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Upton-on-line Diaspora Edition


Upton-on-line Diaspora Edition

In this issue: Ambivalence about who the French would like to see win the war in Iraq, facts and figures on the cradle of civilisation as it stands today, some robust Australian views on rat bag fishing on the high seas, some slightly less robust Australian views on how it sees itself in the world (The White Paper on Foreign & Trade Policy), and a treatyological footnote to the Battle of Jutland (1916).

France in wartime (looking on) France is not at war. On the contrary, it is busily not being at war. Wars fought far away have, until recently, been things that are out of sight, out of mind. But with round the clock television coverage and an almost unrelieved diet of news reportage, that no longer holds. As spring unfolds over Paris (and it has been a magically calm, still equinox), the war has reached far into French minds.

The unyielding opposition of the French Government to Anglo-American willingness to use force in Iraq has made explicit the huge rift in trans-Atlantic attitudes and culture that have long been implicit. In the same way that the British public appears to have swung behind its Government now that hostilities are joined, the French public has swung ever more decisively behind its President.

A poll just conducted by Ipsos, Le Monde and TF1 has revealed the extent of Gallic hostility to allied ambitions. For those who worry about the future of a united and coherent 'western' alliance, it makes sobering reading. 78% of those polled disapproved of the military intervention led by America (and two thirds of those characterised their disapproval as strong. (By contrast, only 6% were strongly supportive). The opposition extends across the entire political spectrum with some of the strongest opposition in managerial and high income brackets. The propertied classes, it seems, are not quietly fossicking around in their cellars for a nicely aged burgundy with which to toast old allies.

Responsibility for the war was sheeted home almost as decisively to the Americans by 65% of those polled (only 12% were prepared to nominate Iraq). When asked if they felt broadly on the side of the Americans and the British, only 34% could agree - not far ahead of the 25% who indicated that they were basically on the side of the Iraqis. Most extraordinarily, when pushed to say - at bottom - who they hoped would win the war, only the barest majority - 53% - could bring themselves to back the Allies. An incredible 33% backed Iraq (and when broken down by political allegiance the extreme left distinguished itself by mustering an absolute majority - 51% - in favour of Iraq. With opinion in a key western country in this frame of mind, Americans must be beginning to wonder how they should define a 'hostile' country. Again, across all of these questions, any differentiation of view between right and left is weak. Basically, from the pinnacles of the French establishment to the anonymous wastelands of the banlieue, the Republic is united against America.

All sorts of motivations Much commentary in the English language press has found plenty to be snide about in French motivations. Needless to say, this has been reciprocated by a French press that, almost without exception, sees dark forces at work inside the American administration. (Upton-on-line has never read so many articles about religious fundamentalism in the US, neo-con think tanks and the links between politicians and oil in his life). But when it comes to the reasons why the French oppose a war, the same polls disclose a hierarchy of concerns that is pretty mainstream; the number one reason (44% of respondents) is concern about the knock-on effects on world peace. Next comes the humanitarian consequences (31%) and the risks of increasing terrorism (21%). Unsurprisingly, given the unrelenting anti-Americanism, only 7% of those polled named the consequences for French/American relations as their number one worry. So it has to be said that President Chirac has read his populace very accurately. 74% reject the view that he may have gone too far in his opposition to the US.

As someone remarked to upton-on-line the other day, France may be part of 'old' Europe, but it would prefer that to being part of an Old Testament-style crusade. Secular, nationalist and acutely aware of the large population in its midst from North Africa and the Middle East, France cannot imagine a more risky (and scary) way of wading into Middle Eastern politics. That said, at least in the (admittedly limited) circles in which upton-on-line mixes, day-to-day condemnation of America comes much more vocally from anguished visiting Americans than it does French citizens. Where American critics tend to bemoan the morality of what is happening, the French quietly harbour more practical fears about what may be unleashed.

French citizens appear to be better informed about the Middle East than some. Certainly, the newspaper reportage is spectacularly good although unrelentingly sceptical. Everything concerning Allied intentions is reported in inverted commas - towns are 'liberated', zones are 'secured'. The concern most widely expressed is the sheer inability of America to contain what it may trigger in the region. Upton-on-line's physio spent a long time in between vertebrae ruminating on Vietnam and noting that, in terms of the risks of destabilising neighbouring regimes, Vietnam seems in retrospect positively fool-proof. The French have a real fear that governments in Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Iran could all collapse - and they won't be replaced by nice freedom-loving democracies. On this score their pessimism strikes u-o-l as being unusually acute.

