Monday 9 September 2019

Who Shall We Turn To When God, And Uncle Sam, Cease To Defend New Zealand?

Bewhiskered Cassandra? Professor Hugh White’s chilling suggestion, advanced to select collections of academic, military and diplomatic Kiwi experts over the course of the past week, is that the assumptions upon which Australia and New Zealand have built their foreign affairs and defence policies for practically their entire histories – are no longer valid.

WHO IS HUGH WHITE and why is he so determined to alarm us? Formally, Hugh White is the Emeritus Professor of Strategic Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra. Informally, he’s a disrupter of cherished fictions. Unwilling to further embellish the orthodox accounts of Australia’s and New Zealand’s strategic obligations, White dares to ask the sort of questions that make his audiences either bristle with indignation or recoil in horror. In short, White possesses the Devil’s imagination: that terrifying ability to interrogate a worst case scenario without flinching.

White’s chilling suggestion, advanced with bewhiskered geniality to select collections of academic, military and diplomatic Kiwi experts over the course of the past week, is that the assumptions upon which Australia and New Zealand have built their foreign affairs and defence policies for practically their entire histories – are no longer valid.

Both nations are the offspring of empire: peripheral adjuncts to a core imperium powerful enough to guarantee the security of both. Accordingly, the unwavering principle of Australian and New Zealand statecraft has been to keep strong the ties that bind them to their distant protectors. Up until the Second World War that meant listening intently to the voice of London. After HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse were sent to the bottom of the South China Sea by Japanese bombers in 1942, however, Canberra and Wellington found it more expedient to tune-in to Washington.

The key image to keep in mind is that of the “young lions”. A poster depicting Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand answering the summoning roar of the leader of the imperial pride, Great Britain. Alone, not one of the so-called “White Dominions” was strong enough to see off either Hitler or Hirohito. That is why they answered the call. The British Empire would face the “audit of war” as a unit: Albion’s “pride” would stand, or fall, together.

In the words of the New Zealand Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage, broadcast to the nation almost exactly 80 years ago: “Both with gratitude for the past and confidence in the future, we range ourselves without fear beside Britain. Where she goes, we go; where she stands, we stand.”

It was the same (minus the eloquence) with Uncle Sam. When he hollered, the Aussies and the Kiwis came a-runnin’. Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Iraq: one way or another both countries made it their business to show up. The Australians were always more demonstrative of their love for Uncle Sam than the Kiwis. Even before the break with Washington in 1985, occasioned by New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy, Wellington generally contrived to contribute only the very least it could get away with. Where Robert Menzies sent thousands of young Australian conscripts to South Vietnam, Keith Holyoake sent a few hundred volunteers – albeit with Howitzers.

White’s unnerving propositions posit a strategic situation in which not only does Uncle Sam cease to holler, but also – and much more alarmingly – ceases to come when called. He sees a new, multi-polar, world in which the principal nation-states have withdrawn behind their nuclear-fortified walls in watchful suspicion. A world frighteningly similar to that of the 1930s, in which a feeble and increasingly despised League of Nations simply ceased to matter. When leaders closed their mailed fists around the hilts of their swords and no longer bothered to pay even lip-service to the principles of international law.

This grim strategic position, so far from the “amazingly benign strategic environment” inherited by Helen Clark in the dying days of American hegemony, is made much worse by the USA’s ability to cast-off the ties that bind without significant cost. Great Britain depended on the food and raw materials of its far-flung dominions in a way that the USA, a vast continental power, does not. Abandoning the Western Pacific will not break the American economy, nor will it cause its people to starve. Indeed, the reverse may be true!

Which leaves us facing the one power which does evince an interest in what Australia and New Zealand have to offer – the Peoples Republic of China. White taxes his audience with questions about how far we Anzacs are prepared to go to preserve a modicum of freedom of action within the new imperium radiating from Beijing.

More importantly, how much are we willing to pay?

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 6 September 2019.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

If the US thinks it's in their interests to defend Australia and New Zealand it will do so. If it doesn't think it's in their interests it will not. I wrote this in an undergraduate essay many, many years ago. And if the perfessor can't see this, he's not thinking very clearly. We have never had a guarantee of US protection. We thought we had a guarantee of British protection before World War II and that turned out to be ephemeral. So we shouldn't be shocked at what the man says. Although to be honest, China probably has more economic power to influence New Zealand than military. The US is still the only country in the world that could mount a decent amphibious invasion pretty much anywhere.

peteswriteplace said...

Who are we afraid of?

