National’s Foreign Affairs Policy

Okay finally had time to actually catch up with and read National’s Foreign Affairs Policy Discussion Paper.

Two aspects of it should fo course have been no surprise to anyone.  They had been announced many months or even years ago.  The decision not to reinstate an air combat wing was policy in the 2005 election, and the no change in the nuclear free law was announced in late 2006.  So how restating these is a surpise I don’t know.

The paper states:

The real political debate in the future will be about implementation of external policy strategy – not an deological debate about fundamental objectives.

And I think that is generally correct.  Most areas of foreign policy are bipartisan. Once upon a time Labour was pro protectionism and ant free trade.  No more.  Likewise National once saw ANZUS as our key foreign and defence relationship while elements of Labour wanted to join the non-aligned countries.  Now both are in the centre.

The big change in emphasis for National is to look after the Pacific as a “senior player” rather than being a “junior player” in wider spheres.  To quote:

More importantly, greater focus on the South Pacific is required. We understand this is already the main target area for development assistance – National simply wants to push existing logic further down this track. We will not renew certain aid projects in distant regions that are not grounded in any realistic appraisal of New Zealand’s interests or our capacity to make a difference.

Fresh thinking is required on development assistance strategy. The phrase ‘ elimination’ has become a mantra. It owes its place to larger international in the United Nations where Africa, in particular, presents intractable problems for donors and recipients alike. We respect the reasons for that internationally, but the situation in the South Pacific is different. Certainly, is part of the region’s problems, but the bigger picture is to enhance the political and economic sustainability of our neighbouring states.

A National will not stand by and watch the creation of a sub-class of New Zealand citizens in the Cooks, Tokelau, and Niue.

A welcome emphasis on exporting:

  • Adjust NZ Trade and Enterprise activities to make it less bureacratic and more focused on exporting and offshore activity.
  • Expect Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade posts to make support of exporters their most important priority. 

Overall the policy is pretty non controversial (as expected) but does reflect a desire to be more tightly focused on trade access and on the Pacific.  The greater Pacific emphasis is new, and to be fair one than Winston Peters has also pushed.  By helping keep the Pacific secure, we increase our relevance to major players like the US, and it is no coincidence the US Navy is returning to the South Pacific after an absnece of many years.

This then leaves Iraq.  I want to deal with that in two parts – should it have been in the policy, and John Key’s statement that the war in Iraq is over.

Taking the latter first – what John said was of course technically correct but it was politically naive to say it because it is all too easy for people to ridicule out of context.  Part of being sucessful in politics is the ability to use language that is not easy to attack.

Coming on the back of three other events managed sub-optimally, the overall fortnight comes across as reasonably shambolic.  Any of the events in isolation would not be a hige thing, but when you get them all together, it starts to shake confidence in the political management. Colin Espiner’s blog post doesn’t mince words but is pretty fair on the issue.

In the comments on Colin’s blog, Craig Ranapia notes that Helen Clark herself has differentiated between the war phase and the post-war phase:

Iraq did not meet our criteria for intervention in 2003 and we did not participate in the war there. We did, for one year, send New Zealand Defence Force engineers to do civilian reconstruction work, believing that was consistent with the United Nations mandate established in the course of 2003.

Where I will disagree with Colin, is on whether Iraq should have been signifcantly mentioned in the policy because it is”probably still the greatest conflagration in the world at present”.

The only question left in Iraq is at what pace coalition forces leave.  There probably isn’t a single Govt in the world that doesn’t already have troops there that is considering sending troops in. There are no decisions about Iraq for New Zealand to make. There’s a lot of lessons to be learnt from what happened in Iraq, but in terms of current decisions for New Zealand – there are none.

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