But at the depths of the French establishment there are those who worry about where the whole anti-American mind-set leads. Perhaps it was the extraordinary ambivalence about whose side France is emotionally on, as revealed by polling, that led the Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin to intervene yesterday. While the President's unflinching pacifism has carried him to stratospheric heights from which, like American B-52s he can survey the champ de bataille in clear air, his workaday Prime Minister has been having to chart a path through the real world of sniper fire and diplomatic cluster bombs. Tucked away far from the headlines came this statement: "We're in the democratic camp. The fact that we're against this war doesn't mean we're hoping for a victory of dictatorship over democracy." As such M Raffarin has called for "vigilance against all forms of anti-Americanism". The Americans must be reassured to have at least one such friend.

Some vital (or not so vital) statistics on Iraq The OECD, where upton-on-line is based, is if nothing else an inveterate collector of statistics. Its instinctive response to any emerging problem is to assemble statistics - a not unhelpfully empirical sort of response in the face of wild and often emotive claims. It's always good to be able to quantify problems even if the solutions require a little more soul. True to form the OECD has been digging into its data-bases in anticipation of all sorts of post-war reconstruction demands. Here are some of the more striking statistics which give a feel for what would be nation and institution builders will be up against.

First, and most startlingly, -

Of the 26 million Iraqis, 50% are under 15 years of age.

Between 1990 and 2002 GDP per capita fell from US$3500 to somewhere between US$583 - 1100.

Since 1990 Iraq has fall from number 76 to number 127 on the UN Human Development Index.

Male illiteracy is 34%, female illiteracy 54%.

The health budget in 1989 was US$450 million; today it is estimated to be just $20 million.

Only 60% of the population has access to potable water.

500,000 metric tonnes ofsewage is dumped into waterways daily.

Restoring electricity generating capacity to 1990 levels would require around $20 billion.

Restoring the oil industry to 1990 levels would take 18 - 30 years and cost around $20 billion.

Foreign debt (public and private) is calculated at somewhere between $US 60-130 billion with the Gulf States and Russia owed the most.

Claims before the UN Gulf War Compensation (set up after the 1991 war) total US$320 billion of which $148 billion has been claimed by individuals, and $172 billion by governments, companies and international organisations. So far, only a small percentage of the private claims have been met.

Iran is oil rich - all of this and more should be do-able. Whether it will be given another chance remains to be seen.

Fishing with dynamite You have to hand it to the Aussies: they don't pussyfoot around when they decide to put the boot in internationally. New Zealand ministers and diplomats tend to operate with a certain smug suaveness on the world stage. Speaking from personal experience, upton-on-line can vouch that little New Zealand knows how little it is and rather likes to think itself a sophisticated, niche player in the big fish pond. No-one has ever been remotely tempted to characterise our big cousins in the same way. Australia has often seemed to specialise in treading on toes internationally - it sees itself as a big fish in a big pond and it doesn't care too much if the waves it makes flatten more tender sensibilities. And sometimes, it really works a treat.

Upton-on-line has recently sighted the utterly brilliant, take-no-prisoners approach of the Australian delegate to the FAO's Fisheries Committee earlier this year talking on the subject of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. It's an ambiguity-free zone in which the guilty parties are caught in the spot light of cheery Australian name-calling without a euphemism in sight behind which they can seek to hide. Here are a few extracts from the transcript which upton-on-line picked up recently at a still shell-shocked FAO in Rome :

"Australia started the battle against IUU fishing in this very venue 4 years ago and sought to bring the problem to the world's attention believing that all countries would be responsible and address the issue in a responsible and co-ordinated fashion. [This, in Aussie terms, is a devastatingly diplomatic and almost dangerously dissimulating statement: it's as polite as it gets...] Sadly this has not yet happened. Australia comes here ... every 2 years and we participate actively and constructively in a range of RFMOs [jargon for a very large marine creature called a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation], bi-lateral and multi-lateral meetings each year that are, according to their objectives and goals, instituted to bring into being responsible and sustainable fisheries management regimes for the world fish stocks."

