“AUKUS logic is morally repugnant, and NZ must resist it” ran the headline over a leader- page feature in the Dominion-Post recently.
In the article beneath that advice, Thomas Nash, co-director of the independent think-tank, New Zealand Alternative, argued the AUKUS alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States has triggered a dangerous line in commentary questioning this country’s nuclear-free status.
Nash says many of the opinion writers appear to prioritise a militarist worldview but he contends if we are to enjoy a peaceful future, we should do the exact opposite “and forge closer relations that share our anti-nuclear values”.
NZ should resist pressure to fall into line with the military power of the US, the UK and Australia.
Instead of focusing our diplomatic and security efforts on the Five Eyes, he argues, we should strengthen our relationships in Asean countries, Latin America, and in our neighbouring nuclear-free Pacific Islands.
Among those who might not agree with Nash are the NZ cricketers who stepped away from a potential terrorist threat in Pakistan, just weeks ago, thanks to a timely warning through a Five Eyes channel.
That incident underlined how valuable it is for NZ to belong to that particular arrangement and receive critical intelligence when it discloses threats to New Zealanders’ security.
But it’s hard to believe NZ would get more sustenance in a crisis from “Asean countries, Latin America, or neighbouring nuclear-free Pacific Islands”.
In not being invited to even consider membership of AUKUS, NZ might have been written off, not just by the US, but by the countries which it fought alongside in the world wars of last century.
NZ indeed is missing out on a guarantee of security, which given the limited firepower of its armed forces some would suggest leaves it without any protection.
Additionally it is accepting being locked out from the agreement of the three countries to share their most sensitive technology. As The Economist noted in an editorial last week:
“The three countries’ co-operation promises to embrace cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and more besides”.
The journal argues AUKUS’ true significance is as
“… a step towards a new balance of power in the Pacific….It is a decades long commitment and a deep one”.
The Economist notes that, as an arms deal, AUKUS is big.
“At least eight nuclear submarines suggests a contract value in the tens of billions of dollars. As a strategic shift it is even bigger. The pact is America’s most dramatic and determined move yet to counter what it and others in the Indo-Pacific region see as a growing threat from China.”
As Point of Order noted earlier this week, no-one in Wellington yet grasps the full impact of the AUKUS deal.
There are warning signs ahead. China has already condemned the submarine pact and says Australia is reinventing the old cold war. Beijing never stands still and analysts understand the Chinese government is already looking at ways to make life even more difficult in the Indo-Pacific.
It might use NZ’s well-known anti-nuclear stance and attempt to try and drive a wedge between NZ and Australia – and the US and UK. This will make life difficult to Cabinet ministers who have only recently adjusted to the new realities of Chinese tactics in the region.
Trade may be questioned. China may step up its activities in the South Pacific.
Interestingly, among Asean countries, the Philippines and Singapore openly welcomed AUKUS. As one hard-nosed Singaporean strategist puts it, anything that maintains a balance of power in the region is desirable.
Vietnam is likely to approve, too, but more quietly.
Another country which was quick to endorse AUKUS is Taiwan, which faces near-constant bullying from China. Just this past week it has been subjected to constant incursions into its airspace by Chinese military jets.
Against a China in that mood, a country displaying “moral repugnance” doesn’t cut much ice.