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A Political Miscalculation or Outright Arrogance

David Miller Online

‘Nuclear Brash’: A Political Miscalculation or Outright Arrogance

Don Brash’s foray into defence and nuclear issues last week was not a success and it is not surprising that he has quickly returned to beating his race-relations drum. After all, this is safer ground for the National leader to tread. Yet Dr. Brash cannot remain hidden behind this safety blanket forever and sooner or later he will have to start debating issues upon which his footing is less sound. However, if the events of the past fortnight are an indication of things to come, this will be no easy task and no where will National find more trouble than when campaigning on defence issues and whether New Zealand should remain nuclear free.

The nuclear issue has been National’s weak point since the legislation was introduced almost two decades ago. The party has never enjoyed a comfortable relationship with it and that discomfort has emerged again, this time to haunt Dr. Brash and his comrades of 2004. Despite what he might claim, the evidence is conclusive enough to indicate that he made those comments to the American politicians. Therefore, the question is whether the ‘lunchtime’ comment was merely a misjudged throwaway line spoken by an inexperienced politician and party leader or whether it an expression of arrogance that National would move towards allowing nuclear vessels into this country irrespective of what the majority of people want.

If the Government or other parties are to make any political gains at National’s expense then this is the issue on which they should campaign just as race relations is National’s path to gaining votes. They must press Dr. Brash to define his party’s policy on record and force him to state a definite point of view. So far on the election campaign, National has sketched some very broad policy strokes but has not shed light on the detail. It is only the beginning of the campaign and there is still plenty of time for that to happen but much of the furore over Dr. Brash’s speeches and statements is due to the lack of clear understanding of them and as this is electioneering, emotion is being aroused on mere sound bites.

For a party committed to monetarist policies and economic development, defence and nuclear vessels are troublesome subjects. Simon Power’s comment that New Zealand should blindly follow the United States into wars was a demonstration of how problematic this issue can become, although this particular difficulty was due to Mr. Power’s irresponsibility more than anything else. The problem for National is that this is not simply a case of revenue and the opportunity to invest and trade with such a lucrative market as the United States. Small states such as New Zealand rely heavily on trade and overseas investment but this issue goes much deeper than trade or the prospect of financial gain.

This is an issue that sparks much emotion and feeling within New Zealanders and one where many feel there is principle involved. New Zealanders would not support a change in the nuclear free stance is that it would be seen to be giving in to the United States and falling in line with what Washington demands. Although the Bush Administration has developed a doctrine whereby it believes it has the right and the strength to act unilaterally and outside of any international legal framework, many New Zealanders do not agree with the ‘you are either with us or against us’ stance that the United States had adopted.

New Zealand was excommunicated from ANZUS due to the anti-nuclear policy and our defence ties with the US where reduced but in the 21st Century and in the wake of September 11, such punishment has widened to include economic ties. The Bush Administration is adopting a much tougher line on its allies and other countries to gain support for its international agenda and despite the costs involved, the question for New Zealand and the National Party is whether trade and revenue are more important than being nuclear free and whether we should compromise this principle. These are the two stools between which National can fall and surely it cannot be that blind as to see which stool the majority of New Zealanders would rather see them climb upon.

The question now is which stool Dr. Brash will sit on. Will he maintain the nuclear free legislation or over ride it to please the White House if he becomes Prime Minister. Once these are answered then the questions over his comments last week will be answered as well. Then we will see if they where simply an ill-timed, light hearted remark or a sign of arrogance from a man prepared to use our system of ‘elected dictatorship’ to disregard overwhelming public opinion.


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