"It is interesting to see the same small number of countries who attend these meetings and are members of RFMOs and who provide a haven for IUU activity, talk the talk of responsible fishing nations at these meetings, but then walk the walk hand in hand with the pirates and pillagers of the world fish stocks the moment they leave the hallowed halls of these international fisheries meetings. Some of these very countries are here today, you need no introduction." [No indeed, but the Australian delegate is feeling generous...and there's nothing like a spot of naming names to blow away any possibility of doubt!]

"Chair, by way of example and I fully accept that there are other equally important examples that other countries have, I will briefly descibe our experience over the last 3 years with the IUU toothfish trade. When you look at the last 6 arrests by Australia and 7 by France of toothfish poachers, 2 things quickly become evident. The flag states of these vessels, Panama, Belize, Togo, Seychelles, Russia, Netherlands Antilles, St Vincent's, Sao Tome are all being used as Flag of Convenience registers. The other is the nationality of the Captains and senior crew. They are these days almost Spanish and Russian although on the last two French captures the captains were Chilean and Uruguayan."

"There is a consistent group of countries, flag of convenience states and nationals involved in this trade. Australia fully accepts that this is not a problem with legitimately flagged Spanish and Chilean flagged vessels in this fishery and congratulates Spain for starting a process internally to address IUU fishing. [This sounds dangerously diplomatic but the follow-through disrupts any possible rush for tactful cover...] However, what it does highlight is the difficulty in dealing with IUU fishing where you have rogue nationals working for foreign and international companies involved in international organised crime. We are not just dealing with countries as we have done in the past, we are dealing more and more with international criminal activity..."

Just in case the list of named names hadn't roughed up a wide enough spread of countries, the Australian delegate decided to spread his drift net a little more widely:

"We know with certainty that a number of countries including Russia and Uruguay are prepared to compromise the CCAMLR Catch Documentation Scheme and provide what Australia can only call 'irregular' documentation [inverted commas make it quite clear this is super ironic] to cover the landings and transhipment of this illegally caught product. The CCAMLR Scientific Committee has confirmed the view that the catches reported to CCAMLR ... are ridiculous in the extreme. To continue to be told about this catch is an insult to our intelligence." [An especially serious offence with Aussies...]

"We know the bulk of the raw product enters China for processing through ports in China and in Hong Kong China. In the case of China, I am not suggesting for one moment that they are doing enything improper or illegal [goodness me no! - and just as well since they're an even bigger fish in the pond] but rather highlighting that we need to work with them [that's a relief] to identify and confiscate illegally caught and falsely documented imported product. We know the biggest markets for this product are in the US, Japan and the EU. Of these only the US us so far taking concerted action to stop the entry of this illegally caught and documented product to its markets. The other main market states should do the same"[ouch!].

After running through a list of swashbuckling measures that would strike dismay into the heart of every Belizean trawler, the Australian delegate closed on what, in Australian terms, can only be termed a poetic note:

"If we are not prepared to take the hard decision, what I believe we are doing is making the Committee on Fisheries and FRMOs irrelevant in the process of international fisheries management. If this was to occur, then we will in a short time commit this great organisation .. and the world's fish stocks to the dustbin of history."

You have to admire it. By upton-on-line's count Australian didn't flinch at the thought of offending 16 countries (or 31 if you like to count in all the EU states). While others steer politely through whole Sargasso Seas of diplomatic bilge, the Australians have decided to go in with attack helicopters (metaphorically speaking: their real life interventions use frigates). For the sake of the world's fisheries, thank heaven someone is prepared to.

How the big fish views the big pond Naturally, printed official Australian texts are a little less pointed. But they are nonetheless unambiguous. One such recent example is Australia's Foreign and Trade Policy White Paper - Advancing the National Interest. It is both readable and a useful compendium of information. It should be required reading for any New Zealander interested in the foreign policy of our only significant neighbour.

Comment has been made in New Zealand about the brief treatment accorded to New Zealand. This is scarcely surprising given the explicitly global framework in which Australia seeks to place itself (although, as we shall comment below, the placing of the New Zealand section perhaps raises some eyebrows).

