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Scoop Editorial: A Principled Government At Last

Kofi Annan's comments yesterday that the purchase of 28 F16s would not, in his view, assist greatly in NZ's ability to participate in peacekeeping are timely and apposite.

On Wednesday the Government took the initiative and showed the promise that many more liberal voters were looking forward to when they voted for change last November.

While very little reported in the mainstream, the passage of the motion calling upon the world to renew its efforts towards disarmament, is in fact a key indicator of what this new government of ours is all about.

Shades of 1984 and David Lange's decision to take New Zealand out from under the nuclear umbrella come to mind , bringing back warm feelings that New Zealand is going to once again stand up for what it believes in.

In the mainstream debate over the F16s the decision the focus on whether or not to purchase - or accept the generous offer of - the US's spare fighter aircraft has been primarily on economics. Can we afford these weapons? Are there better things to spend our money on?

However there are several other arguments for not buying the F16s which if anything are more compelling. And this commentator suspects that these reasons are in fact to the fore of the government's thinking in this area.

Firstly there is the question of why the US is so keen for us to buy these high tech weapons? So keen that they are in effect discounting aircraft worth more than $800 million US to a bargain basement price for us to be able to afford them.

At the time the aircraft were offered by the US the US administration was isolated on the international stage on its stance against Iraq.

US bombers had in December 1998 launched another round of air strikes against Iraq. The reason for doing so was said to be the refusal of the Iraqi administration to cooperate with UNSCOM weapons inspectors.

In this second round of air strikes the US was supported only by the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

New Zealand sent SAS troops to the area to serve in a search and rescue capacity and later we dispatched a frigate to the region to assist with the international blockade enforcing the sanctions regime against Iraq.

Later it emerged - as Scoop had always suspected - that UNSCOM had been used by the CIA as cover for a series of covert spying operations against Iraq. This was what the Iraqis had always claimed.

Now in retrospect the decision of the US to launch another military action against Iraq in December 1998 has had appalling consequences in the international security arena.

It isolated and angered the Russians. It made the crisis in Kosovo more difficult to deal with as a result, and has arguably led to the new Russian militancy and the consequent renewal of the arms race in Europe which Kofi Annan has warned NZ about during his visit over the past few days.

So why did NZ get offered the F16s at such a bargain basement price?

Scoop's theory is that it was thankyou, for keeping the faith of the increasingly isolated western Alliance.

This is a very poor reason to purchase weapons, even if they are very cheap. NZ could be seen in this light as in effect accepting what amounts to blood money.

This alone is reason enough not to accept the planes.

Furthermore the US Ambassador's attempts to lecture New Zealanders about sticking to commitments are a little rich in light of the fact that these planes were in fact purchased and paid for by Pakistan under an agreement which the US had no qualms about reneging on.

Another good reason not to buy the F16s is the example that it would set.

How can NZ seriously take on the cause of disarmament on a global scale and at the same stage acquire itself the latest high tech toys? How can NZ encourage the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan, India etc. not to engage in a new arms race at the same time as it arms itself to the teeth, by virtue of its cosy relationship with the US?

As Kofi Annan has warned the new arms race is a huge threat to the well being of all the peoples of the world. As new arms are developed and purchased in Europe and the US the existing arsenals will be put on the market for newly militant nations such as India to snap up at bargain basement prices.

The decision not to buy the F16s can be seen in this light as more a matter of principle than one of economics.

New Zealand's interests in global security terms are best served by being able to participate in regional peacekeeping activities. These strengthen the bonds between nations and create security through mutual understanding.

On Wednesday ACT leader Richard Prebble criticised NZ's attempt at global peacemaking as futile and a waste of time. Far from this it is a welcome sign that New Zealand will use what influence it has to purposes generally in the interests of all New Zealanders - making the world a safer place.

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