Tuesday 17 April 2018

Jacinda Has A Bob Both Ways On Syria.

Hard Choices: When confronted with an unsanctioned military strike against a fellow member of the United Nations, a New Zealand prime minister has two viable choices. Either, she can line up behind New Zealand’s traditional allies and deliver a hearty endorsement of their actions. Or, she can take a stand on principle and distance her country from the justifications, decisions and actions of the aggressors.

THE LATEST STRIKE against Syria [14/4/18] marks a further deterioration in the conduct of international affairs. Of more concern, however, is the quality of the response it elicited from Jacinda Ardern. The New Zealand Prime Minister’s remarks were not the sort to inspire either confidence or respect.

In matters of this kind, a prime minister has two viable choices. Either, she can line up behind New Zealand’s traditional allies and deliver a hearty endorsement of their actions. Or, she can take a stand on principle and distance her country from the justifications, decisions and actions of the nation’s involved.

What a leader should not do is attempt to have a bob each way. Why? Because, as the Ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop, pointed out some 2,500 years ago: “He who tries to please everybody, ends up pleasing nobody.”

New Zealand prizes highly its contribution to the formation of the United Nations. The Labour Prime Minister, Peter Fraser, worked hard to advance the rights of small nations at the San Francisco conference which gave birth to the UN in 1945. Fraser, and just about every Labour PM since 1945, has chafed against the veto-powers of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – rightly predicting that they would severely constrain the UN’s mandate to keep the global peace. Identifying the UN as the most appropriate forum for resolving the Syrian crisis and decrying the use of the Veto was, therefore, an entirely predictable and consistent position for New Zealand’s present Labour Prime Minister to adopt.

Had Ardern denounced the vetoing, by the United States, of a Russian Federation proposal for an international inquiry into the alleged chemical warfare attack on Eastern Ghouta, as well as the Russians’ tit-for-tat vetoing of a similar proposal put forward by the US, she would have elicited widespread support from UN member states.

That support would have grown if she had further declared her disappointment that military action had been initiated by the US, France and the United Kingdom (all permanent members of the Security Council) before inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had been given a chance to examine the scene of the alleged attack, gather samples, and make their report.

She could also have announced that, if the Eastern Ghouta incident was confirmed by the OPCW as a chemical attack, then New Zealand would be seeking a vote explicitly condemning its perpetrators at the UN General Assembly, as well as a re-confirmation of the UN ban against the deployment and use of chemical and biological weapons.

Such a course of action would have identified New Zealand as an outspoken defender of the UN Charter and encouraged other small states to take a stand against the precipitate and unsanctioned military actions of the United States and the two former imperial powers most responsible for the century of instability which has beset the nations of the Middle East –  France and Britain.

At a more pragmatic level, such a response would undoubtedly have strengthened New Zealand’s relationship with that other permanent member of the Security Council, the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese have consistently and vehemently opposed unsanctioned and unprovoked military attacks against the sovereign territory of fellow UN member states.

Such would have been the high road for New Zealand: coherent, consistent and principled.

Alas, it was not the road Ardern chose to take.

Instead, having lamented the Security Council’s veto-induced paralysis, the statement issued by New Zealand’s prime minister went on to say:

“New Zealand therefore accepts why the US, UK and France have today responded to the grave violation of international law, and the abhorrent use of chemical weapons against civilians.”

Using fewer than 30 words, Ardern telegraphed to the world that New Zealand’s fine words about diplomacy and multilateralism should be dismissed as mere rhetoric. In reality, her country is perfectly willing to set aside its commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflicts between nation states, and the rule of international law, if the United States, the United Kingdom and France ask them to.

The alleged chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta pales into insignificance when set alongside the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and yet, in the latter case, the Americans were eager to present the UN Security Council with photographic evidence of their claims. There has been no equivalent evidential presentation in 2018. Nor should it be forgotten that the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved peacefully. This time, in spite of the risks, fighter-bombers and cruise missiles have been sent into action.

Rather than take an unequivocal stand for peace, the UN Charter and the rule of international law, New Zealand’s prime minister has chosen to talk out of both sides of her mouth. An opportunity to assume moral leadership and demonstrate political courage has been heedlessly squandered.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 17 April 2018.


Kiwiwit said...