The most striking thing about the White Paper is the absolutely settled sense of geo-political orientation. Australia is one of a small group of countries that is big enough, independent enough and confident enough to describe its identity in terms of abstract, universalising ideals: "Australia is a liberal democracy with a proud commitment to political and economic freedom. That freedom is a foundation of our security and prosperity. We have a long tradition of working with other liberal democracies around the world to defend and promote it." Australia's crucial Asian linkages, above all economic ones, are rehearsed at length but the White Paper is unembarrassed about describing "the basic Western make-up of Australian society." As New Zealand continues its progression towards being a small state, increasingly defined by its particular ethnic identities and fascinated by its differentness, it becomes harder and harder to imagine a New Zealand government of any political colour making these sorts of claims.

The sense of being a global player also gives the Australians the confidence to state bluntly (and accurately in upton-on-line's view) that "the actions of nation states and their governments still have the greatest bearing on the world's security and economic environment". Hence, bi-lateral engagements trump regional and multi-lateral ones "not all [of which] will enhance the prosperity and security of Australians." The UN, we are informed, "requires reform". To underline the sense of independent national destiny, the White Paper describes Australia as "a significant and recognised military power in Asia and the South Pacific".

The sense of being a self-starting nation, untroubled by post-colonial agonising, comes through again in the White Paper's description of the importance of immigration to Australia. Describing itself as "a welcoming nation", the paper points out that since the second world war, Australia has accepted more migrants per capita than Canada, New Zealand and even the United States have. A quarter of present day Aussies were born abroad; 4% (some 720,000 of them) live outside Australia. (We don't even know how many do).

It takes one to recognise one Upton-on-line has long considered that Sydney and its residents desperately want to be New York(ers). Next time you dine with friends or business associates in Sydney, count the number of times people either use the Big Apple as a comparator or casually drop the name of someone with whom they were having dinner there last week. There is something deeply American about the scale and romance of Australian aspirations. So it comes as no surprise that the White Paper reserves special and extended treatment for the Promised Land across the ocean deep. Only in respect of the USA does the language become reverential. The United States is 'preminent' and the longstanding partnership with her "of fundamental importance". In fact, a quick check of the langauge deployed in the chapter devoted to the bi-lateral relationship with the US reveals a minor star-burst of strong-end adjectives: fundamental, essential, vital. On this score at least, Australia is removed from New Zealand by more than the 70 million years of sea-floor spreading that originally parted us.

Discovering our place All of which makes it scarcely surprising that New Zealand rates less ardent treatment. Upton-on-line considers that the length of the reference is the wrong thing to focus on. After all, the US 'chapter' is only four pages. New Zealand, which gets a quarter of that, is doing pretty well if we're going to get into inter-country comparisons. The more curious thing is NZ's placement - in a chapter entitled "Helping our Pacific neighbours consolidate their future". Australia has no doubts about its own future, so it is great that they've got time to spare worrying about others for whom the future is more uncertain. But New Zealanders may well be surprised to learn that they find their place at the end of a chapter which proceeeds serially through sections entitled "The South Pacific matters to Australia", "What Australia can and cannot do to help" and "Papua New Guinea's mounting challenges". It was nice to have the New Zealand section entitled "Integration with New Zealand is well advanced", but it may still seem unfamiliar to be classed as a Pacific neighbour in need of help consolidating its future.

It's a careful, but anodyne piece that dutifully acknowledges New Zealand as Australia's "most important ally in the South Pacific" (it would be interesting to know who else is on the list) and the high level of economic integration and interdependence. Australia has long ago perfected its formula of 'two sovereign nations' who must pragmatically decide where their national interests coincide or diverge. And lest anyone harbours any illusions about the Commonwealth of Australia Act, the paper notes that "there will probably be political, economic and practical limits to further integration".

There are just two little warnings - one, that "[n]either Australia nor New Zealand wants to put at risk the entitlement of our citizens to free movement, residence and work in each other's country" and thus urges constant vigilance at the border. The other is on the defence front where a judicious - but clear - echo is made of Hugh White's advocacy (reported in upton-on-line last year):

"Both countries benefit from the bilateral defence relationship. Australia will continue to work closely with New Zealand on defence issues and will continue to encourage New Zealand governments to see defence as an important tool of strategic diplomacy, even though our strategic visions and proportions of defence spending will probably differ."

