Cablegate: Mixed Reaction to Nz Sas Deployment
RR RUEHAP RUEHDT RUEHNZ RUEHPB
DE RUEHWL #0259 2290251
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 170251Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC
INFO ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMCSUU/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
UNCLAS WELLINGTON 000259
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL MOPS MARR NZ AF
SUBJECT: MIXED REACTION TO NZ SAS DEPLOYMENT
REF: A. 09 WELLINGTON 260; B. 09 WELLINGTON 223
1. (SBU) Summary. Political criticism of the GNZ's August 10
announcement to re-deploy the SAS to Afghanistan has been largely
limited to the opposition Labour Party's criticism of the decision.
This discord broke a long-held political convention in NZ of
bipartisan support for foreign policy, especially overseas military
deployments. Media reaction in the wake of the decision has
generally been supportive of further contributions to Afghanistan,
including sending back the SAS. More political reaction is
expected when Parliament resumes on August 18. End Summary.
Labour Party Opposes SAS Deployment
2. (U) The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Phil Goff, has
pointedly disagreed with GNZ's August 10 decision to send SAS
troops back to Afghanistan (Reftel A. Wellington 260). Goff has
argued that SAS will not be as useful in Afghanistan as it was when
the previous Labour Government first decided to deploy it in 2005.
[Note. Goff was the Defence Minister in the previous
administration when it sent the SAS into Afghanistan three times
and, on every occasion, with the support of the then opposition
National party. End Note].
3. (U) Goff stated that New Zealand's past contributions have been
more on the military rather than the development side for good
reason: to rid Afghanistan of Al Qaeda strongholds. Now that this
imperative has been largely met, Goff believes that the focus in
Afghanistan should be on advancing development and good governance.
He would, therefore, like to see a "better balance" in New
Zealand's contribution. Goff asserts that New Zealand's efforts in
Afghanistan will be more effective if the GNZ focus on its
Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamyan Province and
training Afghan police and army. Goff believes that the NZ PRT has
proven effective in winning essential local support and promoting
development and stability.
Goff's Support Victim of Left Wing Pressures
4. (SBU) Labour's decision to support the continuation of the PRT,
but oppose the re-deployment of the SAS, breaks New Zealand's
long-standing political convention of bipartisan support for
matters of foreign affairs, particularly overseas military
deployments. Goff has condemned Prime Minister John Key for not
providing to opposition parties, and indeed the country, any new
information that justifies the decision to send the SAS back to
5. (SBU) Comment: The political imperatives behind Goff's posture
are transparent to most Kiwis. He stands at the right end of the
political spectrum of the left/center Labour Party. To maintain
his tenuous grip on party leadership, Goff needs to convince the
left wing of the Labour base that he represents their concerns. By
opposing the SAS deployment and supporting the PRT transition with
an emphasis on redevelopment and reduced military staffing, Goff
hopes to ensure that he is still the Labour standard bearer at the
next election, scheduled for 2011. End Comment.
Newspaper Editorials Support Return of SAS
6. (U) Despite some negative op-ed commentary in the days leading
up to August 10, editorial reaction after the announcement has been
generally supportive of the GNZ's decision to re-deploy the SAS.
The country's largest circulation daily, Auckland's New Zealand
Herald, carried an August 12 editorial which began "John Key has
acted correctly in sending Special Air Services troops back to
Afghanistan so New Zealand can play its part in tackling the
breeding ground of international terrorism." "However," the
editorial continued, "to place operational or geographical
restrictions on its role would be a mistake. Having been
committed, it should be used where it can be most effective. If
not, this country will be making a half-hearted contribution."
7. (U) Another prominent newspaper, Wellington's Dominion-Post,
ran an editorial that supported re-deploying the SAS to "advance
the cause of global security." However, the newspaper stated that
"the extent and nature of any role played by New Zealand troops
should be determined by this country in accordance with its
interests. The SAS should not be deployed to curry favor with the
US, no matter the blandishments or the increasingly unsubtle hints
of US officials."
Comment: Political Debate likely to Grow
8. (SBU) Post expects political debate over GNZ's decision to
continue, and broaden, when Parliament returns on August 18. Green
Party MP Dr. Kennedy Graham has requested from post copies of the
publicly available 2008 State Department Country Terrorism Report.
Graham has already publicly questioned the legal justification for
foreign combat forces in Afghanistan (Ref. B. Wellington 223).
Post therefore believes that the Greens are preparing to challenge
the Government when Parliament reconvenes next week. It is less
clear how strongly Labour will align itself with the Greens or
revert to a more centrist emphasis on national unity in support of
overseas deployments. We will continue to report as the debate
evolves. End Comment.