Do we benefit from Five Eyes?

writes in the NZ Herald:

The law also says such intelligence gathering must be to support the “national security of New Zealand”, the “international relations and well-being of New Zealand” and “the economic well-being of New Zealand”.

The issue which does arise is our motivations for doing so – and whether those are purely New Zealand’s motivations.

A National Security Agency document, among other material taken by Snowden, states that the “continues to be especially helpful in its ability to provide NSA ready access to areas and countries that are difficult for the United States to access”.

In essence, our relationship with China is of use to the US and allows New Zealand to operate as a Trojan Horse – or even Trojan Kiwi – for NSA intelligence gathering efforts.

Beyond doubt the US (and UK, Australia and Canada) benefit from NZ being in . We get them intelligence they could not easily get elsewhere.

But by the same basis, New Zealand I am sure benefits greatly by being able to access intelligence gathered by the US, UK, Canada and Australia.

This is why countries agree to co-operate on things – when it benefits both sides. And I’d say with this agreement, we gain a hell of a lot more than we give.

We present internationally as a proud, South Pacific country which is forging its own principled path through history. In our bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, Prime Minister John Key said: “New Zealand has an independent foreign policy outlook that listens to and respects the views of other countries.” Our branding for the bid carried the words: “Integrity, independence, innovation.”

It appears, from the Snowden documents, our “independent foreign policy” is supported by a dependence on the Five Eyes intelligence network of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and United States.

This argument is made a lot, often by people from the left. But I think it is a nonsense argument to suggest being in Five Eyes is incompatible with having an independent foreign policy.

First I would note empirically that we got elected to the Security Council despite our involvement in Five Eyes known to all UN members. And I am sure those countries no exactly what that means – as they do much the same when they can.

But more to the point an intelligence sharing arrangement is a fairly minor part of overall foreign policy. People judge our foreign policy on numerous things – what conflicts we get involved in, how we vote at the UN, what we say, how we deal with their countries, who we trade with etc etc.

Being independent is not the same as being non-aligned.

Successive Prime Ministers have said New Zealand gets a great deal more our of the relationship than we contribute.

I’d say a huge amount more.

Former Prime Minister David Lange carved a path for an independent foreign policy on nuclear weapons. He said in the famous Oxford debate “we have been told by some officials in the United States administration that our decision (to be nuclear-free) is not, as they put it, to be cost-free; that we are in fact to be made to pay for our action”.

It was a threat made, said Lange, “not by our enemies, but by our friends”.

If we tap the Chinese data link ourselves – assuming we are capable and it is worth the effort – and don’t pass on information, do our Five Eyes partners refuse to tell us of terror plots in our backyard?

That’s being silly, even stupid. Security agencies swap information almost daily to help prevent terror plots. Even unfriendly countries such as China, Russia and the US will share information to help prevent terror plots.

Five Eyes is a formal agreement to share all foreign (not domestic) intelligence information with each other, and (this is important) not to spy on each other. It means we don’t have to ask the US on a case by case basis to access their foreign intelligence, and vice-versa.

New Zealand has its own inquiry to come. United Future Peter Dunne voted for the new GCSB Act secure in the knowledge he had won from Mr Key a regular inquiry into the activities of the security agencies, the first due to begin prior to the end of June 2015.

Presumably the inquiry will see New Zealand talking about the activities of its security agencies.

As a forum, its a good place to answer the question about our Trojan Kiwi spying on China.

If the nation is making trade-offs, does the nation need to know?

The nation knows about Five Eyes. It will not be a bad thing to debate generally our security arrangements.

But there is a difference between publicising the agreement, and publicising details of specific interception activities. Doing the latter benefits countries other than NZ – the exact thing that it is being suggested the Five Eyes agreement does.

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