Jacinda on War and Peace

In the final lap of the election cycle, it is critical to examine the government’s record on war and peace over the past three years. It isn’t a subject that swings elections like healthcare or taxes, but it has a much greater potential impact on everyone’s lives. In our interconnected world a full-blown war would be devastating and widespread. New Zealand is also at a dangerous juncture because its closest relationships – the political/military one with The Five Eyes (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States) and the economic one with China – are currently deeply antagonistic towards each other.

Each subject area has been categorised in the following ways.

Start – activities are those things the government are likely to begin doing in the next cycle.

Stop – looks back at the previous term to identify which things didn’t work and should cease.

Continue – identifies things that worked in the previous cycle and need to be part of the government’s core activities.

STOP: New Zealand’s longest war

Labour PM Helen Clark joined the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. It is our longest running war. Prime Minister Ardern tried to justify renewing the deployment in 2018 by saying, “The instability in Afghanistan has remained”, without acknowledging the contribution of the NZDF to that instability (see Operation Burnham). It is time for New Zealand to withdraw the troops and support civilian efforts to support the Afghan people and end the war.

START: Making the Minister of Disarmament a meaningful role

The Minister of Disarmament role is hardly a peacenik’s advocacy position, held as it is currently by Winston Peters, and most recently before that Phil Goff, who served in the role simultaneously with his role as the minister for the military. It could be so much much more. When the last National government disestablished the role, it was a clear indication that weapons disarmament was not even on their radar. It was also a cynical move to dissolve any remaining NZ state identity with the successful nuclear-free movement. a disturbing proposition given the rapid growth of nuclear weapons stockpiles and increasing number of states that have them. The restoration of the role could be accompanied by the creation of a Ministry of Peace with a broad agenda of demilitarisation and decolonisation in the Pacific.

STOP: Extending the troop deployment to Iraq

NZ troops have been in Iraq off and on for 17 years (2003-2020). The final deployment returned in June 2020, due to Trump’s recklessly provocative assassination of Iranian General Suleimani on Iraqi soil endangering all foreign troops stationed there. The Prime Minister could have ended the deployment earlier as Labour had opposed the 2014 deployment under National.

START: Civilian accountability of the military

On 11 April 2018 the Attorney-General announced that an inquiry would be held into Operation Burnham, the horrific nighttime raid by NZSAS soldiers in Afghanistan that was the subject of Hit and Run, an expose by journalists Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager. There had been sustained public pressure to hold this inquiry including three separate petitions to Parliament, and the government had little to lose since the Operation occurred under the previous National government.

That inquiry has just finished, and despite the fact that there were at least seven people murdered, twice as many injured and a culture of cover-up and denial, not a single person is actually being held responsible for any of it: not a minister, not an officer, not a soldier. No one. The government has accepted the four recommendations to improve civilian oversight, but lest we forget, this isn’t even the first NZSAS raid in Afghanistan where there were civilian casualties and people handed over to be tortured. With this history, an extension of the NZDF deployment and no talk of compensation for the victims, it hardly feels like justice.


STOP: Expanding the Security Intelligence Service

The slogan on the NZSIS website still says “Providing security and intelligence services to keep New Zealand and New Zealanders secure”, and can not be viewed as anything other than a sick joke after the Christchurch Mosque killings. The submission to the Christchurch Inquiry from the Islamic Women’s of New Zealand to the Royal Commission of Inquiry states – “Yet almost nothing was in place by the time of the mosque shootings. No nationwide strategy, no co-ordinated or linked up protection programmes by police or SIS, no register of hate crimes.” Their submission continues that they “had to engage with a civil service containing, to a large extent, poorly trained, unprofessional and uninformed officials, and slow, unmotivated, uninterested agencies.”

The NZSIS still does not view white supremacists a threat because the agency’s job is to protect the existing political order in NZ which is itself deeply unequal and racist. Anything or anyone that is outside of that – like Muslims, Māori Sovereignty and left-wing political activists – are considered a threat to be monitored and disrupted. 

This agency is a danger to civil liberties and its approach to the safety of all New Zealanders has been a telling failure.

STOP: Denying Tino Rangatiratanga and allowing the destruction of Aotearoa’s history 

The Māori land at Ihumātao, some 32 hectares, was stolen. It has since been in private Pākehā ownership for about 120 years until it was sold to Fletcher Building for the purposes of a residential housing enclave. Instead of showing up and facing up to the Crown’s history of theft and giving it back, Ardern failed to show at the whenua. Ihumātao, and many other places like it around Aotearoa, remain the open wounds of colonial confiscation and will fester until a full and proper remedy is made available. 

