Friday 21 January 2022

Too Much Intellectual Curiosity – Not Enough Fox News.

Bogeyman On Manoeuvres: Not only would a Russian invasion of Ukraine allow the Ardern Government to join “a largely Western chorus of condemnation” and announce (probably reluctantly) New Zealand’s own autonomous sanctions against the Russian Federation, but it would also vindicate the dominant “Bogeyman School” of New Zealand strategic studies.

WHAT WOULD YOU EXPECT from a course devoted to “Strategic Studies”? A reasonable expectation, surely, of a university course devoted to the study of global strategic issues, is that it would be ideologically neutral. After all, the struggle for global advantage: economically, militarily and diplomatically; is driven by a wide variety of international actors. Breaking down the conduct of nation states by passing it through a single ideological lens (of whatever manufacture) could hardly be described as good scholarship. It would risk turning out students who were singularly ill-equipped to identify and interpret the strategic issues at play on the international stage. That can hardly be the goal of a course called “Strategic Studies” – can it?

Which is not to say that powerful nations, the United States in particular, have not in the past actively rewarded, rather than discouraged, a lack of intellectual curiosity, professional competence, and fundamental human empathy. The administration of George W. Bush, for example, was famously suspicious of fluent speakers of Arabic. They feared that such people might “go native” – i.e. demonstrate too much understanding of the nation the United States was planning, in flagrant disregard of international law, to invade. The government of the United Kingdom similarly distinguished itself by requiring it advisors to provide spurious grounds for joining the US in its illegal invasion of Iraq.

If by “Strategic Studies” is meant the training of students to view international events from a single, thoroughly biased, perspective; and to dutifully supply their employers with material based on falsified data and outright lies; then intellectual curiosity, professional competence, and fundamental human empathy might, indeed, prove prejudicial to rapid advancement in their chosen career.

Having read his Newsroom posting entitled “Russian Aggression Exposes Gap In NZ’s Diplomatic Toolkit”, it is very difficult to avoid the suspicion that Professor Robert Ayson subscribes to something disappointingly close to the above definition of Strategic Studies. It will doubtless come as no surprise that the professor’s perspective on New Zealand’s foreign relations locates the United States of America squarely in the centre of the big picture.

Interestingly, the posting begins with what amounts to a huge sigh of relief that the dangerously heterodox Winston Peters is no longer this country’s Foreign Minister.

The good professor wastes no time in reassuring his readers that: “Labour ceased subcontracting foreign policy to New Zealand First after the 2020 election. Peters’ quest to advance free trade discussions with Russia and its Eurasian economic partners, which was written into the 2017 coalition agreement, is now history.”

The notion that New Zealand might derive considerable benefit from distributing its export eggs across several baskets clearly does not fall within Professor Ayson’s definition of strategic studies. Also excluded, presumably, is the idea that the Russian Federation is a strategic player meriting a level of analysis more rigorous than the shrieking of Fox News.

Clearly, the brand of Strategic Studies favoured at Victoria University relies heavily on setting forth the measures best calculated to disrupt and punish the activities of a frightening cast of international bogeymen, the biggest and baddest of which is, of course, Russia – as it has been, off-and-on, since the late-nineteenth century.

Judging by his enthusiasm for the concept, Professor Ayson appears convinced that the most helpful contribution New Zealand can make to discombobulating the Russian bogeyman is to join with the United States and its other sycophants – sorry, “allies” – in imposing “autonomous” (i.e. unauthorised by the United Nations Security Council) economic and diplomatic sanctions.

In other universities, strategic studies professors might encourage their students to calculate how close such unilaterally imposed sanctions come to actual acts of war. In these other universities, strategic studies professors might even invite their classes to consider the consequences of the economic sanctions imposed on Japan in 1940 – most particularly the “embargo” on oil and scrap-metal exports. To what extent were such strategic gestures intended to produce a strategic response? Did the USA’s “autonomous sanctions” make Pearl Harbour inevitable? Was that their purpose?

Certainly, as one reads the professor’s post, it is difficult to rid one’s mind of the image of him bouncing up and down with excitement at the prospect of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Not only would an invasion allow the Ardern Government to join “a largely Western chorus of condemnation” and announce (probably reluctantly) New Zealand’s own autonomous sanctions against the Russian Federation, but it would also vindicate the “Bogeyman School” of strategic studies.

That the current Foreign Minister might be a less than fanatical convert to the Bogeyman School clearly concerns Professor Ayson: “Partway through 2021, Nanaia Mahuta – Labour’s replacement for Peters – publicly expressed concerns about Five Eyes auspices being used to criticise the human rights records of other governments (in this case China).”

As well she might! In the eyes of some strategic scholars (although probably not those at Vic) the “Five Eyes” penchant for throwing their weight around descends in a direct line from the egregious Anglophone imperialism that transformed millions of Chinese citizens into opium addicts – reaping super-profits for the same British drug cartel that seized Hong Kong.

