A Military Free Zone: It is surprising that the Greens haven’t adopted the “Costa Rican solution” of complete disarmament. What prevents the party which proclaims “Non-Violence” as one of its four founding principles from following the example of Bob Jones who, in 1983, announced that his newly-formed New Zealand Party would join Costa Rica in abolishing the armed forces?
GOLRIZ GHARAMAN, the Greens’ defence spokesperson has castigated her coalition partners for purchasing four Boeing P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft to replace the Air Force’s ageing fleet of Orions. Her stance is more-or-less in keeping with the Green Party’s pacifist leanings, but Gharaman’s objections to the aircraft’s war-fighting capabilities raises the more interesting question of why the party needs a defence spokesperson at all?
Rather than call for an air force devoted exclusively to search-and-rescue, and supporting scientific research (which wouldn’t really be an air force at all) would it not be more philosophically consistent of the Greens to follow the example of the Central American nation of Costa Rica which, in 1948, did away with its armed forces altogether?
That’s right, for the past 70 years this small, Spanish-speaking country, sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama, has done without an army, navy and air force. The closest Costa Rica comes to a military formation is its Special Intervention Unit of 70 highly-trained commandos who operate under civilian command and are tasked with protecting their fellow citizens from heavily-armed drug lords and terrorists. National security is maintained by Costa Rica’s “Public Forces” which are themselves answerable to the Ministry of Public Security. An “Air Vigilance Service”, operating fewer than 20 aircraft (none of them military) assists with fisheries protection, search-and-rescue and general government support.
Costa Rica’s unbroken sequence of democratically-elected administrations stands in sharp contrast to the tragic history of her Central American neighbours. Since disbanding its standing army in 1948, the nation has avoided entirely the bloody military coups and foreign (i.e. United States) interventions which have torn apart El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama and Nicaragua. Over the course of the past 70 years, Washington may well have contemplated intervening in Costa Rica, but how could the American government persuade the world that the USA and its southern neighbours were under threat from a country that has no soldiers?
It is surprising, when you think about it, that the Greens haven’t adopted what I shall call “the Costa Rican solution”. Why would a party which has “Non-Violence” as one of its four founding principles, and which proclaims “non-violent conflict resolution” to be “the process by which ecological wisdom, social responsibility and appropriate decision making will be implemented”, refuse to do what that favourite bogeyman of the Left, Bob Jones, did in 1983 when he announced that his newly-formed New Zealand Party would follow the Costa Rican example and abolish New Zealand’s armed forces?
Not only would the Costa Rican solution save New Zealand tens-of-billions of dollars over the next few decades, but it would also get us off the particularly sharp horns of the geopolitical dilemma of how we should respond to the competing and contradictory demands of the United States and China. As a completely disarmed and neutral state, reliant upon the United Nations for defence against foreign aggression, New Zealand would have no need, or desire, to become embroiled in the Pacific power games of China and America.
Those who feel obliged to object that the UN could offer New Zealand only scant protection against foreign aggression, are under a consequential obligation to reveal exactly which nations the UN would be unable to protect us against. Throughout its long history, China has never shown the slightest interest in conquering a maritime empire – preferring instead to secure its offshore interests through skilful diplomacy and trade. Which only leaves the United States and its Australian lap-dog as potential aggressors. Are we, then, being asked to re-ally ourselves with these two repeat imperialist offenders because that is the only practical way to avoid being overpowered by them? If so, then it strikes me as a pretty odd basis for New Zealand’s supposedly “independent” foreign affairs and defence policy!
If Costa Rica, located in Uncle Sam’s back yard, has been safe from his predations these past 70 years on account of it not presenting a credible military threat to anyone, then why shouldn’t New Zealand anticipate a similar degree of security? Come on, Golriz, prove to us that the Greens still possess some of their old radical fire and step out on the journey to achieve what Bob Jones only proposed: the abolition of New Zealand’s armed forces.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 12 July 2018.