While I agree with much of what you say about Syria, you undermine your credibility with your comment that 'the Chinese have consistently and vehemently opposed unsanctioned and unprovoked military attacks against the sovereign territory of fellow UN member states.' This is the same China that has recently occupied the sovereign territory of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam, and has occupied Tibet since 1950.

Polly said...

A bob each indeed.
Is it her? Grant Robertson? or is the whole coalition part of this cowardice?.
The sell down of jobs in Taranaki/ Energy industry by the Labour coalition Government is a sell out of the Unions and most importantly the unionised workers and families.
Not a word of criticism from the CTU or its Unions?
Not word of criticism from the Winston/ NZ First cabal.
That's collusion and cowardice by all concerned in the Labour coalition/ trade union movement including the unions.
The pox on them all.

Wayne Mapp said...

She was seeing Macron and May within days of the event. They would have been pretty frosty meetings if she had taken your advice.

While, in your view she would have gained points with China, she would have severely damaged New Zealand's position with the US, the UK and with France. Who have got pretty good evidence to support their actions. Visually all other explanations are basically the recourse of conspiracy theorists and Russian apologists. Not the kind of company I want my county to be in.

In reality China couldn't care less about this situation. They have no interest in Syria, and what happens there. All China would have seen is New Zealand being a bit eccentric. Better to be predictable.

Jacinda, no doubt with good advice from MFAT took a careful view. It is also similar to the position of many NATO countries.

The problem with your advice on the sanctity of the UN system would in practise looked like New Zealand was lining up with Russia. I suggest that is a bad place to be, given recent events, including Salisbury.

Nick J said...

I was disappointed by Jacinda response. All she had to say is that she supported the rule of law, and due process.

I'm in constant argument with friends over this. It appears at all levels of governance in the West, including both state and commercial practice that the rule of law is under threat. We forget that to maintain our society that the law must be obligatory, not optional.

When Theresa May does not consult parliament before acting, when Trump acts without the legally necessary approval of Congress we have a shameful diminution of respect for the law. If our leaders play fast and loose then why should not the citizens.

Andrew Nichols said...

...Who have got pretty good evidence to support their actions....
Really? Let's see it. I ask this because of this article in the todays Independent by Robert Fisk sure calls into question our official narrative.


I dont think I'm alone in experiencing a BS detector alert when faced with assrtions of evidence by our mates given their consistent form in telling egregious lies to start other wars

Ardern is sadly a lightweight. Clark was made of much sterner stuff.

David Stone said...

Interesting comment from Wayne Mapp.

Undoubtably a window into the thinking of the establishment. Must not let integrity risk having a frosty reception from Macron and May. Their breaking international laws of aggression notwithstanding. Nor the condemnation of their actions that is coming from the majority of their own populations.
Perhaps you should be in a different country then , Perhaps the US. If you wish to select your evidence purely on the basis of who is providing it. like in this case the White helmets who can only operate in areas controlled by extremists who cut the throats of objective journalists on camera.
China may not have much interest directly in Syria but they aren't interested in being the only country in the world not being exploited by the US either.
Pragmatism wins out over truth and justice every time doesn't it! The road to hell.
And who would consider the rules worked out by the UN after t WW2 to avoid it ever happening again if they risked being accused of siding with Russia.? That Russia might be totally compliant with these rules, and totally accurate in her portrayal of relevant events, is an insignificance or an irrelevance. She isn't playing the Empire's game and is therefore the enemy. We all say so so it must be true.
Recognising that Wayne is a respected establishment mainstream politician is profoundly depressing.

Victor said...


I agree with you over the general sentiments that Jacinda should have expressed.

However, in view of her meetings in Europe and the upcoming negotiations over an FTA with the EU27, I think she should also have used ultra-diplomatic language in so doing.

Auntie Helen would have got this one right, at least at the level of sound bites.

Meanwhile, it's a pleasant change for me to again find myself in agreement with you over an issue of foreign policy.

Unknown said...

Chris - a pundit doesn't always have to be negative surely? The PM putting a bob each way, or a careful bit of diplomacy? Time will tell after some more sussing occurs thru the Europe trip. But I do take issue with the responder regarding Govt intentions towards hydrocarbon industries in the Taranaki. In fact Taranaki is being favoured! Existing projects will not be concluded fo 30 years! Local worthies overdid their criticism rather. Silly really.

