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Some Thoughts On Foreign Policy Rights And Defence

Some Thoughts On Foreign Policy Rights And Defence Responsibilities

An article by
Hon Peter Dunne MP
Leader, United New Zealand Party

A new government always creates new expectations.

For example, we are apparently on the verge of a cultural renaissance because Helen Clark and Judith Tizard are now running arts policy. However, the reasons why and how are as elusive as ever.

Internationally, there is the expectation that we will boldly market ourselves as a nation the same way we did during the Kirk and Lange eras. The wish is that we establish a truly independent foreign policy, free of foreign entanglements, and more truly reflective than ever before of contemporary aspirations and attitudes. Despite its uncanny similarity to earlier American isolationist sentiments – a similarity that ends there as bluntly as it starts – the sentiment is a legitimate one.

We should be able to make our own way in the world, shaping our foreign and trade as we see fit, to suit our interests, historical and otherwise.

But in adopting such a stance, there is an inevitable associated responsibility we must be prepared to assume. In foreign policy, as in every other area, the claiming of rights and freedoms has to be balanced by the acceptance of responsibility. That means, in this case, the commitment to an adequate system of national defence. Yet the current debate about defence equipment priorities seems determined to eschew even the merest acknowledgement of such responsibility.

The issues of F16s or frigates are of themselves unimportant. They are but symptoms of the bigger issue – our defence responsibilities and how they might be met effectively. At the moment, however, they are virtually the sole focus of attention. The government seems determined to cancel both projects for no other reason than it does not like them. They do not seem to fit with its view of the world.

Yet, apart from warm fuzzies, we do not yet know what this view of the world is. We are all justifiably proud of what our forces have achieved in East Timor and chant the mantra that peacemaking and peacekeeping are functions our forces are good at. But when the Centre for Strategic Studies points out that a critical part of effective peacemaking is the ability to provide air cover for ground forces, which trends to favour the F16 deal, the government turns its back and does not want to know any more. Top-level rumours abound that Derek Quigley has been told from the very top his job is to produce a report which justifies cancelling the F16s. However, he is apparently more inclined to suggest the government resolves first whether its sees the air force being just a transport unit, or having a strike capability. If the government wants us to keep a strike capability, as the Centre for Strategic Studies suggests, then, according to the rumours, Quigley inclines towards the F16s, which is not what the Prime Minister wants to hear.

So, in the absence of any coherent strategy, we will yet again settle only half the story. We may well have our bold and definitive new foreign policy (our rights) but our defence policy (our responsibilities) will be as murky as ever. Our neighbours will be confused and suspicious. Our friends will be embarrassed and inconspicuous. It will be New Zealand against the world once more. Brave and proud sentiments, maybe. But to many, it will be further proof this particular emperor has no clothes.


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