Tuesday 28 November 2017

When Five Million Seems Like A Very Small Number.

Divided Loyalties: When it comes to settling on a Twenty-First Century protector, New Zealand faces a dilemma. The United States provides military protection, but refuses to offer economic security. China provides economic security, but cannot (for the moment) offer military protection. Neither power is likely to go on contributing the ‘missing half’ of a complete protection package indefinitely.

NEW ZEALAND is a tiny nation living in a big country. It’s one of those mind-boggling facts that in an island roughly the same size as New Zealand’s two largest islands combined, the United Kingdom somehow manages to squeeze-in 66 million human-beings. Greater London, alone, packs twice New Zealand’s entire population into an area smaller than Stewart Island. In the greater scheme of things, Planet Earth’s roughly five million New Zealanders don’t count for much: not in the eyes of the other 7.6 billion human-beings who share it with them.

Given its tiny population, how should New Zealand position itself vis-à-vis the rest of the world? How does it deal with the all-too-obvious discrepancy between its landmass and its population?

This is not a trick question. As Maori discovered in the Nineteenth Century: a large pair of islands, located comfortably in the southern hemisphere’s temperate zone, and peopled by (at most) 150,000 human-beings; is simply too-tempting a prize for the world’s predator nations to ignore. Had the tribes not signed-up with the British, chances are they’d have signed-on with the French.

From a strategic perspective, the Maori decision to place themselves under the protection of what was then the world’s most powerful state makes perfect sense. That their faith in the British Government’s promise to respect the manifold local sovereignties of hapu and iwi was misplaced is hardly their fault! Even after the military defeat and economic marginalisation of New Zealand’s indigenous population, however, the Waitangi signatories’ original strategic insight remains unimpeachable. Two relatively large, but thinly-populated islands, located at the bottom of the world, will always be in need of at least one unanswerably powerful friend.

Unfortunately, that sort of protection comes at a price. (As any victim of the New York Mafia will attest!) And, Dear God! New Zealand has paid dearly! For keeping the sea-lanes open to the endless circuit of refrigerated vessels transporting this country’s lamb, wool, butter and cheese to the port cities of the British Isles, the “Mother Country” siphoned-off a small lake of New Zealand blood.

Less visceral, but arguably even more debilitating, was the oppressive cultural straight-jacket into which the United Kingdom fastened its most loyal dominion. All the worst features of British imperialism: its deeply ingrained class prejudices; the complacent avarice of its monied elites; and, most damaging of all, the Empire’s indefatigable racism; left deep scars on New Zealand’s collective psyche. More than a century after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, and notwithstanding the tragic losses of two world wars, New Zealanders – Maori as well as Pakeha – could still be reduced to obsequious delirium by the mere physical presence of the reigning British monarch.

There was, however, no disputing the fact that Britain’s imperial sun was setting. If New Zealand was to remain safe, it would require a more credible protector than the over-extended empire whose power-projection pretentions were sent to the bottom of the South China Sea in December 1941.

The United States’ rise to super-power status during World War II, when combined with the UK’s demise as a global player, unleashed a cultural revolution in far-off New Zealand. The official egalitarianism of the American republic, especially when combined with the raw energy of its artistic output – its music and cinema particularly – armed the USA with a historically unprecedented amount of “soft-power”. Though Kiwis have been slow to admit it, the emancipation of their cultural imagination owes an enormous debt of gratitude to their American protector.

New Zealand’s strategic dilemma in the Twenty-First Century arises out of two historically related developments. The first was Deng Xiaoping’s decision to pursue “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” – basically, his Communist Party’s re-invention of traditional Chinese mercantilism. The second, the “Reagan Revolution’s” triumph over Rooseveltian progressivism in the 1980s. This brought about a qualitative change in the character of American soft power. It was a change which many New Zealanders found unpalatable – even frightening.

As the consequences of these two historical shifts worked their way through New Zealand’s economy and society, the maintenance of a coherent foreign policy became increasingly difficult. Economically, New Zealand is oriented firmly towards its crucial Chinese markets. Culturally, diplomatically and militarily, however, the ties that bind remain American. The challenge confronting successive New Zealand governments has been how to reconcile Washington’s insistence that New Zealand remain a US protectorate, while simultaneously refusing to guarantee its economic security.

When it comes to settling on a Twenty-First Century protector, therefore, New Zealand faces a dilemma. The United States provides military protection, but refuses to offer economic security. China provides economic security, but cannot (for the moment) offer military protection. Neither power is likely to go on contributing the ‘missing half’ of a complete protection package indefinitely.