Geoff Fischer said...

The Prime Minister's response to the NATO attack on Syria is clearly backed by the New Zealand political establishment, and it fits within the New Zealand government's general approach to global and great power conflicts, which is to support any military action taken by the United Kingdom and/or United States for any reason in any part of the world. New Zealand says it is committed to the UN charter, but in fact it is not. It would prefer its "allies" (actually overlords) to act in a manner that is consistent with the charter (as would the US and UK themselves) but if it is not possible for the UK and US to achieve their strategic objectives within the confines of the Charter (usually it is not), then the New Zealand government will endorse their violations. That is not just Jacinda Ardern's personal position. It has been the stance of successive National and Labour governments. Would we expect any other from a colonial state?

speiro said...

Excellent essay Chris. Any country that gets 'frosty' because of such words are countries that we should be thinking hard about trying to appease in order to sell more 'meat or butter' to. And trade is irrelevant if the people who think we should 'take sides’ contribute to pushing nuclear superpowers into an actual confrontation that neither is able or willing to back down from. As such I find Mr Mapps comments very objectionable
When major conflict appears to be on a knife edge then dissenting voices that challenge a hawkish narrative (such as that coming out of the US & UK) are the most important voices to be heard, broadcast, and debated. Referring to such voices as 'conspiracy theorists & Russian apologists' is a lazy way of ignoring an important argument, and refusing to consider viewpoints contrary to your own.
Trust in politicians is low, for good reason. It’s summed up by Mr Mapps statement 'they've got 'pretty good' evidence. Where? Politicians who think it’s enough to say its 'highly likely' or 'we've got 'pretty good evidence' illustrate why they are held in low regard, because they are caught too often in lie's and obfuscation, and we all know it. If evidence exists then it needs to be in the public domain and open to scrutiny. As citizens we all have the right and capacity to view such evidence when the consequences of actions, taken by governments (in our name) have the capacity to effect the world we live in. Imagine a prosecutor taking a case to court and saying 'Your honor we think it's highly likely they did it as we’ve got ‘pretty good evidence'. Such an argument would be met with ridicule, just as we, and our 'mouthpiece'[said sarcastically] the media, should ridicule politicians who present such cases when war is a potential outcome.
The Chilcott report is still fresh regarding Britain's entry into the Iraq war on 'evidence' that was 'pretty good' when it was being spun, as was the ‘pretty good’ evidence for Afghanistan and Libya (to name but a few) that has turned out to be faulty or non-existent. The 'conspiracy theorist' is the person who believes the countries that spun those atrocities have actually managed to get it right this time. The onus is on the accuser to provide evidence beyond reasonable doubt, yet so far there is nothing but doubt concerning the alleged chemical attacks in Syria because no credible (independently verified) evidence has been presented. The veteran (and esteemed) reporter Robert Fisk, currently reporting from Douma is certainly not supporting the 'pretty good evidence' narrative...but I guess he's just a 'conspiracy theorist' eh Wayne!
A final note, I've found it sad that RNZ's morning report has given airtime to Todd McClay, Simon Bridges and the PM to allow them to express their objectionable views without being challenged. Not once have I heard any of them being asked to justify why we should support this clearly dubious bombing. Not once was the Chilcott report referenced to encourage caution when supporting military adventurism. It’s a shame as I foolishly thought RNZ was there to hold politicians to account, especially in times when the consequences of political actions and words are so important

Nick J said...

You too Wayne, another unthinking uncritical apologist for whatever "evidence" you are fed. Besides the source Andrew Nicholls quotes far more contradictory information has emerged, one thing being apparent; our leaders either have no evidence or don't want to share it. I heard the execrable Peter Dunne utter a similar uncritical unthinking "the Russians dunnit" on the radio, I have only contempt for those of us gifted with good brains that don't exercise them in a principled way. Like you he was in parliament, I would expect a modicum of respect for one of the principles our system depends on: the process and rule of law, onus of the accuser to provide evidence of guilt.

You have actually hit one nail on the head. That is our total craven inability to stand aside from the demands of our "imperial" masters in Washington and London. On that point you are right, we send our satrap to meet the king and express our loyalty for which we are allowed the benefits of obedience. Let's hope it is worth it.

greywarbler said...

Glancing at the item and the responses bring forth random thoughts.