CONTINUE: Passing gun reform

The Labour-led government responded to March 15th with urgent legislation to ban military-style assault rifles and large magazines of ammunition, and establish a gun register. 

This was solid progress given the Christchurch terrorist was a legal gun owner, and the police had a list of longstanding and sensible demands for gun reform it had been unable to get passed into law. Gun reform is a key ingredient of a peaceful society to reduce interpersonal violence and the availability of lethal weapons. The legislation, however, contained inconsistencies, and does not go far enough. Meanwhile, NZ First and the gun lobby are doing everything they can to gut it.

STOP: Rewarding the NZDF and enriching US weapons companies

Instead of fundamental reform of the military that has committed war crimes and sought to cover them up, that has an institutional problem with sexual assault, that engaged in surveillance of and slander of a journalist, that poisoned local ecosystems across the country with PFAS firefirghting foam and failed to tell communities about it, and refused to front to journalists time and time again, this government has instead rewarded them with a massive expenditure on new weapons including 

 $2.4 billion on four Boeing P-8 Poseidons, a figure that equals all Treaty of Waitangi claims to date

$1 billion on new five Lockheed Martin C130 troop transport, a contract that was not even open to competitive tender, and

$100 million on 43 armoured vehicles

rather than spending money on our underfunded school and health system. Spending this money on expensive boondoggles to keep so-called allies like the United Kingdom and the USA costs New Zealand lives every year.

“The United States has insisted that its NATO and other allies spend 2% of their GDP on defence. In theory this is so that the US need not shoulder so much of the defence burden. But in reality US defence spending is increasing, not reducing. In fact what the US is doing is increasing the market so that it’s vast arms industry can profit from it. To give in to such a policy is a sacrifice for New Zealanders health for US arms industries profits. No responsible New Zealand government should countenance such nonsense.” – Peter King from Responsible Defence

STOP: Sending troops to RIMPAC and hosting war games

Sixteen of the twenty-six invite countries pulled out of the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) war exercises this year. It was an easy opportunity for NZ not to be the US’s lackey, not to validate their utter disdain of international law and not to participate in this provocative display of US imperial might. But why take up peace when practicing war makes good pictures? Oh and that whole global pandemic thing, obviously not a worry despite rampant infections in the US military.  Minister Ron Mark wouldn’t miss the chance to suck up to the US.

Meanwhile the NZDF will be continuing its own homegrown war games – Exercise Southern Katipo  – hardly essential business in the time of an international health emergency.

STOP: Violating human rights

APEC has been cancelled due to Covid but Labour was very enthusiastic about hosting this capitalist love-in even after the intended venue went up in flames. APEC is an annual trade meeting of the leaders of countries that rim the Pacific ocean. Included in this are the US, Russia, and China. The major aim of APEC is trade liberalisation. In practice, this means prying open economies for corporations to exploit, combined with the loss of workers’ rights, indigenous rights, land rights, environmental protections and democratic accountability. The APEC security law was passed to ensure that anyone trying to protest this event would be shut down and shut up quickly, and gave police vast new powers to conduct searches and surveillance. Instead of passing ever more surveillance and security laws to protect global gangsters like Trump, Xi and Putin, the government should have been strengthening rights to protest and protections for journalists.

STOP: Passing new terrorism laws

This Labour-led govenrment has followed on from the last Labour-led government in producing extremely dodgy new terrorism laws. With help from the Greens, the Control Orders law passed largely to deal with one man, Mark Taylor, a New Zealander who had travelled to fight in Syria. The Privacy Commissioner lashed out at this law that imposes restrictions on returning New Zealanders, describing it as “obnoxious”, “fundamentally flawed”, and an “affront to the principles of due process”. This government, like the last government has failed to remedy the well-documented problems witht the Terrorism Suppression Act. What is further terrifying is that the Inquiry into the Christchurch massacre is likely to recommend more terrorism legislation – this should be resisted absolutely. 

START: Supporting engagement with constitutional transformation

Matike Mai explores the idea of constitutional spheres of rangatiratanga and kāwanatanga, and a way forward for joint decision making. There is an open invitation for non-Māori to consider these ideas and the government should be looking for ways to support this important discussion.

