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.