Tom Hunter said...

More importantly, how much are we willing to pay?

Nowadays, sadly, nothing.

We can see this not just in the reactions of our corporates but in both the Labour and National Party's. They've barely managed a squeak over the Hong Kong situation, although to be fair that's been the case for many of China's actions in the last few years. And of course they both harbour Chinese MP's with very strong connections to the Chinese Communist Party, and who speak only to the Chinese media in NZ.

I guess we were always somewhat of a vassal, but there was at least a time when we were willing to stand up for basic freedoms, even if those efforts were interpeted as right for WWII because we were fighting against the Nazis, vs wrong in Korea and Vietnam because we were fighting against communists.

Never mind, Maori I'm sure will be willing to defend NZ, plus a certain section of the Pakeha population, but after fifty years of relentless denigration of the dull, boring and square generations of WWI and WWII, the majority of New Zealanders view themselves as being above all that nonsense about patriotism, nationalism, "foreign enemies" and so forth. That way lies war.

Much better to just keep abreast of events, cutting deals where possible but ready to liquidate assets and head for safer climes if push comes to shove.

Tom Hunter said...

Hell, just as a follow-up, one only need note the fact that you had to address Stevan Eldred-Grigg's argument, in Where We Stood, that we should not even have joined in WWII.

That argument is simply a direct and logical result of the path we have taken for fifty years now. It came as no surprise to me to see it in print. And of course if that argument can be made about WWII and convince a lot of people, even if not you, then how strong will it be when applied to more recent conflicts like Vietnam and the Gulf War, let alone a future one.

John Hurley said...

This reminds me of Neitzes "God is dead and we have killed him" (what will fill the void of religion)? We know have to query: "what will fill the void of a nation state so despised by the left"? The globalists like Helen Clark, John Key, Jacinda or Paul Spoonley have nothing to offer by way of compensation other than an appeal to civic values. I hope the eye turns on them one day?

Andrew Nichols said...

Gloomy nonsense. How about looking positively towards a time when Washington stops endlessly making the world a more dangerous place? If we are supposed to be so worried about China (taking over as principal designated enemy from the Russians who had a short lived revival after the end of the era when it was Moslems as enemy no 1) why are we so keen to buy all our manufacturted gods from them and sell so much farmland and enterprises? Time to go non-aligned once Winnie retires.

Exkiwiforces said...

Ah, the penny has finally dropped Chris?

When Auntie Helen said “ We live in a benign strategic environment and as a result we do not need a ACF or a Frigate base Navy etc” or words to that effect.

My then Flight Commander and XO at the RAAF’s 2AFDS dragged me and explain myself WTF is your Auntie on about when ET was in the new’s and I think my ex NZ Army mate was KIA around this time in ET as well. With West Papua not looking great that time and along with a few other countries within NZ’s Strategic Environment not to flash either. Asked what is she smoking and give a brief on the Labour/ Alliance with a MMP background. Being a former member of the Young Labour Party until I given my marching orders after that wanker Mallard said to me on Friday before the Labour Party Conference in CHCH in 97 as I was standing for Young Labour position on the Labour Party Council the time. So I unloaded everything on the inner workings of the Party I once held dear to my heart.

Haven’t voted NZ or Aus Labour since then consider that I come from Labour Party Royalty in NZ, Canada ( Frank Henry Sherman) and in the UK ( One Mr A Bevin)

Considering NZ had deployed a 1500 strong Battalion group to ET, two Frigates and the Fleet Tanker, half of the RNZAF’s rotary and fixed airlift capability. At one stage even RNZAF’s No2 SQN almost got a guernsey with INTERFET.

I still call Auntie Helen’s “Benign Strategic Environment” BS back then and still to this day, along with anyone else who still mentions it today. After 24 yrs of Military service in the NZ Army and the RAAF’s Ground Defence Forces especially the last 24/ 36 odd mths prior to med discharge 14 mths. The world has changed for the worse will actually it went tits up after 9/11 and now add in CC to the mix. Mere Words, like the International Base Rules of the Norm that we have taken for granted are no longer going to cut it. But Our words how have to be backed with Action, As our Actions speaks louder than fancy words that the stupid Ruling Class, Middle Class Toffs like saying these days while trying to avoid responsibility for their actions as they don’t to make the hard decisions that involved life and death or the long term future of one’s country/ for the greater good.

At least Ronnie is making some bloody decisions IRT to the future structure of the NZDF and not getting involved with the Middle East, unlike ScoMo here in Oz.

