Friday 8 March 2013

Surprise Moves

Insanity We Trust: Trace Hodgson's cartoon from the 1980s captures brilliantly our ANZUS "allies" gangster-like certainty that on matters of nuclear policy the USA and Australia were in a position to make New Zealand an offer it couldn't refuse. They were in for a big surprise.

WHAT A SURPRISE New Zealand’s anti-nuclear legislation must have been to the Americans. For decades the folks in Washington had (rightly) assumed that the “peace and disarmament” policies of the world’s Labour parties were merely the sort of promises left-wing politicians always made in opposition – and then abandoned in government.
The British Labour Party had once voted for unilateral nuclear disarmament. The Australian Labor Party used to favour a uranium export ban. In 1984 the New Zealand Labour Party was committed to a nuclear-free New Zealand. No worries. The diplomats at the State Department and the Joint Chiefs at the Pentagon remained calm and carried on. They knew that when push came to shove, such policies had a habit of changing.
The US Secretary of State, George Shultz, was introduced to New Zealand’s Prime Minister-elect, David Lange, as the rain poured down on the roof of a leaking hangar at Wellington Airport in July 1984. It was a brief (and soggy) encounter, but he came away convinced that this new Labour leader would work the same political magic as Bob Hawke across the Tasman. He would go before his party conference and make its embarrassing peace and disarmament remits disappear.
This time, however, the policy didn’t change. And the United States, lacking a “Plan B”, did what the United States always does when people and/or countries refuse to live down to its expectations and/or give in to its demands. It raged, it fumed, it retaliated and then it sulked – for more than twenty years.
And New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy endured. Initially, the National Party promised to fulfil its historical role as Uncle Sam’s little helper and restore the status quo ante. It took the wise old head of National Party leader Jim Bolger to understand that putting things back the way they were wasn’t a winning political option. That the only correct answer to Labour’s nuclear-free New Zealand was: “Me too!”
The Nuclear-free New Zealand policy is, therefore, not only a lesson in moral leadership – but in leadership per se. It demonstrates that the need to constantly reposition one’s party’s policies in conformity with the prejudices of “centrist voters” is very far from being axiomatic. Centrist opinion in the New Zealand of the mid-1980s was very firmly in favour of remaining in the ANZUS alliance. Labour’s adoption of the nuclear-free New Zealand policy forced centrists to choose between what were, in effect, mutually exclusive options.
On this issue (but, alas, on very few others) centrist voters were forced to the Left. And, when they discovered that the sun still rose every morning in the east, and water still ran downhill, they stayed there.
The future of politics in New Zealand belongs to the political party which first draws the lessons from Labour’s adoption of – and persistence with – the Nuclear-free option.
Just as, by the mid-1980s, the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD!) strategy of the Cold War had led humanity to the very brink of annihilation, so, too, are the macro and micro strategies of neoliberal economics leading the peoples of the western nations to the very edge of a  social abyss.
The first political party to devise a way back from the edge: to unmask neoliberalism as the most dangerous ideology to grip the Western mind since the equally totalitarian creeds of fascism and communism; will be able to write its own political cheques for the next quarter-century.
It could be Labour or National. (Both, to a greater or lesser extent, are neoliberal parties.)
Whichever it turns out to be, the first sign that things are moving in the right direction will be when one of them finally abandons the shibboleths of free trade and takes a stand for New Zealand’s economic sovereignty.
The second sign will be a bold diplomatic out-reach to the growing number of countries looking for a global trading system undistorted by the selfish, socially and environmentally destructive economic demands of the giant American corporations.
MFAT officials were in Singapore this week for the latest Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. The Prime Minister has been visiting Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Chile.
The TPP, as currently drafted, unfairly advantages American corporations. The countries the PM is visiting are anxious to confound the United States’ imperial expectations and demands.
We could help with that. After all, we’ve done it before.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 8 March 2013.


David said...

Forget National. And Labour until a full-on schism sees the left wing of the party overthrow the right for good. Since this may take a few more elections, it's not beyond the realms of possibility for a Greens/Labour government with the Greens as the dominant party (thanks to winning more seats) eventually leading the way.

George D said...

It was the right decision, and if I was old enough to think for myself at the time, I would have supported it and done the same.

(One of my very first memories is of being a child and letterboxing the streets of Papatoetoe with my dad, then a National Party activist - delivering leaflets against a South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone).

I wonder if the National Party would have recanted their initially reluctant support eventually had the Soviet Union not dissolved unexpectedly. The strident ideological rhetoric they could have summoned several years previously would still be there. Labour did the right thing, and they did it not knowing that history would make for an environment that made it much easier for the policy to survive.

sauce said...

Great post, Chris. Unfortunately David shearer doesn't read the blogs though.

Orka said...

I agree with George D but note how things have changed when we look at the Kim Dotcom debacle. Firstly allowing the US Govt to dictate the initial attack on the basis of a law that hadn't yet been passed and now allowing them the right to non disclosure of their evidence.
Being a proud Kiwi from Ponsonby I feel ashamed of many of the weak-kneed decisions from all sides of our Govt.

