Are New Zealanders really ‘misled’ about AUKUS, or is involvement now a foregone conclusion?

ANALYSIS: By Marco de Jong, Auckland University of Technology and Robert G. Patman, University of Otago

When former Prime Minister Helen Clark spoke out against New Zealand potentially jeopardizing its independent foreign policy by joining the second pillar of the AUKUS security pact, Foreign Minister Winston Peters responded bluntly:

What could she possibly have based that statement on? (…) And I say to people, including Helen Clark: please don’t mislead New Zealanders with your suspicions without any facts – let’s find out what we’re talking about.

Pillar one of AUKUS concerns the supply of nuclear submarines to Australia, making New Zealand’s membership impossible under its nuclear weapons-free policy.

But pillar two aims to develop advanced military technology in areas such as artificial intelligence, hypersonic missiles and cyber warfare. By some calculations, New Zealand could benefit from joining at that level.

Peters denies that the country-led coalition government has committed itself to the second pillar. He says exploratory talks with AUKUS members are intended “to find out all the facts, all aspects of what we are talking about, and then make a decision as a country.”

But while the previous Labor government expressed a willingness to explore pillar two membership, the current government appears to view this as integral to its broader foreign policy objective of bringing New Zealand more closely into line with the ‘traditional partners’.

Official enthusiasm
During his visit to Washington earlier this month, Peters said New Zealand and the Biden administration had pledged to work “ever closer together in support of shared values ​​and interests” in a strategic environment “now significantly more challenging than even a decade ago”.

In particular, he and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed that there were “strong reasons” for New Zealand to practically engage in arrangements like AUKUS “as and when all parties deem it appropriate”.

Declassified documents reveal the official enthusiasm behind such statements and the tightly crafted public message it has generated.

A series of joint agency briefings to the New Zealand government characterizes Pillar Two of AUKUS as a “non-nuclear” technology sharing partnership that would enhance New Zealand’s long-standing cooperation with traditional partners and provide opportunities for the air and space and technology sectors.

But any assessment of New Zealand’s strategic interests must be clear and not clouded by partial truths or wishful thinking.

New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters meets US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
Traditional allies. . . New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters meets US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for talks in Washington on April 11. Image: Getty Images/The Conversation

Beyond the rivalry between great powers
First, the current administration has inherited strong bilateral relations with traditional security partners Australia, the US and Britain, as well as a consistent and cooperative relationship with China.

Second, while the current global security environment threatens New Zealand’s interests, these challenges extend beyond the great power rivalry between the US and China.

The multilateral system on which New Zealand relies is being crippled by the weakening of institutions such as the UN Security Council, Russian expansionism in Ukraine and a growing number of problems that do not respect borders.

These include climate change, pandemics and wealth inequality – problems that cannot be solved unilaterally by great powers.

Third, it is clear that New Zealand sometimes disagrees with its traditional partners over respect for international law.

For example, in 2003 New Zealand broke ranks with the US (and Britain and Australia) over the invasion of Iraq. More recently, it was the only member of the Five Eyes network to vote in the UN General Assembly for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

Role of the US
In a powerful speech to the UN General Assembly on April 7, Peters said the world must stop the “utter catastrophe” in Gaza.

He said the use of the veto – which New Zealand has always opposed – prevented the Security Council from fulfilling its primary function of maintaining global peace and security.

However, the government is unwilling to publicly admit a crucial point: it was a traditional ally – the US – whose Security Council veto and unconditional support for Israel led to systematic and plausible genocidal violations of international law in Gaza , and a strategic windfall. for rival states China, Russia and Iran.

Instead of being a consistent voice for justice and de-escalation, the New Zealand government has joined the US in the fight against the Houthi rebels, who are targeting commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

A done deal?
The world has become a more complex and conflicted place for New Zealand. But it would be naive to believe that the US has not played a role in this and that the salvation lies in joining AUKUS, which lacks a coherent strategy to tackle multifaceted challenges.

There are alternatives to Pillar Two of AUKUS that are more consistent with a principled, independent foreign policy, centered in the Pacific, and that deserve serious consideration.

On balance, New Zealand’s involvement in Pillar Two of AUKUS would represent a seismic shift in the country’s geopolitical posture. The current government appears optimistic about this prospect, which has fueled concerns that membership could be almost a foregone conclusion.

If true, it would be the government that faces questions about transparency.The conversation

Marco de JongLecturer at the Law School, Auckland University of Technology and Robert G. Patman, Professor of International Relations, University of Otago. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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