There are times when five million seems like a very small number indeed.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 28 November 2017.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Is not as if we skipped eagerly into the arms of the Americans. That decision was taken gradually and rather reluctantly over a period of time. And even so the Australian seem to have embraced the US far more than we have judging by their enthusiastic participation then all the stupid wars the US has fought(and lost) in the last fifty years.

David Stone said...

I guess America sort of protected us from Japan during WW2, but that was justas part of defending western civilisation in general from the aggression of Japan at that time , and G Hitler's Germany. Do you think they would have done the same if it were only NZ that was threatened? Possibly, but who would you imagine might be our aggressor? unless it were again the whole of the Anglo Saxon world under attack. China perhaps? Indonesia? And to what purpose.
The greatest threat to N Z militarily or at least violently is through being a soft but appropriate target for terrorist acts of reprisal for our being a willing accomplice to US imperial military interference against mostly Muslim states.
With friends like the US enemies arise automatically.
Our best defence is to act morally and independently on the world stage, and demonstrate a civilised social democracy if the world wants to look, rather than involve ourselves in pretending to try and impose it on other countries with machine guns ,missiles , jet fighter bombers , depleted uranium tank shells and white phosphorus, and drones.

Cheers D J S

Reen said...

I don't think the US rescued us. They were at war with Japan,(having provoked a conflagration anyway by imposing an energy blockade).
When we went nuclear free, the US withdrew from their previous promise under ANZUS of defending us, and revised their security obligations.The only reason they would come to our defence would be if it was to their own geopolitical advantage.
And heaven help us if that ever comes to pass, with their current war strategy being massive bombing from the air and total destruction
Just look at how Raqqa was liberated
Our best defence is neutrality

BlisteringAttack said...

My understanding is that when Singapore fell in Feb 42, Fraser asked Churchill for the return of NZ troops in North Africa to defend NZ to a likely Japanese invasion.

Churchill refused.

Fraser then asked Roosevelt for US assistance. Roosevelt agreed and sent Marines etc to train and station in NZ in order to fight the Japanese in the Pacific theatre.

Of course, the Canberra Pact annoyed the Americans. And Fraser (a dour Scot) didn't like the Americans.

J Bloggs said...

The fundamental difference between the two powers, is that Americans aren't particularly interested in relocating outside their own borders - they just want the rest of the world to bow to them.

And to be honest. I can live with that.

The Chinese, on the other hand, do want to expand (after all, 1 billion people are starting to run out of room in the homeland).

Nation states seldom act out of altruism. I don't expect the US to give a monkey's about NZ, unless their own interests are threatened (as per WW2).

China is not going to come to NZ's defence unless there is a compelling reason for them to do so. And the only way I see that happening, is that there is a sizable population of Chinese citizens in NZ under threat. If NZ were to become a Chinese protectorate, be assured it won't be on behalf of the Anglo-Saxon or Maori populations of our countries.

Anonymous said...

A thoughtful post Chris. You state 'China provides economic security...'
but I beg to differ.

All comodity producers are price takers, not price setters. When a supplier has one major customer it becomes a trap. Ask anyone who supplies a supermarket chain. The constant pressure to reduce prices and the dependency is telling. Chinese mercantilism is a lot more ruthless than supermarket chains. They are obsessed with 'market share' and will strive to vertically integrate ownership and every aspect of the supply chain, from raw material to customer. Loyalty means absolutely nothing. Dollars dominate.

The concept of economic security being provided by China can be best illustrated by a convicted man laying his head on the block below a guillotine blade.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

"having provoked a conflagration anyway "
Are you crazy? The Japanese had provoked – really provoked – war with China, and was in the process of expanding into Southeast Asia, specifically the French colonies there. And the American blockade was a legitimate response to an aggressive power. Not saying America hasn't been aggressive in the past, but I don't think you can really fault them for this one.

Robert M said...