As we in say in the World of Military Planning, Operations Planning “Plan for worst case and hope for the best case” or as one wag said jaw jaw is better than war war, but when jaw jaw stops and becomes war war and you are not ready for war war then it’s too late.

sumsuch said...

Since we implicitly rebuked the Old Testament Lord by supporting Marilyn Waring in 1976 when 'Truth' revealed she was a lesbian we've not really expected much of a show from him.

Since everyone doesne much like China to the south of them there is a good alliance to be had. Zheng Zhou Peng (forgive the unright spelling) warned against an expansive foreign policy. So the present self-annointed centre of all wisdom has critics. Mind you, all 'the Greats' of the 1700s were declared in their own reigns by their own people, Peter, Frederick, Catherine, and we still recognise them as so. Egomania (eg de Gaulle) is often consecrated by events. The peoples to the north, most of all the Ozzies and the Vietnamese, are our bulwark.. Don't really think yet China has 'unjustified' expansion in it's soul.

Tom Hunter said...

And you can also get a sense of where New Zealand will stand with these two Op-Eds in NoMinister:

Democracy Dies in Darkness

National MP Jian Yang lied about his Chinese Communist Party past when entering the country, admitting that he did so on instructions from Beijing, and worked for the PLA's Military Intelligence unit. Yet he is apparently a valued member who raises tons of money for National, speaks only to the Chinese media in NZ and has never said a word against the PRC..

The Labour MP, Raymond Huo, follows a similar path. Chairing Parliament's Justice Committee hearings on foreign interference, he initially opposed any public submissions, claiming government departments could say all there was to be said. How very Xi of him. He's recused himself now, but, exactly like Yang, has solid ties to the PRC Embassy here, to various regime-affiliated United Front bodies, is on record about the opportunity being an MP gave him to champion PRC perspectives on issues like Tibet, and - again exactly like Yang - has never once in his years in Parliament been heard to utter a word critical of the PRC.

And here today:

A People that elect Corrupt Politicians...

Which discusses Bridge's current grovelling trip to China.


Tom Hunter said...

I was also struck by the following comment from a British blog, with regard to the whole Brexit issue, which is one of the more prominent cases of the nation-state vs. some vast foreign enitity....

For years elite liberals were accused of having a condescending attitude to those they regard as their inferiors, but it was always assumed that we shared the same national space.

Are they now instead part of a completely new demos, even perhaps part of a wholly new concept of what a nation is? In a hyper-connected world, where we all lead ‘amphibious’ lives often more virtual than real, perhaps to the new elites their network, their connections and the international institutions they control have become their nation: Liberalism is its faith, and they are the new elect. The views of heretical leavers simply do not count, for they belong to a different, backward, threatening and alien world.

When I look at the upper echelons of National and Labour, and the lifestyles of many people living in Wellington and Auckland, I can't help but think that I am seeing the same people here, with all that implies for New Zealand.

Robert said...

Clearly Simon Bridges and the self appointed heir apparent, Judith Collins and the other contender,need to be asked, do they appoint New Zealand need for a serious military? ie a RNZAF and RNZN with P8, Seaprite and seaborne NH 90, most of all Posiedons capable of anti ship strikes against Chinese and Russian destroyers and shipping and deterring and if necessary attacking Russian and Chinese and other Asian powers submarines as the highest priority and secondly do they reject Otago Political Scientist Patmans suggestion that a frigate capability is no longer required, given with.a two frigate force, they are both in refit or other ocean much of the time. I would suggest obtaing 4 of the new RN T31, the Danish Patrol frigate, Stretched Holland class or USCG Legend class or their new in production 3000 ton Medium endurance cutter all rather similar to the Danish frigates might allow for a new long range 4/ship patrol frigate force for about 2 billion, which would be more than reasonable compared with the Palmer 2 Anzac frigate purchase for 1 billion in 1990 or Clark's 750 million order in 2000 for 105 Lav 3/APC, a 80% useless acquisition to forestall any useful air and naval purchase. These new naval assets would be communication and command platforms to support SAS and disaster relief operations with soft and hard kill CIWS and capable of offensive action against naval auxiliary and ground stations. Unlike post war RNZN frigates they would transfer the primary anti ship and anti warship role to the Posiedons.
The fact is Labour and NZDF support a serious alliance with the US and USN, Ms Collins, Ms Bennett and Mr Bridges need to confirm they do and go on record that they give unqualified support to a serious RNZAF with P8. Accepting the defence of the Pacific is an island hopping, airstrip defence as the British and Air Marshall Elworthy saw it in 1967 and require our own Air force and USN aircraft carriers, nuclear or otherwise and anti sub frigates are no substitute for ground based USN aircraft of our own

Patricia said...