Not anymore! Professor Ayson is certain that: “whatever remains of that sentiment is unlikely to stand in the way of New Zealand joining a Five Eyes statement condemning a Russian invasion. Such an act of military aggression by one sovereign state on another is a good fit with the group’s traditional intelligence and security agenda.”

Is Professor Ayson on record demanding an equivalent statement of condemnation when three of the Five Eyes powers engaged in an act of military aggression against the sovereign state of Iraq in 2003? Or, was he one of the depressing number of New Zealand strategists who appeared to regard the waging of aggressive war (for which politicians were executed at Nuremburg) as a “good fit” for this country’s “traditional intelligence and security agenda.” Fortunately for New Zealand’s excellent international reputation, our prime minister, Helen Clark, did not.

It is always possible, of course, that there is at least one student attending Professor Ayson’s classes with sufficient gumption to ask why the United States does not accord to President Vladimir Putin the same right to defend his nation’s sphere of influence as it claims for itself. For very nearly 200 years the “Monroe Doctrine” has warned-off from the entire Western Hemisphere any and all states with designs to project their power into it. So, that same plucky student might ask his professor why sauce for the American goose is not also sauce for the Russian gander? It would certainly be interesting to hear Professor Ayson’s view on the most likely response of the United States to Russian troops taking up positions alongside their Mexican allies along the Rio Grande.

One shudders to think of the grade an essay advancing these ideas and questions might receive from the head of Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Strategic Studies. One suspects, at the very least, a fusillade of academic criticism would rake its author’s position.

Too much intellectual curiosity – not enough Fox News.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 21 January 2022.


Wayne Mapp said...

Professor Ayson is probably has a broader knowledge of great power relations than just about anyone else In New Zealand. It is true that he is not your standard left oriented professor. But I would have thought that given that are so many of that persuasion, having one who is not is a refreshing part of academic diversity. The whole point of university study is to be exposed to a range of views and then be able to independently analyse the situation.

When I taught international trade law at Auckland Law School around the time that the WTO was established, I was unashamedly pro free trade. But I also knew that was not the only perspective. As a consequence, I asked Jane Kelsey to take a number of classes. I wanted to ensure that the students had both perspectives and then come to their own conclusions. It also meant the students had a much bigger reading list!

It will be the same at at Victoria and the Centre for Strategic Studies. Students will get a range of views from their lecturers and then make up their own minds. All this has almost certainly helped the formulation of a distinctive approach in New Zealand in respect of our independent foreign policy.

pat said...

"Judging by his enthusiasm for the concept, Professor Ayson appears convinced that the most helpful contribution New Zealand can make to discombobulating the Russian bogeyman is to join with the United States and its other sycophants – sorry, “allies” – in imposing “autonomous” (i.e. unauthorised by the United Nations Security Council) economic and diplomatic sanctions"

"The veto power is controversial. Supporters regard it as a promoter of international stability,[2] a check against military interventions,[3] and a critical safeguard against US domination.[4] Critics say that the veto is the most undemocratic element of the UN,[5] as well as the main cause of inaction on war crimes and crimes against humanity, as it effectively prevents UN action against the permanent members and their allies.[6]",veto%20any%20%22substantive%22%20resolution.&text=The%20veto%20power%20is%20controversial.

He may be a cheerleader but somehow I doubt he expects Russia to approve sanctions against itself.

Archduke Piccolo said...

A great read! Actually, I'd be inclined to go back to 'first principles' and ask Prof. Ayson: 'WHAT Russian aggression?' You see a fairish amount of Western sabre-rattling, hazing, spitting on shadows, buzzing borders and general dick waving in Russia's direction. A credulous mind might suppose that these activities are manifestations of Western aggression.

I don't seem to recall much of this type of behaviour from Russia. Amusingly, the middle member of the Winken, Blinken and Nod trio twerped on about Russia's being hard to evict from a country once it enters. That recent Kazakhstan experience of Russia's intervention directly refuted Blinken's nonsense doesn't seem to have effected a change in his musical repertoire. That his remark is as blatant an example of projection, duplicity and hypocrisy of course is completely beyond his comprehension. Self-awareness ain't a Yankee long suit.

Man, the Yanks pick some right nincompoops to head their State Department, don't they? And these are the idiots who issue US orders to their vassal states, of which the other 'Five Eyes' nations are four.
Ion A Dowman

Barry said...

Putin only wants what Kennedy wanted when Russian missiles were sent to Cuba. Kennedy even promised WAR if the missiles were not removed.
So who is the bogeyman - sorry that should read bogeymen......

David George said...