Rational debate on defence is almost impossible in New Zealand. Since the end of WW2 it has been assumed more and more that so called nuclear deterrence if it exists of course, removes the possibility of a conventional or limited nuclear WW3 or any possibility of New Zealand being invaded This is not really true. Once the superpowers , ie The US and Russia built up an arsenal of hydrogen bombs,they essentially canceled themselves out and became irrelevant. It is also clear that the nuclear and hydrogen bomb arsenals of the superpowers do not necessarily constitute sufficient threat to stop the current immediate threat of North Korea's boy king leader, Jong throwing one. In 1971 President Nixon deployed the USS Enterprise a nuclear powered strike carrier in the Indian Ocean as a passive soft power theat to India in support of Pakistan in during the 1971 war between Pakistan and India. The deployment of the USS Enterprise failed to deter India or the Indian Navy which operated its missile boats, frigates and aircraft carrier Virkant ( ex HMS Hercules) the Indian Osa missile boats eventually managed a direct hit into the Karachi oil refinery tank farm blowing up much of the city, after the Indian Air Force Mirages and second Hand Canberras acquired from the RAF and RNZAF as usual failed to get low enough to hit anything, being kept a couple of miles high even by the sort of MK 5 40mm guns on old cruisers of the HMS DIadem and Royalist sort and the Soviet twin 37mm which are identical to the RN twin 40m in most respects. The Indian Navy having made the right aircraft choice of the Seahawk for its small aircraft carrier managed to sink much of the Navy and Merchant Marine of Pakistan, In the 1950s and 1960s Britain generally sold off its most effective naval warships rapidly and in many cases only ever used its most effective weapons for export. The Seahawk fighter is a classic example of this after being withdrawn from frontline RN service in 1959 it was immediately inntroduced as a frontline navl figher for the Kreigsmarine, Dutch Air Force and Indian Navy. The RAF operated a wide range of fighters largely of danger to its own pilots the Lightning, Scimitar, Javelin and Vixen while Switzerland and Chile flew the Hawker Hunter lile the Seahwk upgraded with modern sidewinders to the 1990s.Supposdely great RAF/RN jet fighters like the Lightning and Scimitar were essentially cofin makers as bad as the stargigher P. Caygil. Lightning Eject)- Pen Sword 2012).
The choice of New Zealand to concentrate largely on anti sub and electronic warfare mean in many ways we disarmed completly as real anti sub was inevitably nuclear capability

Nick J said...

Maureen, I think that you might not be as confident in your assertion of the US "rescuing" us had the Japanese won at Midway (as they really should have). We would at that point have been wide open to occupation. Yes the US did not set out to "rescue " us, but they were determined to prosecute a war with Japan to a successful conclusion, which per se meant that they needed NZ and Australia as forward bases. The Japanese fully understood this which is why we were in the line of fire. The prospect of even a brief Japanese occupation might be enough to convince anybody of the need for a protector, the US stepping in where our British cousins had failed.

That the USA had provoked a war by sanctions might bear examination, the reality was that Japan was already at war in China and the US were attempting to curb this, plus protect their interests in the region. That is instructive as it proves the proposition that when superpowers play imperial games those who are non aligned must take their chances or align. Nothing has changed here since 1940, three super power empires went to war, one emerged pre-eminent. Today the challenge to the Pacific being a US pond has emerged from China, not Japan. Can we stay neutral? It would be nice, I just dont see it as being a luxury we will be allowed.

Consider this as an example of what happens to even big fish. If you had asked Hitler in 1939 what German war aims were versus Britain he might have said to militarily occupy Britain, make it indebted and a tribute nation, take over its imperial possessions and interests, and keep it long term as a vassal. The Americans achieved this by 1944 as an ally without ever firing a shot. Be careful what you wish for.

Charles E said...

The assumption China is going to become a dominant power is open to serious doubts.
China has big issues internally as well as externally. Huge. It could impode politically. A restless population that does not like its government at all & is environmentally squeezed. Life is not that great in China. And the rest of the world is not the slightest attracted to Chinese culture or influence.
Whatever crap the US pours out currently it is very likely to be temporary and followed by much better as these things swing in a free world. And whatever you think of US & Western culture, be it that it is shallow & fickle or deep and strong, it does seem to reflect the human condition, its character and nature, so no chance China will dominate unless they become Western. Which may happen one day... but that is likely decades off.

Reen said...

Yes I take your point that the Japanese in NZ would not have been a pleasant experience.Probably not as bad as the US action on Japan...2 catastrophic nuclear bombs on civilian targets at a time when the Japanese were asking for peace terms, or the fire bombing of Tokyo, but at least we were spared the undeniable war crimes of the Japanese vis a vis torture etc
As far as US interests go, there seem to be rather a lot of them throughout the world
Maybe its time for humans to make the next evolutionary step, towards cooperation , rather than competition, as expressed by hegemonic empires through the ages
.I would suggest that we either make that leap now, or its all over in the not too far future....climate change, environmental collapse, nuclear catastrophe

greywarbler said...

Nick J
A bit of plainspeak, realpolitik. Thanks for those points. Important to keep grounded. Decision-making - what's the best of two or three unsatisfactory options? What will each lead to, in probability? What effect will cleaving to one have on the others? Should we be the hard-to-get companion, taking time to talk to Russia and look into more implacable eyes of world leaders, or do I mean inscrutable? Can we find one that is more scrutable than the others, and are our envoys to the mirror cities informed enough, experienced enough, cynical enough and on-task enough not be to affected and deflected by the buzz and ambience and good living to draw valid conclusions?