In 2015, before he was Minister of Treaty Negotiations, Andrew LIttle said, the Waitangi Tribunal finding that Ngā Puhi did not cede sovereignty should not be dismissed and that models of indigenous self-governance and law-making around the world should be explored. A Treaty settlement process that was not dictated by the Crown would be a great place to start.

Valerie Morse is a member of Peace Action Wellington.

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Shelly Bay and Ihumātao shown support in Wellington

On Saturday, Wellingtonians gathered for an action on Cuba Mall to support two important Māori land struggles at Ihumātao (Auckland) and at Murukaikuru (Shelly Bay, Wellington) and to push for political solutions. Mau Whenua member David Tawhai-Bodsworth told the crowd that they will never give up on their struggle for land at Murukaikuru Shelly Bay. Mau Whenua are Taranaki Whānui who believe in kaitiakitanga and holding onto the land at Shelly Bay.

“Peace Action Wellington and Pōneke Solidarity Alliance have come out on the streets to stand with Tangata Whenua in Wellington who are fighting to save their land ,” said Valerie Morse spokesperson for Peace Action Wellington.

“It was great to see Wellington show up and sign the letter to Mayor Andy Foster asking that the Council refuse the sale of a critical piece of land that would enable this unjust land theft to continue. There is a Council vote on the land sale in October and we call on the Council to do the right thing,” said Morse.

“There is growing unease amongst Wellingtonians about the Shelly Bay deal given that the majority of iwi members voted against the land sale, and that thousands more were unable to vote. Frankly this is a dodgy deal,” said Morse

“As part of the action today, a statue of William Wakefield was pelted with water balloons and demolished. We were drawing the links between Wellington’s original land theft by the New Zealand Company and this contemporary land deal with The Wellington Company owned by Ian Cassells.”

“Today we were also drawing links with the struggle at Ihumātao which remains unresolved.”

“We believe that there can be no unity or future for Aotearoa while these festering injustices remain. Ignoring history and papering over past wrongs is not the way to build a solidly peaceful and democratic country – instead it is piling hate and further deprivation on Māori who have sought a genuine partnership based on Te Tiriti for 180 years.”

Download, print and distribute our Mau Whenua leaflet: we need to mobilise Wellington!

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Operation Burnham Inquiry: Disestablish the NZSIS & A fundraiser for the Victims

“The disturbing findings of the Operation Burnham Inquiry released today require the NZ government to take decisive steps to disestablish the NZ Special Air Service (NZSAS),” said Peace Action Wellington member Valerie Morse.

“After nearly a decade of denials and outright lies, the truth about Operation Burnham has been exposed: war crimes committed by NZ forces in Afghanistan. This inquiry found that the NZSAS murdered civilians, that these were not investigated and senior military leadership lied to the government about these actions. The National Party Minister of Defence of the time Wayne Mapp continued these lies to the public despite having been fully briefed.”

“It isn’t enough to reform the NZSAS and the NZDF. This inquiry finds deep and systemic problems. We need to remember this isn’t even the first case of NZSAS illegal and immoral conduct in Afghanistan. Author Jon Stephenson documented the raid of  Band-E-Timur including the death of a child and the handing over of 50-70 men to be tortured by Afghan forces at Bagram Air Force Base. The NZDF lied about that operation for years, and slandered the journalist.”

“While the recommendations of the report are useful, they are woefully inadequate. The problems with the NZSAS go beyond those outlined in this report; a special forces unit is unnecessary and dangerous in a democractic country.”

“Frankly, this report just adds to our knowledge of a myriad of other issues within NZDF including ongoing sexual assault. We demand that the government go much further than these superficial recommendations. The disestablishment of the NZSAS is the proper course of action given this report today.”

“Given the role of Wayne Mapp in covering up what had happened and his conscious decision to mislead the NZ public about war crimes, there should be legal consequences for him as well.”

“Peace Action Wellington has started a Give-A-Little Fundraiser for the victims of Operation Burnham. We encourage people to give if they are able. The link is here: https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/operation-burnham-afghan-family-victims-reparation.”

“We acknowledge that this will not undo the damage done in our name to these families. We intend this donation as both a respectful apology for our complicity in these deaths and injuries and as a message of solidarity to the people of Afghanistan. We demand an end to NZ complicity in wars in Afghanistan and around the world.”

 

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Cancel RIMPAC video plea issued

A month out from the start of RIMPAC, the US Navy led military wargames, peace groups are calling on Minister of Defence Ron Mark to pull the plug on NZ’s involvement this year with a special video message.

