When New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters commented about trade with Russia earlier this week, there was mixed reaction. Our allies were surprised. Russia, probably grinning and the ordinary Jim and Jane wondering what just happened.
I wonder how many people born post-1989 would recognize that today we are in the midst of the very sort of Cold War geopolitical environment that our parents and grandparents found themselves living through. I wonder how many of the would realize how little it would take to cause an international incident that the whole world regrets. But above all, I wonder how much those in New Zealand who were spared the tensions of the Cold War, realize that just because they are nations that we have traditionally been good friends with does not automatically make Britain or the U.S. automatically right when they make a foreign policy decision.
Mr Peters highlighted the stark differences between New Zealands priorities and those of Britain. The New Zealand priorities which seem to be about securing trade agreements with European nation’s post-Brexit, include a potential deal with Russia, and another with the European Union.
Perhaps New Zealand is being a bit naive. The Russian Government is renown for it’s bullying tactics. It’s attempt at annexing Ukraine was a flagrant attempt at rebuilding the Russian empire of old, whilst also improving access to the Black Sea. Doing a free trade agreement with it sort of seeks to legitimise the activities of a country that violates international law as much as America does.
Whilst needing to be able to conduct trade with nation’s whose agendas and views are not compatible with New Zealand, it needs to be said that our values are too important to compromise for dollars. We were shocked when Russia carried out acts such as the attack on Alexander Litvinenko, and rightly so because the nature of the assassination was one that could only becarried out by someone in a very high position. We were shocked when Russia vetoed moves in the United Nations to condemn the use of gas on civilians in Aleppo. We have been surprised by the apparent use of a military grade agent last week against a spy and his daughter.
At some point no one should be surprised if there is push back against Russia for this conduct. Russia’s conduct in many respectsrhas been similar to that of the United States. The latter can be accused of invading nation’s and has times propped up dictators such as General Augusto Pinochet, Saddam Hussein, and turning a blind eye to Saudi Arabias war in Yemen.
New Zealand needs to ask itself this:
- Does it want to remain blindly supportive of America and Britain even when they are not always right?
- Does it want to be seen supporting a nation (Russia) that carries out horrifying assassinations, annexations and most probably supplied the missile system used to down Malaysian Airlines flight MH7?
- Pursue an independent foreign policy including trade agreements with whomever we see fit? And at the possible expense or delay of deals with traditional partners?
Whilst wanting Russia to understand it is not helping its own reputation to be carrying out such poison attacks, history is littered with evidence of the other side committing atrocities as well. When a weakened Prime Minister of Britain goes up against the nuclear power that is Russia and its leader says in a threatening voice not to threaten a nuclear power, who is prepared to continue with such a black and white threat?
Mr Peters and New Zealand First should learn from this.