New Zealand Needs a Security Alliance Fast

Written By: - Date published: 12:09 pm, April 25th, 2024 - 21 comments
Categories: China, helen clark, International, us politics, war - Tags:

If only the world were as Helen Clark sees it. But Helen Clark is wrong. 

In a recent panel discussion at Parliament, Helen Clark was forthright in opposition against New Zealand joining AUKUS.

Not entirely wrong. If we align ourselves too far into an Australia-United States-United Kingdom-Japan-India military arrangement, it may well be that China views us as simply too far opposed to China that China puts limits on our trade just as it did with Australia. We got the message. From 2013 to 2023 China has gone from taking 18% to now taking 27% of all of our exports. If China chose to choke our trade we would be on our knees in weeks.

Clark stated:

AUKUS is an agreement clearly aimed at China, our major trading partner.”

That is Helen Clark’s strongest point: do not offend our economic master. 

Helen Clark made China our master. It was Helen Clark together with her Minister of Foreign Affairs Phil Goff, our MFAT leads, and Fonterra, that encouraged our groundbreaking Free Trade Agreement with China. That was pre-Xi Jinping 2008, when Labour NZ, Labor UK, Bush Republicans, and Labor AU believed that the rationality of accelerated national development would require China and other authoritarian states to reason that since trade was the route to wealth, all countries would cooperate to trade and hence achieve wealth  –  and no other national interest mattered. 

New Zealand’s lesson from the 2010s was that Fonterra as the captain of over 20% of our exports was inept and led us into disgrace, from which it took over a decade to recover and emerged diminished and aiming for bulk and volume over value. That is where the FTA and Prime Minister Clark’s Fonterra took the New Zealand economy. 

So now we are indeed exceptionally vulnerable to China in economic terms. Clarks should accept it was the centre-left’s drive for all to be cured by trade that has put us here.

But is our trade and economic vulnerability a reason not to gear up into new security alliances?

It is entirely the reverse: with our increasing trade reliance on China, New Zealand needs security alliances that can stand up for us when we are bullied. Australia did not quake when it was bullied by China over trade not only because it had the economic power to resist, but also because it had the confidence of a strong security alliance with the United States.

The world is far more unstable than it was in 2008 when Clark left the Prime Ministership.

China is, since February 2023, far more aggressive to any other country coming near its newly militarised shoals within its Ten Dashed Line.

China has maintained a regular coastguard patrol around the Second Thomas Shoal since 2013 and has harassed Philippine resupply missions. Since 2022 it has sought to block resupply missions more regularly against the Philippines with increasingly aggressive tactics. Other countries that have run hard against Chinese aggression in the South China Sea include Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam.

New Zealand ought not need to be reminded of the Houthis choking off the Red Sea trade just a few weeks ago that states big and small need to recognise the importance of investing in maritime security, and to strengthening existing mechanisms to improve situational awareness and enhance common protocols. The Houthis and the Chinese may as well have been trading notes on grey-zone tactics. Responding requires not only clear arrangements with regional and global powers, but also broadened cooperation and capacity-building with local authorities and with the commercial shipping community that props our trade with China.

Former Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr is certainly correct when he points out that AUKUS is basically a military submarine deal that really does no favours for Australian indigenous military capacity-building. He uses typically florid Australian diplomatic language describing that arrangement. 

It is also a flagrantly anti-French deal. Not only from the point of view that the submarine deal itself used existing Australia-US security arrangements to reneg on the French-US submarine deal. But also from the point of view that the security breakage was a reversal of what would have been a bridge towards strong cross-Pacific cooperation that simply reflected the common influence Australia and France had across most of the Pacific. France, Australia, New Zealand and the United States have pretty much locked up the Pacific between them.image.png

Source: Map courtesy of CartoGIS Services, Scholarly Information Services, The Australian National University.

But Australia choosing the United States as its preferred military supplier simply reflects its longstanding security relationship with the United States. The United States, not France, has the capacity to force China through economic arm-twisting to understand the folly of continued military aggression. Indeed the UNited States alone has that power.

It would be great if all Pacific small island states were simply awaiting convincing entreaties from New Zealand and Australia to bring them all into one grand and strong voice that generated stronger wealth and ambition and labour mobility.  The Pacific Island Forum might have been imagined once to do that, but in reality it’s done the minimum of being a good diplomatic and aid dialogue. That’s it. 