Interestingly I was listening to the following YouTube yesterday while at the gym
It talked of the upcoming multipolar world as opposed to the unipolar world that has been in existence since the collapse of the USSR. How prior to that event Russia and the US each controlled certain areas of the world. Now and in the very near future, in the view of the speaker, it will be the US, China and to a lesser extent Russia who will be controlling their areas of the World. China is both New Zealand and Australia’s main trading partner. Do we both have to choose? In the view of the speaker we do even if that means giving up our lifestyle otherwise we will suffer the same consequences that South America has suffered. One questioner suggested that the only way for Australia to survive such a situation, that is being squashed between two super powers, was to have a nuclear bomb!! The speaker agreed!! Go figure...

Shane McDowall said...

Interesting viewpoint.

But history says the USA will not abandon the western Pacific.

Remember, it was America's ham-fisted economic sanctions against Japanese that led to Pearl Harbour.

The USA went to war defending the colonial possessions of Vichy France.

The contrast between America's half-arsed reactions to German aggression in Europe and their whole-hearted efforts against Japanese aggression in Asia are perplexing to me.

The chances of the USA abandoning South Korea and Japan is about as likely as Malcolm X becoming Grand Dragon of the Alabama KKK.

New Zealand is still in a very benign strategic environment. It is due to geography.

And our position on the globe is not going to change.

Nick J said...

Tom, your observation of the supra national elite and it's divorce from ourselves, the great unwashed seems very accurate. Living in small town NZ and occasionally going to Wellington is a real eye opener. There the expensively groomed chic glossy public servants parade the cafes and mirror glass swipe card castles that guard their privelege. We pay but we are not served. Around Hicksville the better dressed are not so far removed from the lower rungs.

It's not new, just a repeat of what Thorstein Veblen observed in the Hampdens a century ago. They are still the grass skirted bead wearers parading in front of our honest nakedness. They can't just be self interested, they need us to see it to feel themselves worthwhile.

David George said...

One of the best discussions on the issues confronting the West and our relationship with an aggressive, imperialist, totalitarian (and increasingly fascist) China you will find.
If you are still think there are grounds for complacency after watching this I'd love to hear your reasons.

Wayne Mapp said...

I think Hugh White is too pessimistic. He has said much the same thing previously, that the US "security guarantee" is not to be relied upon. To some extent that view has played out in Australian defence policy. Australia has an extremely capable Airforce and Navy for a country of its size. For instance, more than twice as capable as that of Canada. The expensive Australian Airforce and Navy is part of their insurance policy if the US "security guarantee" is not as good as they would like.

The view that the China and the US would get into a serious conflict does not take into account that they are both nuclear powers. They know an extended conflict would be far too perilous to contemplate.

The US is not going to abandon the Pacific. The US is in fact a Pacific power with sovereign territory right across the Pacific, from Guam to American Samoa. Therefore the "security guarantee" to Australia (and by extension to NZ) will fundamentally hold.

In short New Zealand can and should continue its current balanced policy to the two great nations of the Asia Pacific.

The basic structure of the New Zealand defence force is sound. The next big defence decision will be the frigate replacement. Two is not enough, three is the effective minimum. However, they could be cheaper light frigates as per the UK Type 31. This is still a capable ship, but does not have the full suite of very expensive anti submarine capability as the ANZAC frigates currently have. Basically three Type 31 for the same price (in real terms) as the two ANZAC frigates.

Robert said...

