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Auckland – 'City for Peace' – or War? By Elizabeth Eastmond

Auckland – 'City for Peace' – or War?

by Elizabeth Eastmond

Two major combined events are looming for Auckland: over the week starting Monday 14 November Auckland hosts both a Weapons Conference and the Royal Navy's 75 Anniversary events. The former normally takes place annually in Wellington. Combined they present more than food for thought, with over 30 countries' naval ships attending, a RNZ Navy display on Princes Wharf, a 1000 sailor march in Queen St, a 'Divine' Service at Holy Trinity Cathedral, Parnell, for the Navy's 'Operation Neptune', and a Weapons Expo and Conference at the Viaduct Events Centre.

The RNZ Navy's events are billed as a 'celebration'. Many may support this. But for those concerned with strategies for peace, not war, a navy's role is of course first and foremost (despite laudable add-on humanitarian work) defense against threat. Then, if necessary, offence (necessarily armed.) The presence of so many naval ships, including two destroyers (from the U.S. and Japan) together with the Weapons Conference and Expo give a strikingly militaristic aura to this week's events.

And this is taking place in 'nuclear-free' New Zealand, the 'third safest country in the world' and specifically in Auckland, designated 'City for Peace' in 2011.

It's not surprising the Peace Movement finds this preposterous. The New Zealand Government may have stuck to our 'no nuclear' ships policy since 1986 and the days of ANZUS due to the New Zealand Government's decision in 1985 not to host an American warship, which would neither 'confirm nor deny' it was nuclear propelled or armed. The presence in November of the (we are assured) non-nuclear-propelled/armed U.S. cruise missile destroyer USS Sampson may have been described as 'a diplomatic victory' for New Zealand (by respected investigative journalist Nicky Hager) and as confirmation of the U.S.'s 'compliancy' (ex- Green Party Russel Norman.) 'Operation Neptune' may have been described as as purely 'ceremonial' ('security expert' Paul Buchanan.) Nevertheless this American warship (bristling with weaponry including Tomohawk missiles) is taking part within the bigger picture of a huge international naval presence in our harbour and alongside a Weapons Conference and Expo. A submarine from Australia has just yesterday (Nov 3) slid into the Devonport Naval Base, where New Zealand's two frigates are berthed.

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Numerous representatives from various countries will be attending, including, it is reported, 500 plus arms dealers for the Weapons Conference and Expo.

All this is taking place in Auckland's nice, quiet, photogenic – '100% pure' - South Pacific harbour.

Events like these are highly effective in enhancing cooperation between nations. But this isn't an international Peace or Arts Festival. It involves the military, destroyers, arms. Cyber and surveillance material. Information on defensive and potentially offensive capablities. Cooperation can easily lead to 'inter-operability'. Here in Auckland the event involves key players like the U.S. the UK, France, Germany, Japan, China (yes), Singapore, Brunei, Australia and other South-East Asian nations. It's hard not to sense a ramping up of alliances, led by the world's major power, America, in this part of the world – slotting nicely into Obama's much touted 'pivot' to South-East Asia as a strategy for 're-balancing' power relations and containing China's 'expansionism'.

These events may suit the U.S. particularly well at present due to its shrinking military budget. It's (and the world's) biggest arms, including nuclear arms, manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, the major sponsor of these events, has been employed to upgrade New Zealand's frigates. The New Zealand Government has recently funded the Navy a massive $20 billion. The Weapons Expo at the Viaduct Events Centre will certainly provide a nicely-timed marketplace for shopping expeditions.

Bearing in mind military hardware operates increasingly alongside cyber- and surveillance-warfare capabilities, the Weapons Expo and Conference will no doubt feature developments in this field. It's not widely known in New Zealand that local companies manufacture components capable of military end-use, among them are MAS Zengrange, Ocsmar (now Cubic) and Rakon. Some also produce specifically surveillance technology. A New Zealand company has recently been revealed by Nicky Hager and Ryan Gallagher, in online journal The Intercept (Oct 23): Auckland company Endace. Endace's 'Medusa System' hoovers up 'vast quantities of internet data at astonishing speed', with the company's clients including British Surveillance company GCHQ, Morocco, Israel and India. Besides the obvious implications of this, and New Zealand's involvement in the '5 Eyes Network', this is in addition a clear example the private sector enabling spying. This makes it difficult for Governments to (want?) to track which components of a company's output are benign, which not.

For us in New Zealand, then, it is difficult to know what exactly is being conveyed information-wise in our name and to what precise purpose in the world's battlefields – where currently in the Middle East and elsewhere, civilian fatalities and injuries are beyond horrific.

Any New Zealand Peace Movement's harbour protest flotillas are now restricted by very recent Government legislation regarding protest on the water. With (so far) little protest support articulated by major political parties – or the Church – will it be up to only the 'loony lefties' to make a stand about this disturbing series of events? Will the ra-ra 'family-friendly' Queen St parade (with UK brass band) serve usefully to only entertain the punters? Public visits to warships serve only to thrill the kids?

Why isn't Auckland City planning instead a 'Week of Peace', with its attendant displays, exhibits, conferences – and, importantly strategies for peace – in our 'City for Peace'?

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