Even the Federated States of Micronesia prefer to stand in the middle of the Great Power see-saw and trade the weight of both sides.

Small Pacific states that default their preference to New Zealand or Australia or the United States are instead either already set, or they are ready to play one off against the other. A neutral rational dialogue for the common interests of Pacific trade and development is a mirage. 

It would also be great if the world were in the same or even similar levels of security and democracy and secure trade that we were in 2008 when Helen Clark was in power. We aren’t. The Russian invasion of the Ukraine is getting worse not better and more likely to expand, not shrink. The Hamas invasion of Israel and Iranian attack on Israel and Israel’s massive response has no plan to stabilise or de-escalate. Same with China in the South China sea.

We also need to take China’s Xi at his word when he is clear with the US that he will require Taiwan to re-unify with China.

We should have listened when Hitler said he would take the Sudetenland. We should have listened when Stalin threatened to take over Eastern Europe. We ought to have listened when Putin said he was going to take out Ukraine by force. It’s not like they don’t warn us. Just take them at their word and act accordingly. Same with Xi.

Those were all countries acting in the national interest to defend and expand their power, not increase trade. 

New Zealand is a kite dancing in a hurricane. Sorry Helen and Bob, New Zealand now has more national interests than trade alone. We are well beyond the peak of peace from the rule of international law.

It may well be that there is insufficient national interest to sign up to AUKUS Pillar 2. Maybe the French will generate an alternative proposal for our common security. Best of luck with that alternative now that our core ally Australia has smashed that relationship so badly. 

Right now the question isn’t whether we can continue along the same primrose path of economic rationality leading to the triumph of permanent peace. Right now the question is: who will defend us when the military chaos now expanding in the world finally hits hard in our region, because that is what is really happening. 

21 comments on “New Zealand Needs a Security Alliance Fast ”

  1. Adrian 1

    Your argument might have more validity if the deal was not being sold to us by none other than Scott Morrison. Run a bloody mile and then add on a few more.

    • Tiger Mountain 1.1

      Australia has long been the US’s Pacific Deputy Dog, and as time goes by the huge projected nuke sub bill and obligations may not go down well with many Australians.

      Australia is not universally liked around Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia for some obvious reasons, including mineral extraction and other exploitation, and using their neighbours territories as penal colonies and psychological torture centres for asylum seekers.

  2. Tiger Mountain 2

    Hard to believe I am reading this piece. It is like something Gerald Hensley could have penned. Looking for enemies to defend NZ’s entanglement with 5 Eyes to the bitter end–when an independent foreign policy and mutually beneficial bi-lateral trade and cultural agreements would be more useful.

    The only warmongering Aotearoa NZ needs to be into is a bigger defence spend on coastal patrol boats and helicopters.

    Some need to get it through their scones that no one is coming to save this country. We do that ourselves by decoupling from US Imperialism and having friendly relations with as many nations as possible. The US will not even accept NZ Dairy and Meat in quantity so do you really think they are going to send their military down here if China offers to build a few new wharves or something?

    • lprent 2.1

      So you think that coastal patrol boats and limited range helicopters can protect the sea lanes that all of our incoming and outgoing trade depend upon….

      Obviously you feel that they are suitable for surviving in high seas, monsoon conditions, and in the kind of hostile conditions that our trade routes traverse? Because they cannot.

      You appear to be thinking like a short-term fool. Even getting those patrol boats and helicopters takes time, a lot of it – typically more than a decade from conception to full deployment. If we took your viewpoint that the only thing we have to protect is in our economic zone close to our shoreline. Well then we just leave ourselves vulnerable to getting trade routes closed or disrupted from something unexpected in the future, and having no capability to do a damn thing about it.

      Or do you think that we should give up trade and become a hermit kingdom? I really don't think that many others here would agree with you on that.

      Or what exactly?

      We currently do those long trips with warships mostly to friendly nations along our trade routes, or those willing to support the agreements about the international trade. Ones who help us suppress piracy and who are as interested in trade as we are.

