Monday, November 29, 2010

With Cheek By Jowl- Real Climate Change Negotiations Or Kabuki Dance?

The explosive release of US Embassy cables on Wiki leaks, seemed to have created a unique distraction from the Cancun COP 16 talks. Granted the Pacific states may have featured in those documents, but the episode also presents an interesting scenario, with respect to the Cancun talks and the US diplomatic cadre's ability,and capability, to influence the policies of other nations.

The Climate talks in Cancun, Mexico and its financing mechanisms, are the top of the agenda for Pacific Small Island States coalition, according to their blog post, highlighting Fiji's negotiating team. This position also comes in the wake of Australia's position to bring forward the agreement on carbon pricing according to Reuters article.

It appears that the Australians are already considering the platitudes of carbon offsets and trading, that would follow and the expected riches as well, while the Small Pacific Island States have other priorities in mind, setting the stage for another round of waltzing.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Trans-Tasman Reflexivity In South Pacific Geopolitics

Lowy Interpreter blog posting quotes from Jon Frankel.

One outstanding rebuttal to Frankel's obdurate and insulated view of South Pacific geopolitics, comes from the Kiwi Politico's latest post titled "Small Feels Large, But Only To The Small".

The excerpt of Kiwi Politico posting:

Small feels Large, but only to the Small.

datePosted on 14:37, November 14th, 2010 by Pablo

From the rhetoric and doe-eyed looks emanating from the PM and Foreign Minister during the signing of the so-called “Wellington Declaration,” one would have thought that NZ had just been awarded most favoured nation status by the US and assumed a place akin to that of France or Germany in US foreign policy. This belief seems to have gone to the head of the PM, who has taken to lecturing larger states such as Japan on NZ expectations when it comes to trading agreements.

The truth is a bit different.

The “strategic partnership” announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirms what has been apparent to the international security community since 2001: NZ quietly dropped its concerns about engaging in military-to-military relations with the US in exchange for the US routinely granting executive permission for these to occur.

NZ military deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq (the latter reportedly involving more than just the one year rotation of combat engineers in Basra, something that the NZ government refuses to acknowledge), as well as NZ commitment of intelligence assets to both tactical and strategic intelligence gathering at home and abroad (such as the deployment of GCSB and SIS personnel to Afghanistan) all occurred without fanfare and in spite of the formal ban of military exchanges and exercises in effect since the dissolution of the ANZUS alliance.

Not having US Navy surface ship port visits in NZ does not deter US submarines from entering NZ territorial waters with or without NZ government connivance, and any look at video of NZDF troops in action in foreign locales clearly shows that they work in close proximity to US troops and preferentially use US equipment during the conduct of their combat operations.

The Wellington Declaration just makes public this discreet relationship, which even as it deepens and becomes standardised over the long-term will not require signing of a formal alliance treaty. The latter is seen as an encumbrance for domestic political reasons on both sides (since both the US Congress and NZ Parliament would see opposition to the signing of a bilateral security treaty), so much as in the way the US conducts its foreign wars (which is to not seek Congressional ratification of a declaration of war for fear of opposition, but instead to use Executive authority as commander-in-chief to declare a state of national security emergency requiring military combat deployments abroad that presents Congress with a fait accompli), the Wellington Declaration circumvents legislative scrutiny at the same time that it reaffirms the obvious close security ties that exist between the two states.

What changed most clearly is that while Labour prefers to soft peddle the relationship due to its internal factional dynamics, National has always had issues with the “independent and autonomous” foreign policy stance that has characterised NZ diplomatic relations since the early 1990s. Although it cannot reverse the anti-nuclear policy due to domestic political factors, National has always worked to reaffirm its “traditional” security ties, to the point that it supported NZ joining the US-led “coalition of the willing” that invaded and occupied Iraq without UN authorisation. With the Wellington Declaration it has gotten its wish.

But sometimes getting what one wishes for brings with it unanticipated trouble. By formally committing to a strategic partnership with the US, overlapped on National’s commitment to engaging closer military ties with Australia, NZ has in effect become a posse member for the global sheriff and its Antipodean deputy. The closer the level of military engagement between NZ and its larger military partners (quaintly called “interoperability” in the jargon), the more dependent it becomes on them for strategic guidance, material support, operational readiness and deployed force security. This makes it more likely, in spite of National’s assurances that NZ always retains the option to refuse a request, that NZ will wind up becoming involved in conflicts not of its choice but that of its strategic partners. That in turn raises the specter of NZ developing, by way of military coat-tailing, hostile relations with countries and cultures with which it historically has had no quarrel, which will spell the end of its “independent and autonomous” diplomatic posture.

What Mr. Key and his company of advisors appear to not understand is that the US rapprochement with NZ is due to two basic strategic factors, one general and one specific, that have little to do with interest in NZ per se. The first general reason is that, after a delay in responding due to the obsession with counter-terrorism in the Middle East and Central Asia, the US has moved to counter Chinese advances in the Western Pacific basin, which it sees as the next big strategic conflict zone. Not only is it in the process of moving the bulk of its military assets into the Pacific, in a reversal of the century-old Atlantic and Euro-centric orientation that characterised its strategic outlook until recently. It has also reaffirmed its bilateral security ties to all of its Asian partners as well as India. This includes Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, NZ and even Viet Nam.