Robert Miles said...

NZ Political discourse is almost as removed from reality as that in Kenya. Most commentators believe any belief in neoliberalism finished at least five years ago. Certainly Reagan and Thatcher abandoned Monetarism for expansion in 1985.
Certainly social mobility in the US Stopped in 1971 and in Britain in 1981 as Reagan and Thatcher followed Hayek by the book.
There must have been something about the education Hitler. Hayek and Wittgenstein recieved in Linz at the turn of the century. After Hayek and Wittgenstein finished their service in the prototype SS Jaeger divisions apparently they spent a year in NY Public Library trying to reorientate themselves and learn the truth about the war.
Hayek seems to me to continuing the struggle by other means and using economics as a means of warfare.
One of the commendable things about Thatcher is she thought Lawson and Reagan barking and stupid when they believed market liberalism would provide any benefit for ordinary people. Thatcher was determined not to interfere with benefits or the black economy in the North-she regarded it as justice for ordinary people. And I rather agree.
Wittgenstein of course after an academic career trying to destroying the meaning of words, ctegory and languages- came to his senses when he saw the rape and pillage the Soviet Army or rather their second line troops conducted in six weeks in Vienna. He entirely reversed his philosophy and became a dedicated supporter of the west and the idea that the meanings of words should not be corrupted.
In terms of the non nuclear thing it is not as you say. I was significantly involved in the issue and in 1984 had recently shown no enthusiasm at a job interview at the ministry of defence when I would start in the mailroom and move on to higher things which they had in mind if I established I could be trusted. I corresponded and talked on the phone to Helen Clark afterwards and I think I can be pretty categorical that she was impressed by my articles and always planned to approach the issue by deciding that any ships that was nuclear capable would be barred. I had repeatedly stressed that they all USN and RN warships were nuclear capable in fact and reality and that is true despite anything Hager and Basset say. While the Buchanan was unlikely to be nuclear armed because of its old limited sonars the fact it was coming from Japan hardly indicated it was non nuclear and the fact it was too old to have been built fully shock proof like post 69 frigate didn't guarntee it was non nuke. If soviet nuke sub was closing 8 miles out of a carrier I think the nuke Asroc would have been fired regardless. In the final years of atmopsheric testing the tactical nuke anti sub weapons were extensively tested and the old destroyers that fired them in 62 didnt sink.

Robert Miles said...

Well of course the US had a great deal to put up with from Muldoon and Lange as well. The United States was making a huge and outrageous commitment to supporting Muldoon and NZ in their eyes by dispatching the nuclear hunter killers Queenfish,Phoenix, Haddo and Pintado, essentially first strike nuclear weapons against Soviet SSBNs and vessels that according to my research at the time really almost never made port calls -only 12 ports in the world would accept theese US subs and in the words of strategic, intelligence and military experts at ANU the same people who headed Australian naval intelligence and made Australian defence policy- the 'highest priority nuclear targets'. Given at that time the US was engaged a virtual undeclared third world war with the Soviet Union with its fast almost totally silent subs , the US could have assumed a joint party agreement to honour Anzus.
Ship visits weree an expected obligation- the US stike carriers the 77,000 ton America and shangri La that visited in 1968 and 69 and the other big ships the US wanted to send here came basically as to Sydney for r & r between the legs of kiwi chicks. That was the number one point of the Lange's US students at Oxford- NZ seemed to have rather high and hyporcritical moral standards. Sexual liberation for anyone but US sailors- bans on US ships but ports full of trawlers which were controlled by the Soviet Navy and intelligence gatherers.
In the 1960s and 1970s nuclear weapons were the only viable defence against nuclear subs or any submarine moving at more than 20 knots. Most conventional torpedoes of the time were basically useless and so unlikely to hit anything that the Soviets would fire live ones at passing US subs.Even in 1984 the USN Mk 48 heavyweight torpedo was the only effective conventional weapons against nuclear subs and it had serious limitations.

sean "nuclear free will never happen" fliegner said...

hi chris - sean fliegner here - yes - but, recall how david tried very hard to appease our friends, by splitting nuclear powered v. nuclear armed.

yes david made a great speech at oxford university. in england. not in wellington/annual conference. as you know, david and co were pushed.

yes david got great mana for nuclear free new zealand. you were there. i was too.

david did in truth and fact work to undermine "nuclear free new zealand" by splitting propulsion from weapons.

anyone - repeat anyone who wants to add to this korero - go ahead - one one condition - show your face/name.

chris have a look at the role wallace edward rowling had in this -

joined labour at 17, my first meetings we were laughed out of town for pushing for a "nuclear free south pacific", "nuclear free new zealand"

but it all goes to show that deep down kiwis listen, kiwis are proud, and here in labour always, always insist on the impossible.

Chris Trotter said...

+1, Sean.