That sounds very sensible Wayne.
An interesting take on academic impartiality from a young scholar; sounds about right to me:

"In November 1933, as rector of Freiburg University, Martin Heidegger published a letter urging students to vote “yes” in support of Hitler’s decision to leave the League of Nations. “German men and women!” Heidegger wrote, “The Führer is asking nothing from the people. Rather, he is giving the people the possibility of making, directly, the highest free decision of all.” Alongside this so-called free decision, students were ordered to march to the local polling office to vote. Heidegger, using the full authority of his position as head of the university, told students: “The Führer has awakened this will in the entire people and has welded it into a single resolve. No one can remain away from the polls on the day when this will is manifested.”

Intellectual thought in Weimar Germany was diverse, but many scholars could not resist the allure to proselytize from their podiums."

"Weber and Arendt were clear: the scholar’s job is not to preach particular values to their students, but to facilitate a clarity of facts and open debate so that students may choose for themselves. As early as 1917, Weber was concerned that scholars were using their lectures to preach new “theisms” to their students. In a speech titled “Science as a Vocation,” he said that the “only morality that exists in a lecture room is that of plain intellectual integrity.” Just as we can no longer claim the purpose of research is to understand God, so too must we reject “happiness” or the advancement of an ideology. Rather, the purpose of academic study for Weber was to provide clear information so that individuals could existentially choose their own values."

"The impartial pursuit of truth has been, at least in its Platonic and Enlightenment forms, the defining purpose of the Academy. The best response to a plurality of values (even those dark and nihilistic) is not for responsible scholars to take up their own morally righteous causes, but to recommit to the values of the institution itself. First among these has been a commitment to the pursuit of truth no matter where it leads."

David George said...

Some light relief from the inimitable JHK:

Then there’s this Shangri-La called Ukraine. Can anyone find it on the map? It’s nowheres around here. Let’s face it: Ukraine is not sending us any new voters or bananas. What good are they? You might argue: they exported the Vindman twins to America (win-win); they supported Hunter Biden’s cocaine habit for six or seven years and paid the mortgage on The Big Guy’s beach house. So, maybe we do owe them.

But then, it’s said that Russia is lurking on Ukraine’s border like a hungry bear at the edge of a sheep pasture, licking its chops, fork and knife in its fisted paws, napkin tied around its throat, visions of mutton-filled perogies dancing in its head. The whole DC foreign policy establishment says we should take a few potshots at that bear, teach it a lesson. I say, just throw Guatemala over the fence, let the bear chew on that, including a few bananas for dessert. There it is: problem solved.

Another possibility, which the “Joe Biden” admin seems to favor a little, is World War Three. We couldn’t lose that, could we? Well, at worst it would be a “lose-lose” so at least nobody else would win. Would the US be any worse off without New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and a few more population centers teeming with homeless junkies? (Who rarely show up at the polls to vote, by the way… and if you asked, could they even tell you who’s running for president?) World War Three begins to look like our silver linings playbook. London, Paris, and Berlin are not our problem, to be blunt about it. Even as you read this, “Joe Biden” is striving to explain his thoughts on these vexing matters, but he’s talking out of his ass so much it’s hard to tell whether he is setting forth actual policy or just breaking wind.

sumsuch said...

America is a bastard of a poisonous quality. China and Russia are worse. They can't talk.

thesorrow&thepity said...

Interesting to read the comments from the head of the German Navy Kay-Achim Schonbach over Ukraine (who's had to resign over them).
End of the day Crimea not ever again being a part of Ukraine is just a reality. As much as the West needs to tear up Russia's list of demands & refuse to be dictated to, Schonbach has the point (Churchill made the exact same point) that Russia is a nation that should be respected.
Allow Crimea & the rebel held territories to get on with their lives & be recognised as part of Russia, let Ukraine get on with its & join the European Union & Schengen

David Stone said...

@ David George
I see why you didn't quote the whole article. Would never have been printed here.

David George said...

Ha ha thanks David, just the part that was relevant. JHK is a bit of a humorous provocateur, artist, author and conservative contrarian. I always learn a new word so that's something as well.
I think Chris is pretty tolerant generally, doesn't like me trying to inject some sanity into the climate change "debate" though.

David George said...

An interesting and informed overview of the Russia Ukraine situation.

"So the pages of history turn. Putin’s tanks stream towards the Ukrainian border. In the Kremlin, their canny, cynical, supremely unsentimental master weighs up the odds. If he gets it wrong, he risks humiliation in the eyes of his people. If he gets it right, he has a chance of rebuilding the empire of the Tsars, splintering the Western alliance and leaving Russia in a stronger strategic position than at any time, arguably, since 1945.

He mulls over his options. He reads that the Germans have offered to send the Ukrainians 5,000 helmets, that the British Prime Minister may be toppled by a birthday cake, that the US President wouldn’t be too upset about a “minor incursion” into Ukrainian territory. Then he makes up his mind.

What does he do? Well, ask yourself this: against that background, faced with such opposition, what would you do?"

sumsuch said...

We've left the post WW ll world of ideals which lit our youths with star bursts. Everything is raw meat now -- unless a new goal can be vocalised.