Tuesday 13 April 2021

Principled, Pragmatic AND Expedient? You Betcha! Replying To Paul Buchanan.

Predatory Morality: Is geopolitical consultant, Paul Buchanan, right? Does the rest of the world truly monitor New Zealand’s miniscule contribution to the international arms trade so closely? Are foreign chancelleries truly so insensitive to their own governments’ complicity in the world’s horrors that they expect all other sovereign states to be unblemished moral exemplars – especially New Zealand?

MUCH IS BEING MADE of the fact that New Zealand firms are exporting military equipment to unsavoury regimes. Geopolitical consultant, Paul Buchanan, reflected the views of many critical of New Zealand’s involvement in the international arms trade when he declared on his Kiwipolitico blog: “If NZ is to regain a semblance of integrity in diplomatic circles, its foreign policy decision-making matrix must change away from trade obsessed expediency and towards the principled but pragmatic orientation that grants it the independence that it claims to have.”

“Regain a semblance of integrity”? Seriously? Does the rest of the world truly monitor New Zealand’s miniscule contribution to the international arms trade so closely? Are foreign chancelleries truly so insensitive to their own governments’ complicity in the world’s horrors that they expect all other sovereign states to be unblemished moral exemplars?

Certainly, New Zealand’s arms exports are not going to be condemned by their principal recipients (which, if Buchanan is to be believed, includes the NATO countries and many of our most important regional allies). Nor should we tolerate the slightest reproof from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (USA, China, Russia, United Kingdom, France) who also just happen to be the world’s five largest arms exporters. Unlikely, too, that this country will suffer criticism from the really “bad buggers” on our list of arms importers, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They, at least, have no expectations of ever being regarded as unblemished moral exemplars. Murderous autocracy is its own reward.

So, if the foreign offices and state departments of the world are not going to waste a moment tut-tutting little New Zealand for daring to export military equipment to their friends, allies and leading petrochemical suppliers, then who is?

A couple of idealistic RNZ journalists, seemingly. Tipped-off, perhaps, by that outspoken anti-imperialist Valerie Morse, who has never seen a gun she didn’t abhor – unless it was in the hands of her wannabe freedom-fighter friends “exercising” in the Urewera bush.

Then there’s the Greens’ Golriz Ghahraman, who has been tut-tutting fit to beat the band. But, then, Ghahraman, if properly cross-examined, would probably admit to not wanting New Zealand to have an arms industry at all – or, for that matter, an army. In the eyes of the Greens, guns (and mortar sights) are inextricably bound up with imperialism, colonialism, white supremacy and all those other things deemed injurious to children, animals and other living things. Away with them!

One can only feel a pang of sympathy for the boffins in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). On the receiving-end of a flurry of Official Information Act requests, they had little option but to reveal the extent to which New Zealand’s high-tech industries have been making the most of the world’s insatiable appetite for the weapons of war.

Promoting trade is, after all, MFAT’s job, and, to give them their due, they’re bloody good at it. Like the rest of the world’s diplomats and bureaucrats, ours tend to work on the principle that what is not expressly prohibited is tacitly permitted. Should someone have been looking over someone’s shoulder when the application for a permit to export military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the UAE came across their desk. Probably. Politicians hate surprises, so a good public servant anticipates trouble before it becomes a headline. Even so, no laws were broken.

Buchanan has posed the question: “Principled, pragmatic or expedient”. Once again, the proposition is a curious one. Is he arguing that it is possible to be both principled and pragmatic but not expedient? His positioning of the word “or” would suggest so. But to treat all expedient decisions as in some way morally objectionable is to render practical diplomacy impossible.

The conduct of sovereign states is almost always dictated by what their rulers deem expedient. Indeed, it is easier to mount a moral case for the most principled diplomacy being that which delivers the most expedient outcomes for all the states involved in an international dispute. Pragmatism, in this context, may be seen as the ability to obtain the maximum of one’s country’s objectives with the minimum of moral and material compromises.

Buchanan would also have New Zealand draw a clear distinction between the moral status of its Five Eyes partners – most especially his homeland, the United States – and other international actors. Included on his list of countries with whom it is unacceptable to seek expedient outcomes one finds not only Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Indonesia, but also the People’s Republic of China. The latter is castigated by Buchanan for systemically abusing human rights at home, denying individual and collective rights as a matter of course and treating minorities as if they were foreign enemies.

As someone who has worked closely with not only America’s soldiers, but also America’s diplomats, Buchanan must be aware of the speciousness of this line of argument. The great distinction between Chinese and American imperialism is that China, for its whole history, has been a contiguous land empire. Unlike the United States, which, upon subduing (and in many cases exterminating) all those who hindered its expansion across the North American continent, proceeded to extend its imperial reach across the entire planet, China has been content to remain within its historical borders. Ethnic and religious threats to China’s rulers have always been dealt with internally. Threats to America’s global hegemony, by contrast, almost always originate offshore. From Korea to Vietnam, Afghanistan to Iraq, the USA – no less than China – has abused human rights with wanton and murderous abandon.

Buchanan’s laborious description of the United States process of determining whether or not arms should be supplied to a particular regime would be funny if it was not for the sobering fact that this former participant in “the decision-making chain” for “US military sales and training, etc. to Latin American countries” clearly believes every word he is writing. As if the sickening history of Uncle Sam’s murder and mayhem in Latin America was perpetrated by some other power. “The process was slow and circuitous but in the end it was comprehensive and transparent.” Tell that to the victims of the Contras, Paul! Tell it to the Mayans!

