A Choice To Be Made: The question New Zealand’s elected leaders are now required to answer is whether or not they are obliged to respond to the Russian Federation’s dangerous and despicable attempt to assassinate Sergei Skripal, by joining-in with London’s equally dangerous retaliatory sanctions. Measures which may prove detrimental to the long-term foreign policy aspirations and economic interests of the New Zealand people.
NEW ZEALAND is fast approaching a fork in the road. Over the next few hours and days the Labour-NZ First coalition government will be required to identify who its friends are. Will Prime Minister Ardern and Foreign Minister Peters reaffirm their willingness to abide by the rules of “The Club” – also known as “The Five Eyes” – or will they respectfully decline to participate in the ratcheting-up of tensions between the Anglo-Saxon powers and the Russian Federation?
At stake is the Prime Minister’s vision of a New Zealand which acts independently, as an “honest broker”, on the international stage. A nation committed to easing – not exacerbating – international tensions. Her Foreign Minister’s long-held conviction that New Zealand and the Russian Federation have much to gain, and very little to lose, by strengthening their economic relationship is also on the line.
Winston Peters’ concern about this country’s growing dependence on the Chinese economy and his wish to increase the number of baskets in which New Zealand carries its eggs, has not escaped the notice of this country’s Five Eyes “partners”. Neither have his sceptical comments regarding the shooting-down of Flight MH-17 over the Ukraine, nor his refusal to add New Zealand’s voice to the Western chorus condemning Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election. Most certainly this reticence has not endeared him to the British.
So alarmed have the British become about a possible New Zealand departure from the London-forged consensus on Russia’s aggressive culpability, that their Wellington High Commission has started briefing against the New Zealand Foreign Minister to New Zealand journalists. According to Richard Harman’s POLITIK website:
“The British invited selected journalists (POLITIK did not attend) to a briefing clearly intended to soften up New Zealand public opinion to join in any sanctions Britain might try and impose on Russia who it suspects of being behind the poisoning [of Russian double -agent Sergei Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia]. The fact that a senior diplomat conducted the briefing suggests that the British felt they needed to make a strong case in Wellington.”
This is an extraordinary revelation. It shows the British Government is willing to interfere directly in the domestic politics of an independent nation state – ironically, the very same “crime” Russia stands accused of in relation to the American electoral process. It also shows, by the way, that there are New Zealand journalists in New Zealand’s capital city who are willing to allow themselves to be used for the purposes of advancing the interests of a foreign power. (It remains to be seen whether the journalists who allowed themselves to be used by the National Party to drive Winston Peters out of Parliament in 2008, were included in this select little group.)
It is instructive to compare the British High Commission’s willingness to brief against Winston Peters, with the willingness of the Australian Government to foot-trip Jacinda Ardern’s efforts to relieve the suffering of the detained asylum-seekers on Manus Island. Canberra sanctioned the leaking of “classified” information to both the Australian and New Zealand news media: unconfirmed reports that were seized upon by right-wing journalists and broadcasters in both countries to paint New Zealand’s young prime minister as a naïve and ill-informed diplomatic amateur.
What these two countries have in common is membership of the “Five Eyes Club”. Clearly, New Zealand is not expected to deviate by so much as a single step from the diplomatic and national security “line” laid down by its larger and much more powerful “partners” in global surveillance – and intervention.
Equally clearly, the senior members of the Five Eyes Club can rely upon a trusted group of local “opinion formers” to work against any politician and/or political party deemed to be placing the “long-standing security relationships” of club members at risk.
Also to be relied upon are the national security apparatuses and the armed forces of the Five Eyes partners. It has long been an article-of-faith among the left-wing critics of Western Imperialism that the ruling institutions of the imperialist powers have much more in common with each other than they do with the subordinate populations of their own nation-states. To discover where these countries’ spooks and soldiers true loyalties lie, all their citizens need do is elect a government committed to severing the ties that bind them together.
Clearly, the British and the Australians are convinced that an irresponsible New Zealand electorate (aided and abetted by the country’s absurd MMP electoral system) has saddled them with a coalition government that can no longer be relied upon to follow the rules of The Club. The sanctions London is determined to impose upon the Russian Federation will thus become a litmus test of New Zealand’s readiness to join in the diplomatic and economic “containment” measures demanded by Prime Minister Teresa May.
Over the course of the next few days, Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters must decide whether the international relationships and economic interests of New Zealanders are to be decided in Wellington, by the government they have democratically elected, or in London and Canberra by politicians, spies and soldiers over whom they exercise no control whatsoever.
That great powers sometimes do dangerous and despicable things to those they suspect of acting against their interests is a regrettable fact of international life. In this respect, the British and Americans have as much to be ashamed of as the Russians. The question New Zealand’s elected leaders are now required to answer is whether or not they are obliged to respond to the Russian Federation’s dangerous and despicable attempt to assassinate Mr Skripal, by joining-in with London’s equally dangerous retaliatory sanctions. Measures which may prove detrimental to the long-term foreign policy aspirations and economic interests of the New Zealand people.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 15 March 2018.