Guerrilla Surgeon parrots the same left wing view as Wilkes, Clark and Hagar in the 1980s. The work of ANU Canberra defence intellectuals like Hugh White, Desmond Ball and Paul Dibb has always been a slightly more informed and skillful effort to disarm us to avoid recreating the staunch, conscripted narrow white Australia, of the 1950s, near Nazi in its view.Also White and Dibb always denied that the Soviet Navy and Army were any real military threat in ideology, capability or plans. If your analysis tool is anything more sophisticated than the films of Oliver Stone, Kathryn Bigelow and Sheryl Sontag, that the old USSR and the Russian Navy represented a world wide threat and aspiration was obvious even to fellow travellers like Peter Hitchens, who actually moved to embassy reader in Moscow. As a gesture to appease and mislead the Australian public White and Dibb always advocated doing just enough, a few anti sub frigates, diesel submarines and and army too small to be useful or noticed.
It is very difficult to see what use the very short ranged steam tubine powered type 12 RAN River class frigates and its Ikara anti sub missiles were. When the RNZN decided to buy the Ikara missile with another Type 12 cast off by John Notts defence review, HMS/HMNZS Southland, I argued about this with the Politics honours lecturers, Richard Kennaway in 1981. Kennaway argued (based on the photo of Ikara on its zabretta on HMS Bristol) that Ikara was really a Poseidon missile that it was impossible that NZ was buying it. In some senses it was all true, Muldoon brought it, and without its planned nuclear warhead option, it was as a longer range subsonic a/s torpedo carrier than the supersonic Asroc, but once the RN and Harold MacMillan rejected a nuclear warhead for the Ikara they also brought,.because of the evidence of great environmental damage from hydrogen bomb tests, plus the fact that even the first Soviet nuclear attack sub's the Novembers with.a speed of 30k plus were too fast for surface destroyers and nuclear carriers to track, turbulence created sonar blind and before 1976 even the USN had no torpedoes at all fast and.sophisticated enough to overtake and possibly engage a nuclear sub. So even before 1962 the ideas of a US Navy of frigates and nuclear aircraft carriers being the basis of Australasian defence was not really credible. By the late 1960s the North.Island and South Island were two RN/RAF/USN carriers with potentially nuclear armed Canberra's and Skyhawks would deter Echo and Juliet cruise missile sub's launching cruise missiles at Sydney and Melbourne. Our Canberra's and A-4 were pure one way nuclear bombers.Not defensive ground attack versions like the very different models used by Australia in Vietnam.

Tom Hunter said...

Commentators who split their comments up into paragraphs will be appreciated.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I usually stop reading when someone accuses me of "parroting" – but in this case I stopped a little later – simply because the rest of it was pretty much incomprehensible and pretty much off topic. I will say this though, Soviet equipment was not reliable enough to help anyone be a threat to New Zealand. I think there is enough evidence of this and we've known for some time since Andrew Cockburn wrote "The Threat".

Nick J said...


The 3 frigates would be nice, especially if they were allowed to go to sea. My navy son commented that you "tied up the boats". Nothing has changed except that the navy has bleed staff who get limited promotion without seatime. They no longer have the crews to safely put to sea. Nice heritage.

Geoff Fischer said...

Large states can invade their smaller neighbours with relative impunity when they
a)are in close geographic proximity
b)have a historical claim to the invaded nation
c)can find a plausible humanitarian pretext and claim fraternal interest
For example Russia and Crimea, the US and Granada, China and Tibet, Germany and the Sudetenland.
There are exceptions, but generally all three stars need to align.
There is therefore only one state which could conceivably launch an invasion of or military intervention in New Zealand, and that is a nation which has successfully invaded in the past, namely the Commonwealth of Australia.
Australia would only intervene when if there was an acute political or constitutional crisis in this country, and then only if the United States gave its consent.
In such an event, the weakness of the New Zealand constitution would be dramatically exposed because the key figure in any crisis would be the Governor General whose authority comes through London (if not strictly from London) and not from Porirua or Geraldine.
Because the Governor-General represents and exercises the sovereignty of the Realm, he or she has the power to surrender that sovereignty to any invading power - "friendly" or otherwise.
Parliament is then "duty bound" to follow the Crown, and in any case by constitutional design Parliament lacks the visceral patriotic instincts necessary to repel any invasion.
So the resistance to invasion would come from those who are accustomed to fighting against the odds, not those who have made a political career out of accommodating the interests of outside powers - whether we are talking about the United Kingdom of Britain, the Commonwealth of Australia, the United States of America or the Peoples Republic of China.
The people of Aotearoa are uniquely well placed to resist invasion or military intervention by other outside powers and whatever the cost in lives the final outcome would be positive. The colonial regime would be doomed. In a constitutional crisis it would lack the will and ability to fight off its "Anzac allies" or any other invader. So the people would have to take on the fight, and having won they would be most unlikely to hand power back to whatever remained of the colonial regime.
Hugh White has to ignore the kangaroo in the room, but in assuming that the strategic interests of Australia and New Zealand are inseparable he quietly reinforces the case which would be argued for Australian military intervention in New Zealand affairs.
If a Chinese military strategist was to write a paper on a joint defence strategy for China and New Zealand, and then begin hawking it around the New Zealand political elite and the military high command, most of us would be either perplexed or alarmed.
So we could be now.