Jason Heale

Wake-up call for New Zealand’s foreign policy

By Jason Heale April 19, 2022

How is our foreign policy working out? We maintain a stance of neutrality, and yet we seem to be alienating our historical allies, with no gains being made in overall security.

Our position at the bottom of the world has been touted as one of our greatest defences.

Our defence spending is about 1.5% of our annual GDP. Not only do we have less people in the armed forces, but their morale is at one of its lowest points following 2 years monitoring MIQ. We currently have about 12,500 defence force personnel (across the Army, Navy, and Air Force.) Not nearly enough to defend our country against any invading enemy. We have hedged an awful lot on our isolation.

Our position at the bottom of the world has been touted as one of our greatest defences. However, the world we inhabit now is so connected that there are threats that can easily overcome our distance. Think of cyber-attacks, or economic sanctions. How quickly could we be crippled?

If we don’t have the personnel to fight, we could build relationships with countries who might come to our defence. How’s that going for us?

Or how about in economic terms? Another dimension of foreign policy. Our largest trading partner is China, we export about $19 billion worth of goods to China, and import about $13 billion. Our trade relationship with them is worth $32 billion. What if that relationship was taken away? We’ve already seen how sanctions can increase the cost of goods. Petrol has gone up since Russia invaded Ukraine. Our wallets here have felt the impact of war on the other side of the world.

If we don’t have the personnel to fight, we could build relationships with countries who might come to our defence. How’s that going for us? How’s our relationship with our historical allies; USA, UK, and Australia? They didn’t include us in their conversations around the AUKUS agreement, and our Five Eyes allies have been critical of our stance towards China, accusing us of undermining efforts to combat increasing aggression. They point to our trade relationship as the reason.

Are we a nation that stands for something? Or will we simply let other countries do what they want?

The cure for all of this is to recognise that the world is bigger than we thought. It is a dangerous place, a volatile place, and we must look after ourselves. The best way to do this, other than significantly increasing defence spending, is to strengthen our relationships with those nations who see the world the way that we do. With those who have traditionally been our allies.

It’s clear that we need also to look wider when signing agreements than simply what gives us the most money. Are we a nation that stands for something? Or will we simply let other countries do what they want? Will we cede our power to speak out because we want to make some money?

Let’s be discerning in the relationships that we prioritise and strengthen. The Pacific is our home, and we need to be thinking about how best to defend it. We are in the position to help other nations who are smaller than us through our strategic relationships. Let’s take responsibility for ourselves, and our neighbourhood, and stop thinking distance will protect us in a shrinking world.

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Jason Heale

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