This defensive arc covers countries deeply concerned about Chinese neo-imperialist ambitions, many of whom have diplomatic or territorial disputes with the Chinese, and along with its soft power projection in the Pacific Island Forum countries (including Fiji, where the US has just announced the resumption of US AID development work), the US is moving to counter Chinese influence in SE Asia and beyond (most often gained via so-called “chequebook diplomacy” whereby China promotes infrastructure development projects with no apparent strings attached but which all have potentially dual civilian and military applications). The Wellington Declaration just adds NZ to the roster of US security partners that constitute a collective hedge against the looming Chinese presence, which is particularly noteworthy because of NZ’s increased dependency on Chinese investment and trade for its economic fortunes.

With the Wellington Declaration Chinese influence and ambitions in NZ are potentially fence-ringed. That may have been National’s undeclared intent, and if so that is the hypothetical NZ gain from the deal. But all of that remains to be seen (if nothing else because it would contravene National’s public assurances that it welcomes the Chinese investment and cultural presence on NZ shores–cue revelations about Pansy Wong and her long obviously dodgy failed businessman-husband, who just might have caught US negative interest given the Chinese penchant for placing intelligent assets in their diaspora).

The second, specific strategic purpose that the Wellington Declaration serves is US nuclear counter-proliferation efforts. Unlike its predecessor, the Obama administration has a basic, and apparently sincere interest in reducing nuclear weapons stockpiles and preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons beyond those that currently possess them. Having a small “neutral” non-nuclear state as a partner in such efforts provides a convenient and effective cover (some might say fig leaf), particularly with regards to “rogue” states such as North Korea and Iran.

NZ has already participated in the Six Party negotiations on the North Korean nuclear programme, helping to gain a delay in Pyongyang’s efforts to achieve full weapons capability. In Iran’s case, NZ’s strong economic ties to the mullah’s regime is seen as providing a source of indirect diplomatic access and backdoor entry into the Iranian mindset with regards to nukes (via diplomatic and intelligence service information sharing). In other words, working with and through NZ on matters of nuclear proliferation, the US gains diplomatic cover for its own self-interested reasons to oppose the spread of the universally recognised deterrent.

What NZ does not get out of this strategic partnership, and which the National government continues to wax deluded about, is improved negotiating status with the US with regard to bilateral trade. The US is content to allow the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations to take their course with respect to trade with NZ and other small Pacific partners, and domestic political considerations accentuated by the recent midterm elections make it nigh impossible for NZ’s leading export sector, dairy, to make inroads into the subsidised US market. Truth be told, for the US there is no “issue-linkage” between security and trade when it comes to NZ even if its rhetoric continues to hold out the promise of such being the case sometime in the future. Yet the current (and to be fair, the past) NZ government continues to insist that, “difficulties” notwithstanding, bilateral trade with the US in forthcoming if not imminent because of NZ efforts across a range of issues of mutual interest without qualification or constraint.

This is where Mr. Key and Mr. McCully fail the foreign policy leadership test. Given the US strategic interests at play, and its absolute need to secure partnership agreements that catered to these interests given the evolving world balance of power, NZ was in a position to bargain hard and leverage its credentials (mostly Labour-made) as an honest broker and reliable international interlocutor into some form of tangible, immediate benefit in exchange for accepting the role of US strategic partner. That did not happen. Instead, what NZ got was platitudes, promises and bilateral yearly meetings between foreign policy counterparts, something that is par for the course for any number of nations, in what essentially amounted to a stop-over on Secretary Clinton’s trip to more important meetings with the US proxy that is Australia. As a result of that brief rendezvous, NZ is now saddled with the burden of being internationally perceived to be (if not in fact) more closely tied to the US without the full benefits of being so. It is a junior partner of the US in security only, and that is bound to be noticed by the international community.

In effect, NZ is just a small cog in a larger US strategic plan that is influenced by factors that have nothing to do with NZ interests and all to do with how the US sees and proposes to shape the strategic environment currently evolving in the Western Pacific and with regard to nuclear proliferation. National believes that it has made NZ a “player” by signing a strategic partnership agreement with the US, but the truth is that it has committed the country to a relationship that has always been one sided and which just got more so. To put it bluntly: the Tories may feel big as a result of the “Wellington Declaration” but they still are small and myopic when it comes to perceiving, much less comprehending the bigger picture, to say nothing of the realities at stake down the road.

PS: The farce only gets better. NZ announced that it is in FTA negotiations with authoritarian, crime mob-dominated klepto-oligarchic Russia even though it admits that Foreign Affairs and Trade have very limited Russian language comprehension skills and the deal will involve Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (Russia negotiating for them, presumably), two states that NZ has admitted to having”limited” knowledge about (to include comprehension of Tajik or Uzbek dialects). In other words, National has staked its claim to being at the forefront of free trade agreements without understanding the business and political culture, much less language or human rights conditions, of potential partners just after it committed to a long-term security partnership with a country that has a troublesome relationship with all three. This is amateurism taken to art-level heights.