Now there's a thought! Those wishing to download the whole White Paper can find it at: http://www.dfat.gov.au/ani/

Maori and the Battle of Jutland Upton-on-line's address to the Knowledge Wave Conference drew the usual range of comments from broadly complimentary through to one that found it "...er...shallow". But one slightly more expansive response is worth repeating here - specifically, a reaction to the reference made in that speech to the Maori Battalion in the Second World War making "an undeniable intervention in global history". Upton-on-line's correspondent drew attention to a delightful chapter in First World War naval history involving Maori. No, there was no SAS-style daring under-cover waka raid on enemy positions. Rather, it was the contribution Maori made to the kit of the HMS New Zealand. What follows relies on the correspondent's account.

The story goes back to 1909 when New Zealand's Prime Minister, Sir Joseph Ward, announced at the 1909 Imperial Conference in London that New Zealand would fund a "first class ship" for the Royal Navy. Those were the days - there was no Cabinet scrutiny and certainly no Treasury involvement. The Prime Minister just made the offer to the delight of Admiral Fisher and the cabinet had to swallow it. This was no small offer. The ship cost two hundred thousand pounds, payment for which continued until 1958. It remains the single biggest investment New Zealand ever made in the British world order. New Zealand has never bought into the American world order that succeeded it - if, indeed, that is how American hegemony can be described as.

An Indefatigable class battlecruiser, HMS New Zealand was a state of the art ship for the time. Launched in 1912, she visited NZ in 1913. Her crew of over 1000 contained three New Zealand officers plus some ratings.

Now for the Maori connection. A the time of her 1913 visit she was given a steering wheel made of native woods inscribed with Rewi maniapoto's famous words of defiance at Orakau: "Ake! Ake! Ake! Kia Kaha!" (We will fight on, for ever and ever and ever). Furthermore, a Chief gave the captain a greenstone tiki and a piupiu with instructions that the ship would be safe in battle if he wore them. These instructions were dutifully observed in the battles of Helgioland Bight (14 August 1914), Dogger Bank (24th January 1915 - when she became Admiral Beattie's flagship) and, most famously, Jutland (31st May 1916).

At Dogger Bank, Admiral Beattie had to abandon his ship (HMS Lion) and was received aboard HMS New Zealand by Captain Lionel Halsey wearing both tiki and piupiu. The captain at Jutland, John Green was apparently a little stout so he only wore the tiki and had the piupiu hung in the conning tower in case the ship got into difficulties. HMS New Zealand took a direct hit at Jutland but only the ship's canary perished. Others ships were not so lucky - or so powerfully protected!

The ship returned to New Zealand waters in 1919 on Admiral Jellicoe's tour of the Dominions and he, of course, became Governor General in 1920. That was just about the end of the road for the ship, however. She was decommissioned and scrapped in 1922 as part of armament reductions agreements between the powers.

There are many such stories of Maori engagement in the Imperial epoch. Upton-on-line's own Great Uncle set of for the First World War with a piece of greenstone given to him by local people and which he was told to wear as protection. He was never scathed and wore it for the rest of his life. All of which, if anyone is talking about nation-building, is pretty moving stuff. This was only a generation on from the land wars which remained vividly in the minds of many older people. But something pretty important had soldered in the combined consciousness of Maori and Pakeha.

The fact is that if the HMS New Zealand story is anything to go by, Maori identified with the martial prowess of the Empire. In these politically correct days that may not be a wise thing to say. But you have to wonder whether, culturally, imperial deconstruction has not been destructive of more than just 'Anglo' sensibilities in New Zealand. One can't help wondering whether a large element of New Zealand's current difficulties aren't so much a denial of history as a black hole in organic, living historical consciousness that developed after the second world war as one generation succeeded another. Decolonisation didn't so much free New Zealand from a false imperial consciousness. It simply imposed its own story unchallenged by a generation that, swarming out of the baby boom years and the rush to urbanisation, had no sense of some much closer encounters in earlier days.

Upton-on-line's correspondent came to this conclusion about Maori engagement in the battlecruiser project:

"From a treaty point of view, we can see Maori honouring their Sovereign's ship of war (Article 1); protecting it with their prayers of blessing and protective taonga (the link with taonga in Article 2); and contributing as British subjects (Article 3). Maori religious values were acknowledged and respected and the Royal Navy fighting men understood that and respected it. There was no need for litigation and constitutional protection to make this all 'work'. But the gifts of tiki and piupiu came with conditions. The British had to use the taonga - not just treat them as emblems and exhibits. Perhaps men going into battle are better judges of the significance of such gifts than most!"

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