unfold. On that day we were all Americans.

We all want the perpetrators of that horrific act brought to justice, and as quickly as possible.

We are in favour of full cooperation between law enforcement agencies around the world in achieving this, with New Zealand playing its full part.

We are in favour of developing all international instruments to help bring international terrorists to justice. In the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade select committee the Greens are supporting the Terrorism (Bombings and Financing) Bill, to implement our accession to international anti-terrorism treaties.

The Green Party has been the strongest advocate of the International Criminal Court, to try those committing crimes against humanity such as the bombing of the World Trade Centre. This Parliament now supports that Court.

However, the Greens are not convinced that sending the SAS to Afghanistan as part of the American-led task force will help bring those responsible for the September 11 bombing to justice, or to reduce the threat of terrorism in the world.

Military action in Afghanistan will almost certainly result in the deaths of more innocent people, and cause more destruction in a country which has already been devastated by civil war and the oppressive policies of the Taliban regime. If the bombs start dropping on innocent Afghanis, then just as on September 11 we were all Americans, on that day we would all be Afghanis.

It would also be counterproductive in terms of the battle against terrorism. A military strike is likely to create more anger in the Islamic world towards the Western powers, and the United States in particular. One of the outlets for that anger will almost certainly be new forms of terrorism directed at more innocents.

A military strike would fuel a new cycle of hate and violence, when the opposites – reason and peaceful solutions – are what are so badly needed.

The Middle East is a breeding ground for terrorism largely because of the frustration of many in the region that the world community has failed to end the suffering of the Palestinian people, and still keeps sanctions on Iraq.

Many in the Islamic world see America as a major part of these problems, as the prime backer of Israel and the strongest advocate of sanctions against Iraq, which have led to the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, while the dictator Saddam still rides high. Saddam, like bin Laden, was funded by the United States in earlier years, when he served their interests. The United States hasn’t got the high moral ground.

What will anger the Islamic world even more is that we are not talking about a surgical SAS strike to bring out bin Laden.

We are talking about a major assault on Afghanistan. How else can you interpret the comment by Tony Blair yesterday: “I say to the Taleban, surrender the terrorists or surrender power. That is your choice.” We are talking about maybe a long war against the Taleban.

And the British Prime Minister’s comments are very relevant, because often the NZ SAS goes into operations alongside the British SAS, and may well do so on this occasion.

Around the world people are saying that a military solution is not the most effective one in this instance.

The Green Party joins with the Pope, when, in his message to Heads of State, he begged that they not “be dominated by hatred and the spirit of retaliation”, such that weapons of destruction would sow “new hatred and new death” when they should “strive to bring light to the darkness of human affairs with the works of peace.”

In that spirit, there are several constructive things we can do.

We can offer investigatory officers to help detect those responsible for the September 11 attack. One of the disturbing things is that an attack on Afghanistan is being organised well before we have all the information on those responsible and their links with Afghanistan or any other country.

Secondly, we can work with other countries through the UN to put political and economic pressures on any country which may be harbouring those responsible. However, any sanctions must be properly targeted so they disadvantage the regime, rather than starve or otherwise affect the people they rule.

Non-military means have brought those charged with crimes against humanity from Libya, Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, and Rwanda before the appropriate international courts. This might require patience. It took time to get Slobodon Milosevic in the dock but he is now there.

Patiently following due process is in the long term more satisfying than the instant gratification of revenge.

New Zealand can provide international lawyers, and facilities if necessary, to help try those accused of terrorism.

New Zealand can also engage more at the UN and elsewhere to achieve constructive solutions to the political crises in the Middle East, which are the root cause of terrorism. New Zealand should be pushing multilateral agencies to give more appropriate aid to alleviate poverty in the region.

Instead of sending the SAS to the borders of Afghanistan, New Zealand would do better by sending a well-resourced medical team, to assist the many Afghans suffering and dying in the refugee camps.

The threat of bombing Afghanistan is producing a refugee disaster as hundreds of thousands of Afghanis stream towards the border.

Aid not bombs is what the Afghans need. If anything is dropped onto Afghanistan let it be food and medicine, not bombs.

Terrorists try to get their way through violence, taking no account of any domestic or international law.

We should not imitate them in this. We should only be part of military action that is consistent with international law, and under the authority of the United Nations, and clearly focuses on the criminals, as does our commitment to East Timor.

Unilateral military action against Afghanistan by America and a few allies both undermines the authority of the United Nations and the rule of international law. We should not be a part of it. We should be championing the United Nations, not undermining it.

We should also make sure that the terrorists don’t win another battle and through their actions restrain our civil liberties. The Greens still want to close the Waihopai electronic spying station because it is intrusive to the privacy of our communications and those of others in the Pacific.

Some have tried to use this crisis to justify the use of Waihopai. But we think it proves the opposite. The Echelon signals intelligence network of which Waihopai is a part was of no value in pre-empting the September 11 attack. Criminals around the world can easily avoid being detected by this system, and the reliance on signals intelligence gave the United States a false sense of security, and therefore contributed to the tragedy. It would be foolish to continue to rely on signals intelligence.

Yes, we are all against terrorism, but we have a duty to fight it in the right way. Sending the SAS as proposed would not help the fight against terrorism. It would actually be part of an assault that creates more terrorists.

New Zealand is a small nation. But we can do our bit to combat terrorism as a peacemaker and a champion of social justice and adherence to law, not as a war maker.