Pablo (

Raised in Latin America by expat American parents and attracted to anti-authoritarian politics beginning in his early teens, he combined a career in academia with episodic forays into the US security and defence apparatus before emigrating to New Zealand in 1997. Now engaged in political risk consulting with an emphasis on Australaisan-global relations and a focus on ethical exchange, in New Zealand he developed an interest in small state analysis and is writing a book on the security politics of peripheral democracies (Chile, New Zealand and Portugal). His policy interests are in comparative labour politics, labour market dynamics, comparative regime change, comparative democracy, strategic thought, intelligence analysis, threat (net) assessment and unconventional warfare.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

US 2010 Mid-Term Elections: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy Or Lessons For Fiji?

Croz Walsh latest posting comments on the US 2010 Mid-term elections and the lessons need to be learnt by Fiji, is a thought provoking post, on which SIFM could not resist to offer some minor additions to the narrative.

Croz Walsh -- The American Mid-Term Elections Ask Questions about...: "The cartoons tell all by Crosbie Walsh Two years ago Americans elected their first Black president and the world looked, very briefly, as..."

While Croz posting, did have some truths to it, there are some clarifications to be made, from a perspective of a US based political observer.
Croz alluded to the global recession's catalyst, as the mortgage meltdown:
The President had hardly been installed than the American world turned pear-shaped, taking most of the rest of the world with it. Banks had lent billions of mortgage and other money to people with no collateral's and who could not afford them, re-bundled these shaky moneys with others equally shaky and passed them on, disguised, to other bankers and insurers.

Other views on this episode of greed, is an award winning radio documentary "The Giant Pool of Money" produced by 'This American Life' and the movie "Inside Job" (trailer posted below).

Coupling the voter disenchantment with the bank bailout, (in the context of mid-term elections) come from Pop and politics, a radio program and online magazine, which analyzes the outcome of the Nov 2nd 2010, mid term elections and confronts the contentious issue of post-racial America and the dissatisfaction with the incumbents prior to Nov. 2nd elections.

Croz is also on mark when he points out the electorate anger on a variety of concerns, whether real or perceived:
And then BP caused a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The President had nothing to do with the granting of the BP drilling licence or the spill but his critics blamed him for not doing enough.
The troops are coming home from Iraq but the situation looks no better there; the situation in Afghanistan remains bad; as does the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The President tried but the problems are too big to resolve in ways American voters wanted and expected.

One loose string that connected Obama with BP, was the political donations his campaign received, according a POLITICO article, "[Obama was] one of the biggest recipients".

This unethical alliance was addressed in Greg Pallast's forum discussion on his published book: "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy", outlining the corporate tentacles in the U.S political scene.

Croz also highlights the controversial issue of campaign financing, during the campaign run up to the mid-terms:
But even if direct financial contributions to election campaigns were limited, it really would have had little effect. There are so many ways of making indirect contributions, and so many ways of “discouraging” counter-contributions.

While Croz questions how Obama lost his popularity among independent voters, pointing to the absence of the young generation of voters. The turn out of young voters during mid terms, are historically not high; a stat featured in a (CIRCLE) Youth Civic advocate group article.

It seems that this group of independent voters may have been turned off by Obama's unfulfilled campaign promises, among these are: Closing Guantanamo prison facility, ending the Afghanistan war and repealing "Don't Ask, Don't tell" bans in the army.

Croz's cross references to the role of the media prior, during to the U.S mid-term elections, is a cogent correlation point:
The key to all this — and the key to democracy — lies with the media. The media need to be free to publish views contrary to those of their owners. But not so free that they seldom publish information to keep the voting public uniformed on important issues.

And that is where American democracy falls down. The media is a business owned by big business. The fact that one news channel competes with another means little. The competition is between businesses for better ratings and more advertising earning, not for more informative or investigative news of any consequence.
It is becoming an embarrassing stain on American politics, when the issues of money, elections, media subjects intersect on many different levels and many different occasions.

Volumes have been written on the subject on one or two or the subjects. Not all 3 with respect to their roles of influencing the citizenry, whereby affecting the election result, using the powerful tool of the media; and their tri-symbiotic affairs.

A clear example of these immoral behaviors were unraveled by a NPR investigative report (Part 1). (Part 2 of NPR investigative report.)

The NPR article uncovers the influence of lobbying private Prison developers with Arizona legislators, who basically drafted the controversial Arizona law SB 1070, currently being disputed in court.

Croz also broadly segments the use of money and its force-multiplying effects in an election. That particular statement will have to be reconciled with the results of California's Governor and U.S Senate race featuring Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina respectively; both multi-millionaires and outspending their political opponent lavishly.

Whitman, almost spending in the ballpark of US$140 million of her personal money to campaign for a $US200,000 salaried job with perks and power; undoubtedly foot steps away from the stairway to heaven .

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