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Hedgehog Diplomacy: Our Way Forward In A Militarised World

By Natasha Baulis, Researcher, Maxim Institute*

Porcupines are challenging to swallow; they make a great deal of noise and—when threatened—release a chemical stink bomb to deter attackers. They also happen to be pretty unattractive.

This spiky rodent has been invoked by Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles when describing Australia’s defence strategy in relation to China: “We need to make sure that our Defence Force is potent, that it is capable. We need to make Australia a difficult proposition for any adversary.” Pointy weapons systems and bristling troop readiness. Unattractive? Pungent? Can you take the analogy too far?

Indulge me. If Australia is becoming a porcupine, maybe we could aim to be a hedgehog.

While they may be a pest here, hedgehogs are unquestionably adorable. You certainly wouldn’t want to try and eat one; you might even offer one a cube of watermelon in lieu of a pat. Did I mention that they’re popular pets in certain parts of Asia?

You can tell where this is going. Aotearoa New Zealand has an international reputation for reasonableness. Our convenient geographical distance from China, strong trade ties and lack of competing strategic objectives mean we can retain positive relations where other countries have failed.

However, healthy boundaries in any relationship are crucial. We really need to consider how we can be in a position to say “no” to China should the need arise.

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Unfortunately, we don’t have a strong defence force—in fact, it is growing weaker, having lost 30% of uniformed staff over the last two years. Military infrastructure and equipment here are too thin on the ground, outdated and malfunctioning. To accomplish anywhere near the capability necessary to pose a military deterrence as the ‘Switzerland of the South Pacific’, New Zealand would have to spend more money, demand more from its citizens, and telegraph a change of tack that would invite aggression.

A better strategic option would be to maintain our interoperability with military ally Australia whilst signalling diplomatic appeasement to key trade partner China. Hence Plan Hedgehog.

If we sign up to Pillar II of AUKUS, we can steer clear of the nuclear option, offering up a shrug and a friendly grin to China, all the while ensuring the quills are on hand if needed. Some subtle diplomacy is necessary to accomplish this objective: to make it clear to China that New Zealand is taking a step towards technological advancement, but not away from its relationship with China and—importantly—not anywhere near nuclear capability.

Hedgehogs are smaller and more personable than their porcupine counterparts, but they do share some common tactics. No stink bombs for them, but a few spikes that can keep them protected long enough for predators to get bored and go after something easier.

*Maxim Institute is an independent think tank working to promote the dignity of every person in New Zealand by standing for freedom, justice, compassion, and hope.

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