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Scoop Opinion: What’s in an F16 deal?

Editorial, Phil Doherty 25 February 2000

What’s in an F16 deal?

In regard to the debate on defence procurement, we are at a crucial point-of-choice as a nation. A point in history where we reflect on the past and step into our future.

Our choice consists of either fixing the worst effects of our experiment with neo-liberalism or staying in the “big-boys club”. The F16 deal was an example of us moving much more into the sphere of influence of the United States, since arms deals are all about the seller achieving more control over the foreign policy of the buyer.

Choice A is essentially the status quo of us following mainstream diplomatic and military thinking. This mentality bases the design of our military forces mainly on what worked in past conflicts. That would have us continue as the former British colony ready to complement the military activities of the mother country. As Britain has receded from the region we would increase our involvement with the USA. We would need the classic Army, Navy and Air-Force model which could perform a minor role as part of the larger UKUSA force during times of actual conflict. In peace time we would help with the projection of national power in the form of military exercise with friendly nations and the likes of adding to the force in the Persian Gulf currently.

Choice B is what was on the table at the general election last year. Fix the worst effects of the dominant politics since 1984 by redressing the social and economic inequalities, build a knowledge-economy with regional development as a model and returning to the independent foreign policy position that we had in the early days of the nuclear-free Pacific of the 1970s.

Both choices come with a high price tag and the difference being political values. The dominant political values since 1984 have produced, among other things significant worsening of many of our public health indicators. Last year the electorate voted to put an end to that dominance.

Choice B would mean a complete revamp of both our diplomatic and military services. We could limit ourselves to peacekeeping and reject peacemaking, in this regard Bougainville and East Timor offer significantly different lessons.

New Zealand could profile itself as a promoter of, on the one hand transition from dictatorship to democracy and on the other a nuclear-free zone that would take in Pakistan, India, China and Korea. At the same time we could limit ourselves to Bougainville-style peacekeeping which would require a change of emphasis for our diplomats and a civilian-oriented military. The price tag for this choice would be significantly less than going for a re-equipped military with or without F16s.

While our current role of peace-making in East Timor and peacekeeping in Bougainville can give us all cause for satisfaction and pride, we must be aware of the fish-hooks involved in such activities. If we chose to design our military forces to improve our East Timor style peacemaking capacity, we will have to pay a very high price at the expense of fixing the domestic effects of our experimental years.

We are not short of opportunities while New Zealanders lead both the World Trade Organisation and the Commonwealth Secretariat. We could point to a different direction than the current spread of United States influence, through regional arms deals and the sorts of Free-Trade arrangements which we so comprehensively rejected in Seattle back in December last year. By way of stark, and surprising contrast, the Honourable Don McKinnon has Bougainville as a feather in his cap but the Honourable Mike Moore seems stuck in the experimental years by pushing the free-trade agenda.

Phil Doherty

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