      Almost all of the trade routes we use have at one time of another been subject to various forms of piracy or local conflicts that have disrupted trade. If you look at maps of the trade routes to and from NZ, you'll find that most of them wind up wandering through areas that have been zones for piracy or where war zones could interfere with trade.

      Sure China in its militancy against its neighboring nations is a worry for us right now. So will be the increasing militancy from the neighboring nations in their defensive positions. But the sabre rattling isn't the only problem that causes in the future.

      Generally such periods of political and military uncertainty have also cause increases in private or state sanctioned piracy and crime on trade routes. Happened in the horn of Africa as Ethiopia and Somalia dropped into war, famine and insurrection. Happens each time there is war around the Red Sea. Historically it also happens up around the Malaysian peninsula, near the Chinese coast… well just about anywhere at some point in the last few hundred years.

      Navies in most countries have a normal operational role of protecting trade, and a secondary role in defense of nation when required. The same kind of vessels are used for both – and they are seldom coastal.

      Some need to get it through their scones that no one is coming to save this country. We do that ourselves …

      I fully agree. Just have a problem that you don't appear to have ever bothered to think about what is required for that. And this is probably why..

      …by decoupling from US Imperialism and having friendly relations with as many nations as possible.

      You appear to be obsessed by this. To the point that you cannot decouple your brain from obsessing about it and to get around to looking at what we actually need for defense of our interests. Such a short-sighted self-obsessed viewpoint.

      You also appear to think that being remote entitles NZ to stick our collective head up the countries warm remote arse and forget about dealing with all potential threats to our society. Which mostly just shows exactly how out of touch you are with how our economy operates, potential threats to that, and what kind of security that we need to have to reduce the risks over the next few decades.

      It'd be nice if you could pull your head out occasionally to deal with reality.

      • Tiger Mountain 2.1.1

        With all due respect to a person of your knowledge in matters military, NZ does not have a huge roster of Navy Power…albeit some good work has been done in our region by some of these vessels.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_active_Royal_New_Zealand_Navy_ships

        And as for the Airforce…they may need to buy or lease a private jet so the PM can make it to meetings with some dignity. Airforce transport means bigger parties of officials and media can tag along with the PM but it needs to be reliable.

        More defence spending is required for our long narrow country, but old alliances will change with the increasing international North/South divide. Armed neutrality and membership of the Non Aligned Movement is where I would like to see Aotearoa NZ head.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-Aligned_Movement

        This type of view will raise the blood pressure of old school geo political adherents, but buying into AUKUS “Pillar whatev”, and continuing snooping for the US as per the GCSB/NZSIS (on a sneaky basis) just puts a nice big target on our shaky isles.

      • Subliminal 2.1.2

        Right. So we should just accept preparations for another landing at Gallipoli. Because that was so heroic. And we were doing our bit and taking responsibility for our position in the Anglosphere.

        Our reality is distance and isolation. It is our reality both in trade and in military affairs. We should embrace it and use the time and space to develop an independent foreign policy. We don't need to be dragged around by morally bankrupt and selfish fading powers

    • aj 2.2

      The Hamas invasion of Israel…..

      Bizarre take on what has happened since 1948.

  3. SPC 3

    If you mean fast in Chinese time, then not till Trump's political career is over. A one man "Iraq" mistake to avoid (he bullies western partners and that might include AUKUS Pillar 2).

    We have the important security alliance already, with Oz. Oz has one with the USA. There is also NATO+.

    Being part of AUKUS is not being part of a security alliance. Even QUAD (India, Oz, Jpan and USA) is about co-operation to contain China, if required, it is not a formal alliance.

    strategic security dialogue … informal strategic foruma diplomatic partnership

    Our decision will be based on

    1.the need sustain interoperability with Oz.

    2.economic advantages from being part of Pillar 2

    3.supporting the development of a collective capacity (akin to the build up that led to peace talks and end of the Cold War in the 1980's).

  4. thinker 4

    If trade deals accompanied security deals, it would be easier to keep alliances.

    NZ has to trade with other countries, is expected to side with the US militarily, but the US is generally isolationist when it comes to things like trade deals with us, leaving us no option but to trade with other countries, including the ones the Americans don't like.

    That puts us in a very difficult position.

  5. Subliminal 5

    The guest post the other day that seems to have provoked this current post mentioned a figure of 3 trillion of trade through the South China Sea.