Britain and Tony Blair driving forward an aggressive attack because of unproved allegations despite reasoned informed advisor's opinion, who kills himself in despair knowing the flow-on disaster bound to follow.

Trump playing fast and loose, twisting and turning for advantage and propaganda. The Godfather of the USA. The fight of the wealthy concession holders in the USA to gain and hold resources in bits of the world so as to keep out the Russians who must be harried where they have advantage and be unable to get more. It's similar to the fights of gangster groups to keep control of their territories in any country, but thinking of those in Italy and the USA particularly. This contretemps is just on a larger scale.

And any excuse is used to promote outrage and fear against Communism. Remembering the Red hunters of the McCarthy era! This was a political ploy using outdated and unreliable information-gathering and fanned into a major purge in the USA searching for nascent Communism there. Started by a loud-mouthed, booze-friendly, amoral politician trying to whip up support to retain his position and living, it suited the times and slotted in to public post-war nerves in the USA.

Russian comment recently was that this is a Cyber War, another but worse, Cold War; in war truth is the first casualty. So we have to ruminate on everything we hear in NZ where we all are cowed by our western connections, and could well be cowering if we don't play along.

We'll need to daily set some time for a gay lilting song and happy step as we lead our cows to their milking stalls in our bucolic country. This is to have thinking time, to remember who we are and what sort of life standards we want, and to keep our minds on our own, differing-quality BS. The world's BS is becoming more toxic which we need to monitor closely, and watch out for our own safety and protection as the barges and jets carrying this toxic waste arrive to dump it on our shores.

David Stone said...


greywarbler said...

I thought I'd look up the quote about war and truth becoming a casualty
and found that it was by a USA politician in 1917. He was a member of the Half-Breed a group within the Republican party. This was following the name of a group that grew up in France as their Republican polity got weathered and warped along the years. It is interesting to read about the changes over decades and then centuries that have led to the 'shower' we
have today. France has sided with USA and UK, one wonders how it got so far from its progressive left beginnings?

In 1918 US Senator Hiram Warren Johnson is purported to have said: The first casualty when war comes is truth. However, this was not recorded. In 1928 Arthur Ponsonby's wrote: The 'When war is declared, truth is the first casualty'. (Falsehood in Wartime) Samuel Johnson seems to have had the first word: 'Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.' (from The Idler, 1758)

Factions in the Republican Party (United States) - Wikipedia
The Half-Breeds were a reformist faction of the 1870s and 1880s. The name, which originated with rivals claiming they were only "half" Republicans, came to encompass a wide array of figures who did not all get along with each other. Generally speaking, politicians labeled Half-Breeds were moderates or progressives who ...
‎Conservative wing · ‎Moderate wing · ‎Libertarian wing · ‎Historical factions


If the National Party here cannot understand how MMP works then they have not even begun to grapple and juggle with realpolitick and grafting some reasonable values on. After reading of the tortuous dealings of the USA and France, it shows there is a moving feast at the dinner table. And no such things as 'common-sense', simple, straight-forward decisions are available for policy makers.

We need to be thoughtful about our political moves dealing with international matters, as all are so conflicted. Trying to steer the bellicose larger powers away from their ham-fisted desires to smash their way past the negotiating table is a mission as Jacinda and the Labour Coalition are finding out.

kaya said...

Excellent analysis Chris Trotter, one of the very few in NZ. The daily echo emanating from the motherland via Aunty Beeb has been depressing to listen to on RNZ. I expect that sort of idiotic, talking head, pre scripted garbage on TV One and Newshub Live, but expect more from RNZ. Maybe I am naive. It is a government funded agency so really no different to BBC and RT.
This has been the most disheartening thing, the failure of the vast majority of journalists around the globe to ask some extremely obvious questions re the glaring holes in this narrative. Too numerous to list here.

Even the usually erudite Bryan Gould falls into the "Russia dunnit" category. My only hope is it is because he hasn't been paying attention and all his time in the UK means he still believes the BBC is a reliable source of news. Nothing could be further from the truth. The BBC makes RT look like Gandhi on sodium pentothal.

As for Wayne Mapp's comments, the word inane doesn't even start to describe them. Ludicrous.

I still remember when NZ didn't fear speaking truth. When Lange announced the Nuclear Free policy the repercussions would have been well known but that government knew it was the right thing to do.