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PM's Attacks Lead To Muted National Party Foreign Policy

PM's Attacks Lead To Muted National Party Foreign Policy

By Kevin List

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark
Click for big version

"What is at stake in this election is whether New Zealand just blindly says yes to more powerful nations," warned the Prime Minister shortly after announcing 17 September as the date of the 2005 General Election.

The performance and credibility of the National Party and in particular that of its leader Dr Don Brash will continue to be tested by the Labour Party throughout the election campaign. Last week Dr Brash's performance regarding National's foreign policy was highlighted by his inability to answer questions on the subject of Iraq.

"It would not be out of order to speculate that [Dr Brash] has every intention if he were in a position - that if he’d agree to send troops to Iraq – he’d send combat troops," said the Prime Minister.

Later that day Dr Brash explained the current National Party position regarding Iraq.

“I am not envisaging any circumstances, frankly, where New Zealand combat troops would be deployed in Iraq," Dr Brash told TVNZ's Close Up at Seven host Susan Wood.

He later qualified his earlier statements by saying he could 'never ever say never' following telling Susan Wood that Helen Clark could not possibly have foreseen sending NZ troops to Afghanistan when she was elected in 1999.

Dr Brash failed to point out that there were no US, UK or Australian troops in Afghanistan in 1999. Just prior to the Iraq War, National's then foreign affairs spokesperson, Dr Wayne Mapp, bemoaned New Zealand's 'non-aligned' foreign policy, saying that "support for action led by the United States and Britain is the right course for New Zealand".

Dr Paul Buchanan, senior lecturer in politics at Auckland University, suggested that the current political climate may have led to Dr Brash's desire to take Iraq off the political agenda.

"My impression is most New Zealanders would prefer not to see combat troops in Iraq, for a multitude of reasons, and any politician who states that as an electoral claim isn’t going to win " he said.

Dr Buchanan considered that there was a less overt option open to New Zealand leaders should they wish to assist the United States without the glare of public scrutiny.

"It is one thing to talk openly about sending troops it is another thing to just do it – if you take 'special operators' and send them under the cloak of secrecy, that is part of the legal mantle that surrounds their activities."

"Don Brash [if he was Prime Minister] could up the quota of 'special operators' being sent to a place like Iraq and it wouldn’t become an electoral issue," he said.

While New Zealand does not have a military presence in Iraq, according to the Dominion Post last weekend, there are currently an "estimated 1000 New Zealand civilians" working to "rebuild the war torn nation".

The Dominion Post front page story alleges that these civilians have been stripped of security protection. Some of the Iraq-based New Zealanders fear that this is retribution for New Zealand's refusal to support the American-led war.

NZ Army Engineer Challenges Prime Minister Helen Clark In Iraq
Click for photo essay of Helen Clark visiting NZ engineers in Basra, Iraq in November 2003.

Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff told the Dominion Post that New Zealand would not be asking the United States for an 'explanation'. New Zealand's failure to communicate with the United States Government was seen by National's foreign affairs spokesperson Dr Lockwood Smith as further proof that relations have deteriorated between the United States and New Zealand.

"I think the Government has quite sensibly advised New Zealanders not to go to [Iraq] - that is sound advice and I support the Government in that. [However] given that there are a 1000 New Zealanders working there the fact that Goff wasn't even prepared to talk to the Americans about the situation I think is a measure of just how dysfunctional the relationship has become," he told Scoop today.

In a speech in May 2004, Dr Smith said that only a Brash-led Government could turn around the "declining relationship" that New Zealand had with "the countries most important to us - Australia and the United States".

Dr Brash, for his part, explained to Susan Wood this week that the National Party was committed to "an independent foreign policy", later explaining that National's foreign policy would be made "in the light of what is best for New Zealand and New Zealanders."

In June 2004, following a visit to the United States, Dr Brash said that New Zealand's foreign policy regarding nuclear warship visits would require prior consultation with the United States

"The likelihood is that if we put a proposal to the Americans which they find acceptable, and that of course would be after we became Government, we would then seek a referendum for any change in the law," Dr Brash told TV3's Duncan Garner in June 2004.

The current National policy is that there will be no change to New Zealand's anti-nuclear legislation without a referendum. A spokesperson for Dr Brash insisted to Scoop that this referendum would be driven by the New Zealand public. Should there be a National-led Government after the election a referendum on New Zealand's nuclear-free status could occur at any stage of the electoral cycle.


Dr Brash, NZ Nuclear Free Legislation and National's Independent Foreign Policy

National Party Leader Dr Don Brash refused to answer questions from TV3 last week
Click to view video clip.

Dr Brash's concern regarding New Zealand's nuclear policy appears to have been sparked less by New Zealand's defence needs and more by our trading interests.

In late 2003 the National Party's current social welfare spokesperson Judith Collins participated in a US State Department-sponsored study tour. Ms Collins discovered on her trip that the two areas "that were of most relevance to New Zealand were those of trade and defence. Quite clearly, the US links the two," she wrote in her regular column Collins Comments on the 10 November 2003.

Dr Buchanan was sceptical regarding Ms Collins' assertion that trade and defence were inextricably linked by the US

"[Ms Collins] may have spoken to certain individuals in the [US] State Department and/or the Defence Department that link the two but as far as I know it is not a tenet of US foreign policy to do that in all instances," he said.

Dr Paul Buchanan also told Scoop that New Zealand's current nuclear policy continued to be a "sore point' in Washington.

"I think that is usually mentioned with regard to New Zealand because we are considered bullyable," he said.

New Zealand may have been considered a 'bullyable' nation in April 2003 when an apology was extracted from the Prime Minister for off-the-cuff comments she had made on the progress of the Iraq War.

According to a 2003 article by the NZ Herald's Fran O'Sullivan, the Prime Minister's apology was assisted by American billionaire Julian Robertson, a man with close links to the Republican Party.

Mr Robertson was considered to be one of the subjects of a wide ranging attack on National and its foreign policy by Education Minister Trevor Mallard last week. Mr Mallard hinted that National was receiving financial assistance from overseas sources.

Mr Robertson was considered the probable target of Mr Mallard's attack regarding National and possible sources of overseas campaign donations. While Mr Mallard's eagerness to comment outside the scope of his ministerial responsibilities was chastised by the Prime Minister on Monday, she also pointed out that there had yet to be a denial from National regarding any financial involvement of Mr Roberston in National's election campaign.

"Clearly Mr Mallard went too far with his attacks - what hasn’t been denied however is whether or not Mr Robertson is a donor to the National Party," she said.

Unless National or Mr Robertson choose to comment it is unlikely that Mr Mallard's attacks can be verified either way. National utilises trust funds which allow for individual donors to remain anonymous. After the 1999 election records show more that than half a million dollars of donations were channelled through the NZ Free Enterprise Trust.

The 2003 Herald article also reported that Mr Robertson was assisting New Zealand's negotiations concerning a free trade agreement. Mr Robertson, who is friendly with Dr Brash, had not been in any regular contact with the Prime Minister in recent years despite his support for a New Zealand/United States Free Trade Agreement (FTA)

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said Helen Clark has met Mr Robertson on several occasions, including when she launched a golf tournament at Kauri Cliffs a couple of years ago.

The Prime Minister doesn't recall meeting him for at least a year – and probably longer.

The spokesperson said that Mr Robertson has been very supportive of New Zealand negotiating a free trade agreement, but has no formal role in the New Zealand Government's dealings with the United States.


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