Some political observers have drawn comparisons between Mr Shearer and his chief antagonist, Prime Minister John Key. The young Labour activist, Connor Roberts, summed up the pair’s similarities and differences with his now famous quip: “John Key went overseas and made fifty million dollars; David Shearer went overseas and saved fifty million lives.”
This focus on Mr Shearer’s and Mr Key’s “overseas” experiences has led many to assume that both men were out of the country during the pivotal years 1984-1993. In Mr Shearer’s case, however, this is untrue. For nearly the whole period of the Fourth Labour Government (1984-1990) he was here, in New Zealand, studying, teaching and consulting. If he was a Labour Party member at any time during those tumultuous years, then he was a very quiet one. He certainly wasn’t among the ranks of those who fought against Rogernomics. He has, however, often spoken to journalists about his admiration for David Lange’s speeches.
This inability to get worked up about the core elements of neoliberal “reform”: labour market flexibility; privatisation; deregulation; monetary and fiscal discipline; explains his rather odd belief (for a Labour leader) that the contest between Left and Right is “a phony debate”. Such ideological agnosticism – explained away as good old Kiwi pragmatism – does, however, offer us a way into the most unusual and contradictory aspect of Mr Shearer’s entire career: his support for mercenary armies, or, as they prefer to be known these days: private military and security companies (PMSCs).
That impression was intensified by Mr Shearer’s experiences three years later as the UN’s Senior Humanitarian Advisor in the West African nation of Liberia. Just across Liberia’s northern border, in the ravaged state of Sierra Leone, the PMSC known as Executive Outcomes had been employed under contract to the Sierra Leone Government. Shearer was deeply impressed by this mercenary army’s lightning-fast defeat of the Liberian-backed forces assailing the ruling regime.A year later, in 1996, Mr Shearer was advising the UN in Rwanda. It was here, just two years earlier, that a brutal genocide had taken place while the United Nations watched – and did nothing. Trying to stitch the rudiments of civil society back together after a disaster on that scale cannot have been easy.
This was followed by what might be called the John Le Carré phase of Mr Shearer’s career; his two-year stint (1996-1998) as a research associate at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. Like its sister institute – The Royal Institute of International Affairs, also known as Chatham House – the IISS has always laboured under strong suspicions of being a sort of “front organisation” for Britain’s foreign affairs, defence and intelligence “community”. This was most clearly illustrated in 2003 when the IISS released a report strongly favouring the UK’s participation in a US-led invasion of Iraq. Like the infamous “sexed-up” report released by the Security Intelligence Service (MI6) just two weeks later, the IISS also warned against Saddam Hussein’s (non-existent) “weapons of mass destruction”. Since 2003 the IISS’s Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk has been Nigel Inkster – formerly the Deputy Director of MI6.
By 2003 Mr Shearer was back with the UN, this time in the Middle East. As the Head of OCHA in Jerusalem and then as the UN’s Humanitarian Relief Coordinator during the Israeli assault on Southern Lebanon and Beirut, he distinguished himself as a fiercely independent upholder of the UN’s mission. Few were surprised, therefore, when, in 2007, after four years of negotiating his way through the labyrinth of Israeli-Palestinian relations, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ky Moon, named David Shearer as his Deputy-Special Representative in Iraq. He was also appointed Head of the UN Development Project Iraq. Holding these two very senior roles in the United Nations Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) Mr Shearer was almost certainly “in the room” when decisions about the use of PMSCs were being made.Lou Pingeot, author of the New York-based Global Policy Forum’s June 2012 publication Dangerous Partnership: Private Military and Security Companies and the UN, has compiled some useful statistics on the amount of money spent on PMSCs by the UN. “Using the highest available numbers,” he writes, “there is a 250 percent increase in the use of security services from 2006 to 2011.”
The numbers for UNAMI are particularly interesting. In 2007 UNAMI spent zero dollars on PMSCs. In 2009, when its former 2IC was back in New Zealand campaigning for Helen Clark’s old seat of Mt Albert, UNAMI also spent zero dollars. In 2008, however, the amount spent by UNAMI on PMSC’s was US$1,139,745.
Mr Shearer’s position has been explained away as just another case of a good Kiwi bloke, impatient to get the job done, and not being particularly fussed about how things are made to happen – or by whom. And if the universal experience of mercenary involvement in “peace-making” was as positive as Executive Outcome’s foray into Sierra Leone, the argument might have some force. In reality, however, Executive Outcome’s success in Sierra Leone stands out as a very lonely exception to a much darker rule.The actual, on-the-ground, operational conduct of PMSCs over the past decade has demonstrated to the world just how dangerous it is to entrust the delivery of deadly force to individuals and corporations whose primary motivation is profit. Yet even in the face of the PMSCs’ appalling conduct in the Balkans and Iraq, Mr Shearer remains sympathetic towards private armies and mercenaries.The Labour Leader’s on-going support for these private-sector problem-solvers speaks volumes – and very little is to his credit.
A good example showed up in the same Open Mike, where Karol referred us to Chris Trotter’s latest post on Bowalley Road, titled “Who is David Shearer?”, promising a post of his/her own on the matter.
Trotter’s post reprises an old canard, obviously a product of the National Party opposition research team. that was first put up by David Farrar on Kiwiblog in 2009 when Shearer first emerged as a candidate for Mt Albert.
So we have Chris Trotter from the non-Labour left dredging up an old story originally planted on National’s behalf by Farrar’s Kiwiblog, and recently linked to by National’s Whaleoil. Now Karol, also from the non-Labour left, is apparently going to join them in another futile attempt to discredit Labour’s leader.
None of them have the interests of Labour at heart. It is an old problem for Labour, when the outside left links with the far right to drag Labour down. The right at least know that their only real opposition as a government is Labour; who would know what the others’ motive is.