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HELEN CLARK AND DON BRASH: Aukus - NZ must not abandon our independent foreign policy

In 1985, the New Zealand Labour Government made it clear that nuclear weapons were so terrible – in the full meaning of that word – that as a country we had no wish to be defended by them. As a result, we were rather unceremoniously (but inevitably) ejected from the Anzus alliance which to that point had linked Australia, New Zealand and the United States in a defensive relationship.

The National Party took a little longer to recognise that having the kind of independent

foreign policy symbolised by our departure from the Anzus alliance was in fact very much in our national interest, but for most of the past 40 years there has been broad support across political boundaries for that independence.

In no sense was that policy one of hostility to the United States, long one of our very

closest friends. That friendship goes back many decades. Many New Zealanders –

including both of us – have lived and worked in the United States.

And until recently our friendship with the United States appeared to be entirely consistent with our growing relationship with China.

Talking to Audrey Young, the political editor of the New Zealand Herald, in December 2012, Dr Kurt Campbell, the US Assistant Secretary of State, stated that: “We do not want countries to feel that they need to choose [between the US and China]; we want countries that have both a strong relationship with China and a strong relationship with the United States … Not only do we encourage strong dialogue and engagement, for instance between New Zealand and China, we are counting on it.”

But US policy has changed. Starting when Donald Trump was President, the United States began to see China as a geopolitical rival, an easy scapegoat to blame, for example, for America’s large trade deficit. Tariffs were put on a range of imports from China and bans placed on the export of certain high-tech American exports. And China responded in kind.

What we have seen over the past six or seven years is a classic illustration of what Harvard University History professor Graham Allison termed the Thucydides’ trap, where a dominant power is challenged by a rising power.

Allison looked back over the past 500 years and found 16 cases where a dominant power was challenged by a rising power: in 12 of those cases, war was the result.

Clearly, the United States has been the world’s dominant power since at least 1945, and unchallenged in that role for a quarter of a century since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Equally clearly, China is now the rising power, with an economy which is already larger

(using the purchasing power parity exchange rate preferred by economists) than that of

the US.

Can the two countries avoid Thucydides’ trap, at a time when any war between the two

powers would have cataclysmic consequences for the whole world?

New Zealand’s relationship with China is of more recent origin, though we recognised the regime in Beijing as the legitimate government of China in 1972, now more than half a century ago.

In 2004, New Zealand was the first developed country to recognise China’s status as a

market economy, and in 2008 New Zealand became the first OECD country to sign a high- quality comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with China, something which to date we have been unable to do with the United States.

Since that time, our trade with China has grown exponentially to the point where China is far and away our biggest export market, and indeed also our biggest single source of

imports. This trade has been of huge benefit to New Zealand – all our major export

industries have benefited greatly from access to the Chinese market, and we have all

benefited from access to inexpensive imports from China.

A few days ago, New Zealand’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence, after just a few

hours’ conversation with their Australian counterparts and absolutely no advance warning to the New Zealand public, appeared to abandon our independent foreign policy in favour of unqualified support for America’s “China containment policy”.

They appeared to indicate that New Zealand is keen to participate in the Aukus pact

between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States – a pact quite explicitly

designed to keep China in its “proper” subordinate place in the scheme of things – albeit not in the nuclear aspects of that pact.

Their joint press statement “noted the enduring nature of the Anzus Treaty, which

continues to underpin the strategic relationship between the two countries”, despite the fact New Zealand was ejected from that treaty in the mid-80s.

They committed the two countries to “joint deterrence efforts”. “Joint deterrence efforts”? Against whom? There is no country to which that phrase could refer but to China.

The four ministers “discussed the Aukus trilateral partnership and agreed it made a

positive contribution toward maintaining peace, security and prosperity in the Indo-

Pacific”, using the term now preferred by the US to refer to what we used to call the Asia- Pacific. Nobody pretends that Aukus is anything but an attempt by the US to contain China.

They also “welcomed the quad’s commitment to an open, stable and prosperous Indo-

Pacific region”, again referring to an alliance established at the instigation of the United

States to push back against China’s growing influence.

The four ministers “committed to Australia and New Zealand deepening their cooperation on security challenges, to sharing information and best practice, and building collective resilience”, thus locking New Zealand into Australian foreign and defence policy – little brother status.

On the face of it, the two New Zealand ministers formally abandoned any attempt to

maintain an independent foreign policy, and instead decided to throw in our lot with

America’s attempt to slow China’s economic rise and keep it tightly hemmed in by

American forces in South Korea, Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and


Prime Minister, it is imperative that you either reassert New Zealand’s independent foreign policy by making it clear that we want no part of Aukus, or of any other alliance designed to make an enemy of our largest trading partner, or acknowledge that we have indeed abandoned any attempt to maintain that policy.

Helen Clark was the Prime Minister of New Zealand 1999 to 2008 and Head of the

United Nations Development Programme from 2009 to 2017. Don Brash was Governor

of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand 1988 to 2002 and Leader of the Opposition from

2003 to 2006.

This piece was first published at the NZ Herald

2,602 views162 comments

162 comentarios

Ever read the Melian Dialogue? 2500 years ago. Just made for ew Zealand and China. It's on wiki. A smaller country argues with a stronger country why it should not get invaded. It's very good, but the bigger country's argument is" because we can".

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If war did break out between China and the US, and presupposing it did not escalate to a neuclear exchange, the safest places to live would be Beiging and Washington DC. Regardless of who we aligned ourselves to, we would become a target for the opposing side; a pawn in the chess game. War is not a game of two halves and the collateral damage suffered by Crete, Poland, the Solomons. Papua New Guniea, Holland [to name a few] was never of their making. Trade and economic supremacy is the new "Art of War'.

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In the mid 1980s NZ naively threw away any connection to nuclear power whether it be fusion or fission to the long term detrement of NZs future development. It also cost us a fortune to run our own security as the US was no longer feeding us this information as a partner. This was very much a carry over from our post Viet Nam war hippie days when NZ wanted to be the most moral country in the world.

Fast forward 40 years and that lazy naivity still permeates evrything we do from trade to security. Our armed services are woke, run down and unable to save us from any attacks from most countries wanting to do so. There ar…

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Here's a short history lesson for those who think NZ history and defence forces are irrelevant. During WW2, the allies recognised the strategic importance of the Marlborough Sounds, it could accommodate the entire Japanese navy which could then influence the war in the South Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Tasman Sea and all points north. including Australia. The Americans contracted the NZ Ministry of Works to build defensive structures in the Marlborough Sounds, construction ceased semi finished when the Americans turned the Japanese around. China would also take advantage of the Sounds strategic position. Some of the writers to this opinion piece also don't understand why China would bother to invade NZ, I will list a few;- High quality Coal.…

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I agree with much about the history of which you mention, however, in todays modern warfare by stealth its not obvious big ships and guns like 70 years ago. Technology and computing power are the modern armaments and they can bring us to our knees overnight, every bit of our infrastucture is controlled by computers. We can join any alliance we want but with 5 million and a massive coastline its Dad's Army.

Jacinda took semi automatic weapons off good people, don't ask those that are capable to defend NZ for what woulod be 24 hours to enlist should we have to.

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15 feb

Don which lies are we suppose to believe from you , when you talk out of both sides of your mouth . Just listen to the interview on the Platform .

Don Brash on His Joint Column with Helen Clark

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