The Global Gloaming
We are still a week away from finding out the final shape of the 54th New Zealand Parliament. It will probably take a little longer for the coalition negotiations to be concluded and for Christopher Luxon to be sworn in as our 42nd Prime Minister.
However long its formation takes, it is clear that the new Government’s list of priorities will be long. Crime, the economy, an infrastructure backlog, health and education will all be on there. But the incoming PM needs to write at the head of that list the Harold Macmillan quotation: “Events, dear boy, events.”
We are being dragged (unwillingly) into a multipolar world in which hard power is more important.
The world is thick with events. Almost all of them are concerning. Here’s a sample of international headlines from the last few days. The US has reiterated that it would honour its treaty obligations to defend the Philippines after Chinese and Filipino ships physically collided. Two dozen US service members were injured in attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria. A ground invasion of Gaza by Israel has begun. A second US aircraft carrier is being directed to the Middle East. A wave of military coups have erupted in West Africa (Niger, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Chad, Gabon, Mali). The Caucasus are simmering dangerously. Chinese aeroplanes continue to test Taiwan’s air defence identification zone. The war in Ukraine has now lasted over 600 days and, despite static front lines, shows no sign of stopping.
We’ve been able to nestle comfortably under the USA’s security blanket while enjoying the luxury of railing against it.
This is the “shifting world” that New Zealand Foreign Affairs and Trade warned about in its latest Strategic Foreign Policy Assessment. According to this assessment, we are being dragged (unwillingly) into a multipolar world in which hard power is more important. Economic relationships are increasingly filtered through the prism of military security. And economic efficiency is less prized than resilience and sustainability. This is a dangerous world to be a small, isolated trading nation.
New Zealanders younger than 40 have only known a time of peace and prosperity. We grew up after the fall of the Berlin Wall and enjoyed the peace dividend that followed. (Our defence spending as a percentage of GDP is now half what it was in 1990.) We’ve been able to nestle comfortably under the USA’s security blanket while enjoying the luxury of railing against it.
The peace and prosperity we have recently enjoyed have been historically unprecedented.
But the world which we have enjoyed over the last three decades is entering its twilight, and our new Prime Minister will have to lead us into the gloaming. A crucial first step as a leader will be to shine a light on geopolitical reality. The peace and prosperity we have recently enjoyed have been historically unprecedented. Instead, what has been more common for most nations in history was articulated 2400 years ago by the Greek historian Thucydides: “…the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.” It is a bleak message, but one we need to face up to if we are to do anything about it. Will our new leaders be up to the challenge?
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Director of Research and Development Marcus Roberts explains the thinking behind his column.