    I wonder what this enormous trade consists of? I would expect that a large amount of this is the huge amount of exporting and importing to and from the very large manufacturing base that is China. It would seem that proposing Aukus as a means to stop China from closing this trade route is something straight out of a Monty Python skit.

    We know that the US is hell bent on trying to get China to reduce its exporting for the reason that their production is so efficient that the US cannot compete and they are starting to realise that they will never get financial control of the Chinese means of production.

    The only way the US can have any effect on Chinese exporting or productive capacity is to throttle shipping in the South China Sea. Their tried and true method is to encourage conflict. To this end, we witness their nonsensical encouragement of the Phillipines in their disputes with China over sovereignty of islands that historically have always been regarded as Chinese by western powers. Similarly with arming Taiwan even as they declare that Taiwan is part of one China.

    Throttling the South China Seas by the US and Aukus will wreck havoc on the world economy. The Yemeni blockade of the Red Sea will be a minor inconvenience in comparison.

    But what is even more surreal is that all this posturing will have the least effect on China and Asia. They at least will be able to compensate through land based trade. The most affected will be the west which will be badly caught with their trousers down having almost completely shut down their ability to manufacture anything.

    • SPC 5.1

      Any trade risk to shipping, from turning atolls into islands and then building bases on them, would be related to trade going to South Korea and Japan, not China.

      As per Houthi not targeting all shipping through the Red Sea.

      Another factor is China might be guaranteeing it could not be the victim of sanctions imposed by a blockade (during any military confrontation over Taiwan).

      Otherwise there is obvious trade inter-dependence.

      Other than a sub-plot to a struggle over Taiwan, the issue is more about economic zones and resources.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spratly_Islands

      • Subliminal 5.1.1

        Other than a sub-plot to a struggle over Taiwan, the issue is more about economic zones and resources.

        Well if thats the case, a battle over who has access to resources, AUKUS is doubly ridiculous.

  6. tWig 6

    Talking of land-based Chinese trade, the China Belt and Road initiative includes land routes, as well as sea route development, for reasons of both strategic trade and military influence. One reason does not preclude the other.

  7. SPC 7

    The amount of resources being committed to maintain Taiwan's independence is going to be vast, if this indicates the extent of Chinese determination/singular focus.

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/world-news/350258059/china-developing-space-weapons-breathtaking-pace

    At some point the cost is only valid if there is reward from realising imperial standing.

    That usually involves centralising economic activity/first claim on resources.

    Taiwan has chips, China has the rare minerals.

    If there is a balance of power – two separate spheres co-existing, the West will need to secure chip independence and its alternative rare mineral supplies.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/interactive/2023/china-deep-sea-mining-military-renewable-energy/

  8. Wei 8

    Sorry. To align with the US, the chief enabler of the Gaza genocide is morally despicable.

    And why would China want to choke off trade routes in the South China sea, with most trade coming to and from China going through those same trade routes.

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    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Charter schools to lift educational outcomes
    The upcoming Budget will include funding for up to 50 charter schools to help lift declining educational performance, Associate Education Minister David Seymour announced today. $153 million in new funding will be provided over four years to establish and operate up to 15 new charter schools and convert 35 state ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • COVID-19 Inquiry terms of reference consultation results received
    “The results of the public consultation on the terms of reference for the Royal Commission into COVID-19 Lessons has now been received, with results indicating over 13,000 submissions were made from members of the public,” Internal Affairs Minister Brooke van Velden says. “We heard feedback about the extended lockdowns in ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • The Pacific family of nations – the changing security outlook
    Foreign Minister, Defence Minister, other Members of Parliament Acting Chief of Defence Force, Secretary of Defence Distinguished Guests  Defence and Diplomatic Colleagues  Ladies and Gentlemen,  Good afternoon, tēna koutou, apinun tru    It’s a pleasure to be back in Port Moresby today, and to speak here at the Kumul Leadership ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • NZ and Papua New Guinea to work more closely together
    Health, infrastructure, renewable energy, and stability are among the themes of the current visit to Papua New Guinea by a New Zealand political delegation, Foreign Minister Winston Peters says.   “Papua New Guinea carries serious weight in the Pacific, and New Zealand deeply values our relationship with it,” Mr Peters ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago

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