Perhaps it is Buchanan’s own experiences in Latin America that cause him to treat expediency as a dirty word. Certainly, what New Zealand finds it expedient to do differs greatly from what the United States considers expedient. Buchanan knows full well that New Zealand’s size and relative powerlessness severely restricts the harm it can do. Ultimately, the well-being of New Zealanders depends upon their country’s trading relationships with the rest of the world. Maximising that trade is, accordingly, the principled, the pragmatic and the expedient thing to do.

Buchanan is the son of a brutal imperial power. New Zealand used to be the colony of one and must now do all within its power to avoid becoming the colony of another. It ill-behoves a former citizen of the United States (and a newly-minted citizen of New Zealand) to lecture his adopted country on the morality, or otherwise, of its foreign policy. The Kiwi, unlike the Bald Eagle, is not a bird of prey.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 13 April 2021.


greywarbler said...

'As if the ,,, history of Uncle Sam’s murder and mayhem in Latin America was perpetrated by some other power. “The process was slow and circuitous but in the end it was comprehensive and transparent.” Tell that to the victims of the Contras, Paul! Tell it to the Mayans!'

He must mean that we all can see the results clearly, and we can. But we gape at the results of the debacle and concentrate on being wilfully ignorant of the steps, mostly dastardly that led to it.

I think NZ has to be careful not to become an arms manufacturer - but if it can't resist because of 'pragmatism' then it needs to work for more than just one power bloc, thereby the 'principles' would display. With our desire to be a 'smart' country technologically, it is 'expedient' to be as involved with all our old feared Maurice Sendak wild things and not align ourselves only with the 5 Eyes bunch because of language and our historic connections. Over the years they have lost the gloss they professed.

And it is no good looking for an ally without stain; we are all profane and must manage our way through the lands and seas of Mordor, trying to retain the good in our own country and see if we can be matchheads that strike a flame to reveal both our own and other countries measures, even if the striking plate is damp with blood or tears.

oneblokesview said...

geopolitical consultant

What the hell is that.
He is a University Lecturer.

Buchanan seems to be is a self obsessed, opinionated elitist.

Give him his due. He has got himself a small following.
Probably a lot smaller than Proud Boys, but just as myopic.

So I wouldnt loose any sleep over his rants and raves

Anonymous said...

Paul Buchanan, Golriz Ghahraman, Terry Bellamak, former poverty campaigner Ricardo Menendez-March and Black Lives Matter activist Guled Mire. All immigrants to NZ who seem to have decided to come here determined to advise New Zealanders of the error of their ways.

Max Ritchie said...

Buchanan is no longer a university lecturer. Contract not renewed some years ago over a student abuse matter. He is actually a geopolitical consultant. Really.

greywarbler said...

I think that word 'abuse' is becoming abused. I protest at this word abuse, hah.

As I have read Buchanan was very direct and critical to a Middle East student who wanted more time for complying with timeline for a paper submission. The reason was something like a death in the family, grandmother for instance. He was scathing about it implying poor work habits, and the student complained. For people who have an easy life, indulged perhaps, criticism can not be countenanced even if true.

The University was concerned about maintaining its overseas business model and gave him the heave-ho. Or so I believe was the case.

Flaneuse said...

I'm surprised and puzzled by your attack on Paul Buchanan, Chris. Do you not think we need people who, because of their individual life experiences and education see the world and us through a different lens? I'm personally grateful that he has brought to our attention the investigation by two independent journalists that has shown that we've been allowing sales of weaponry and technology that could assist in terror and mayhem in other parts of the world that we would not in any way otherwise support. This should surely not be happening and I would have thought you would also have called it out.

greywarbler said...

Is it that Buchanan was professing at a different university to yours? Or are you someone who stands tall with the knowledge needed, gained from the 'university of life'?

sumsuch said...

I hate the splitting of hairs that characterises the Left's 'letters' columns. Trotter is right about our heritage but China doesn't speak a language I can cotton onto, though I was just complimenting Japan to my brother despite. By which I mean you can be opaque and alright. Chine is becoming tiresome, and they had such good PR among the historically minded.

Democratic idealism has died. Except for me and I'm no one. My namesake uncle died for it.

Anonymous said...

The pay in academic jobs is now low. Probably less than a cop or a nurse. New Zealanders who are intelligent and not signed up lefties or PLA PC worshipers are discouraged.
Paul Buchanan is a former US State department employee in Washington and Latin America.
I agree with him, New Zealand's MFAT foreign service, has let this country decline. The whole aim of MFAT has been to protect the NZ farming community and it's relationship with the National Party and the redistribution of the profits from unskilled farm work to finance low grade government and defence and health workforces. Such a society is inevitably oppressive, equalist, unfair to women and out of date.
To preserve the outdated lifestyle we have entered into a non judgemental relationship with the Chinese dictatorship which aim is to gradually takeover NZ as living space and two aircraft carriers to cut Australia off from the USA. MFAT and Trotters view that the US defence of freedom in Israel and Chile equates with China's repression and unlimited theft of US and Russian intellectual property and Euro parents and car and tech designs represents a moral bypass worthy of the Hitchens brothers and Oliver Stone.