NorthNew Zealand defense hawks reacted to the announcement of the Anglophone Aukus security pact this month by complaining that the country had been marginalized. To stay close to traditional allies, the hawks suggest New Zealand needs to increase defense spending to offset, or repeal New Zealand’s long-standing ban on nuclear-powered vessels.
On the opposite side, there have been many pigeons celebrating that New Zealand is not involved in Aukus. For example, the editorials of the three largest newspapers took this stance, which probably reflects the general opinion of the majority of New Zealanders.
In general, however, there has been a clear lack of debate about Aukus in this country. Politicians are in tune with this, not really proclaiming a clear position on the pact. While there is a suspicion that the radical National Party would like New Zealand to join the pact, while the traditionally more dove-like Labor Party appears to be against it, there have really been no major signals either way. Even the normally loud and moral Green Party has been completely silent.
Labor Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been incredibly quiet about Aukus, giving the strong impression that she would rather not comment on it.
On the one hand, he has reiterated the pure statement of fact: that any future Australian submarine will be legally prohibited from operating here. On the other hand, she has expressed some warmth towards Aukus, saying that she is “pleased to see” the initiative and stating “we welcome the greater engagement of the United Kingdom and the United States in our region.”
This sit-in on the fence is typical of Ardern’s diplomatic approach. But his refusal to condemn the escalation of nuclear militarism largely contradicts the traditions of his party. Former Prime Ministers Norman Kirk and later David Lange were forceful in their condemnation of the nuclear militarization of the Pacific region in the 1970s and 1980s.
If Ardern was more in line with his predecessors, he could have made comments similar to those of former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, who warned that Aukus risks dragging Australia into war with China due to “foreign policy incompetence and a sycophantic compulsion to please the United States.”
In contrast, Ardern has essentially turned a blind eye to Aukus. While other leaders in the region, especially the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia, have reacted with alarm to what is considered “warmongering”, the start of an “arms race” and “beating the drums of war” against China and New Zealand. He has chosen to remain silent.
The problem with Ardern’s silent response to the nuclear deal is that it gives the American superpower and its Anglo allies tacit approval of his plans, allowing them to move forward. Defense hawks in those countries rely on leaders like Ardern to withhold any criticism in order to allow military build-up to occur. If “friends” like New Zealand voiced their concerns, it would undermine the legitimacy of the plans. Perhaps his leadership would even encourage other nations, politicians or activists to take a stand against Aukus.
And that’s why Ardern is reluctant to speak up: the diplomatic fallout from the Anglophone allies would be significant. The United States does not take kindly to “allies” who undermine its moral authority with criticism.
New Zealand is once again stalled in its act of appeasing both the US-led West and its biggest trading partner, China. And a reminder of the pressure China can exert came last Friday when Chinese authorities removed New Zealand kiwis from shelves, announcing that a batch containing Covid had been detected.
Some observers see this as retaliation for the New Zealand Court of Appeal fining a Chinese citizen $ 12 million for allegedly smuggling kiwi plants into China.
While it might seem prudent for Ardern and New Zealand to stay out of the way of US-China-led military plans, is that really what the world needs right now?
Pragmatism to protect self-interest? Not protesting the arrival of nuclear plans for the region when experts predict this is a turning point in an upcoming military confrontation with China?
Clearly, the days when New Zealand’s foreign policy was more principled are over, and under the rules of Ardern’s pragmatism. This country is also in danger of tacitly siding with the Anglophone hawks, while other dissident nations in the region, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, remain isolated in their position against the rise of militarism.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is the favorite to win the Nobel Peace Prize next week. according to betting agencies. But does Ardern deserve the peace prize, when he is effectively turning a blind eye to the rapid military escalation in a region that he says he always puts first?
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism