Why on earth is NZ sending a plane into the Kim-and-Trump tinderbox?

[Published in The Spinoff, 9 September 2018]

Winston Peters says the Orion is to implement UN sanctions, but that’s only half the story, writes former Green MP Keith Locke

We all know the erratic nature of Donald Trump’s policy towards North Korea. One moment he’s threatening a military assault. The next moment he’s all buddy-buddy with Kim Jong-un.

So why on earth are we sending one of our P3 Orion aircraft to a US airbase on Okinawa, to conduct surveillance of ships sailing to and from North Korea?

The reasons given are unpersuasive. Foreign Minister Winston Peters claims it will help to implement UN sanctions against North Korea. But Peters is telling only half the story. The United States has its own sanctions against North Korea, which go well beyond the UN sanctions and cover virtually all trade with North Korea. (See Donald Trump’s Executive Orders of 20 September 2017 and 23 June 2018.) Our Orion will be helping implement American sanctions, not just the UN sanctions.

So what happens if our Orion spots a ship suspected of carrying goods to or from North Korea? It is no secret that the Trump administration would like to interdict some of these ships on the high seas, in violation of international law. Last year the United States tried to get UN Security Council support for such interdiction, but it failed. Since then it’s been talking with allies like Australia and Japanabout the feasibility of going it alone.

One Security Council member, China – which is also our biggest trading partner – would be most upset if New Zealand was helping the US board its ships, or those of its friends, in North Asian waters. Chinese-registered vessels were seen as the main target of new sanctions announced by the US in February against ships alleged to be trading with North Korea. New Zealand would be wise to steer clear of an American-run “coalition of the willing” using military force to implement its version of sanctions against North Korea.

Who knows what will happen next in the North Korea drama. It was all sweetness and light after Donald Trump met Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June. There was some give and take, with Kim promising de-nuclearisation and Trump suspending some war games with South Korea.

But since then the US administration has been asking Pyongyang to do all the giving, slowing the progress on de-nuclearisation.

Rather than just supporting more military pressure on North Korea, New Zealand should be pushing the Trump administration to concede more – like a permanent end to war games with South Korea, security guarantees to North Korea, and sitting down with the leaders of both Koreas, plus China, to work out a Korean Peninsula Peace Treaty. All of that is probably necessary if we’re to achieve the full de-nuclearisation of North Korea.

New Zealand is best placed to be one of the countries helping this peace process along, rather a country committing military assets to the US side.