WATCH THE VIDEO ON YOUTUBE

New Zealanders are totally opposed to supporting a new cold war in the Pacific between the US and China. Sending a NZ warship along to these exercises indicates that New Zealand has sided with the US. This is a dangerous and unnecessary position.

We have a huge history of promoting a nuclear-free and independent Pacific. That vision needs reinforcing, not undermining.

New Zealanders do not want to be a part of the military build-up in the Pacific – a build-up that has significantly accelerated in the last five years. Yet this Minister appears to be on a warpath with his insistence upon sending sailors during a pandemic and his strident defence of his new weapons purchases including $102 million for armoured vehicles that were just replaced during the last Labour government.

We have heard very little from the Labour Party or the Green Party on these key peace issues. This is in spite of our original letter to the Prime Minister asking her to reconsider New Zealand’s deployment this year, and the Greens historical support of peace and justice. We want to know why the relevant politicians are mute, and why Cabinet is sending troops and technology off for provocative wargames and funnelling billions to weapons dealers for unnecessary arms purchases that are so out-of-step with the priorities of ordinary people.

This government needs to carefully consider New Zealand’s military relationships, training exercises and spending. Ignoring the changing geo-political landscape and blindly following the US is a recipe for disaster. We need a renewed commitment to demilitarising the Pacific.

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Now it’s new armoured vehicles for the army

Today, the government has revealed $104 million for new armoured vehicles to replace ones that were just purchased in 2004 under the last Labour government.

Does the NZDF need armoured vehicles?

No. The Labour/Green/NZ First weapons funding is cloaked in the rhetoric of humanitarian aid and climate change, making it more palatable to the NZ public but no less bullshit than the National party’s refrain of “supporting our traditional allies.” Instead, these new armoured vehicles are for combat situations in far-flung wars when our “friends” requests it, and very worryingly, also for assisting police domestically (think #BlackLivesMatter, think militarised police).

Wait. Didn’t they just get some other new weapons?

Yep. They sure did. It started with the upgrade of the weapons systems on the navy’s frigates. That blew out by over $200 million dollars – that’s right – that was the cost overrun, not the full cost which now nears three-quarters of a billion dollars, all of it going to nuclear weapons giant Lockheed Martin. Oh, and Lockheed also scored the massive contract for another cool $1.5 billion of our tax dollars for the new C130 troop transport planes. This is on top of the $2.4 billion going to Boeing for some new P8 spy planes.

The NZDF push for upgrading military equipment is coming at least as much from the United States and Australia as from any domestic need or war-hungry constituency. Trump has loosened restrictions on exports and pushed overseas weapons sales as a key part of US economic survival. He has travelled the world, haranguing world leaders to spend more on weapons. New Zealand has not been left out of that conversation. Stuff reports that, “Some Bushmasters are already in service with the SAS and they’re widely used across other Five Eyes nations.” Bingo.

So why isn’t anyone saying anything?

Good question. The National government planned a $20 billion spend up, and this government has seen to it that it happens.  New Zealand First is leading the charge, for sure, but the idea that climate change and humanitarian aid is military work is very much on the Green Party. They embraced the idea that NZ needs a standing army which they have reconciled with their principle of non-violence. Go figure.  Noam Chomsky will tell you ‘military humanism’ is an oxymoron – militaries are made to kill people not aid them. And there is a good reason why that delineation should remain.

#DefundTheMilitary

We should all have had just about enough of this insanity tbh: there is no military threat to New Zealand. The military will tell you that themselves. There is, however, widespread financial hardship, gross inequality and deprivation – and not just because of Covid, but because of decades of destroying our social safety net that provided adequate housing and guaranteed employment for all.

Military spending robs us: it robs us of health care for our elderly parents; it robs us of childcare for our babies, it robs us of benefits people can live on, it robs us of art, music and culture, it robs us of housing. Just as an example, the $1 billion that is being spent on five new airplanes to fly soldiers around is twice as much money as that needed for the Christchurch hospital project ($440 million). Instead, the hospital project got a capped $150 million an amount doctors have said is a “train wreck” and creates a building that is “not fit for purpose.” In Whangarei, clinicians have begged for a new hospital and doctors are openly worried about the safety of some patients due to the poor state of the buildings. Instead the billion-dollar rebuild plan that it’s been working on for five years, has been turned down.

New Zealand spends more than $10 million a day on the military. It is time that we stop accepting the parliamentary consensus on military expansion and start organising a non-violent transformation.

 

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