Ministers hiding from the truth?


I have been watching the Chernobyl miniseries, which is based on the 1986 meltdown of Reactor No. 4 at Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine, when it was part of the former U.S.S.R. Constantly coming out of the series is the determination of the Communist government to cover up the disaster even though the scale of it makes that impossible, even though the radioactive cloud drifting across Europe has been detected in multiple countries.

The lack of transparency and the corruption within the Communist system was a major contributor to its eventual downfall in 1989. It took their ineptness at Chernobyl in a rigid system hell bent on preservation at all cost including locking up those who knew too much to start its unravelling.

Midway through its first term in office, the number of inept Ministers in the Labour-led Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is startling. And as National looks at the 2020 election as a chance to take back the Beehive, we see them shying away from taking questions. We see them ducking behind the public service officials who are meant to keep them up to speed.

Fortunately New Zealand could not be more different from the Cold War era U.S.S.R. It is a nation that enjoys very high ratings with Transparency International, which focuses on the accountability of elected officials, the ability to obtain information and the freedom of the press. Using a scale of 1-100 where 100 is completely transparent, T.I. have graded countries around the world. The current rating is 2. Only Denmark has a higher score. However, both countries have slipped from a ratings a few years ago in the very low 90’s. Last year New Zealand topped the list at 89 and in 2016, 90. Russia and Ukraine by contrast only scored 29 in 2018.

Whilst this is still a very good score for New Zealand and one worth celebrating, at the same time the gradual downwards drift needs correcting. New Zealand continues to maintain a somewhat laissez faire approach to oversight of its authorities and there is room for improvement in terms of having a watchdog overseeing the Privacy Commission and Human Rights Commission, among others who have been dogged in recent years by conduct completely unbecoming of such important bodies.

Recently we have seen the sort of activity that might be behind the gradual downwards drift in our score. At Chernobyl we saw nuclear scientists trying to persuade Communist officials more intent on saving their own skin and the system they worked under about the grave threat Chernobyl posed. They were constantly monitored, threatened and on occasion, even detained. It would lead the chief scientist Valery Legasov to take his own life, rocking the Communist apparatus in a way even the hardliners struggled to ignore.

In New Zealand we have seen Ministers ducking for cover. Phil Twyford is the prime example, as a man who knows Kiwi Build is a failure but instead of being upfront and saying so has retreated from interviews about it. A second example is Shane Jones. What was he doing lobbying Minister of Immigration on behalf of Stan Semenoff and the transport company he owns so they could get accredited employer status and employ Filipino workers? And a third will be the Minister of Immigration himself and the Karl Sroubek snafu where a Czech man wanted by Czech Republic authorities fled to New Zealand, claiming he would die if he went back to the Republic.

So far none of them come close to matching the ineptness of Comrade Dyatlov who had control of Reactor No. 4 on that fatal night. Nor do the consequences involve the threat of getting the KGB involved. But they do involve massive loss of personal reputation. They do raise questions about how in control of her Government Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern really is, and a failure to improve might be the downfall of this Labour-led Government just as Chernobyl probably caused the downfall of Communism.

 

Little appetite for war against Iran


Ever since the United States pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal the risk of a war between the two nations has increased. Ayatollah Khamenei began to increase the rhetoric against the United States, saying how it wanted war. President Donald Trump believed that the deal was fundamentally flawed from the start, and at the behest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who believed it compromised Israeli national security, withdrew from it. Initially Iran said it would continue to comply with it in full. But when it was revealed that the other powers signatory to the agreement were not complying with their end of the deal in full, Tehran immediately said that should they not resume within 60 days it would withdraw.

Which is precisely what Mr Netanyahu and Mr Trump wanted. But now with the war hawks attempting to ratchet up the drum beat of war to another level, it is time to look at why the hawks could be in for a brutal surprise should Iran and the United States come to military blows.

There is a distinct difference though between the Iraq War and how any war against Iran in terms of the support that the United States has. Whilst many nations friendly to America expressed considerable reservations or expressed condemnation of its 2003 invasion of Iraq, it did have the support of a few nations. They included the United Kingdom, Spain, Australia, the Netherlands, Iceland, Portugal, Japan and South Korea, along with a number of eastern European, central Asian and Latin American countries.

In many respects the United States and Israel would be facing a very different foe to the demoralized Iraq that was invaded in 2003. Among the primary reasons:

  • Iran has not suffered a major conflict since the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988 and has rebuilt
  • Iraq’s military was severely depleted, badly trained, paid and resourced – much of its equipment was useless for lack of parts, ammunition
  • Iran has significant powerful allies including Syria and Russia
  • Its compliance with the nuclear deal means the grounds for military action based on a grave and present threat are non-existent, which American allies generally recognize
  • International support for a war against Iran is almost non-existent
  • Much of the promotion of a hard line against Iran has more to do with bolstering the military industrial complex and certain politicians than achieving any real good
  • The risk of an Iran-U.S./Israel conflict becoming a direct clash between the U.S. and Russia is real

Iran is suffering under heavy American sanctions and diplomatic pressure on other countries to stop buying Iranian oil. However several nations including South Korea still do so. It has refused to have anything to do with the petro-dollar and some are suggesting it might be investing in crypto-currency such as Bitcoin.

None of this is to say that the Iranian Government or the Ayatollahs are saints. They are not. Iran has one of the most appalling records of any nation in the Middle East when it comes to womens rights, the death penalty, torture, arbitrary detention and extra-judicial killings. Human rights activists such as Nasrin Sotoudeh are regularly imprisoned without justification, and almost always on trumped up charges such as posing a threat to the Islamic Republic

Nor is it to say that Iran respects its neighbours. During the Iraqi sectarian violence following the U.S. invasion in 2003 it armed militias to destablize the country and disrupt the attempt to restore the country. It arms Hezbollah militants fighting against Israel, by supplying them with Qassam and Katyusha rockets, drones and small arms. It point blank refuses to recognize the state of Israel in any form. Iran may have interfered in the Afghanistan war and its chief regional rival is Saudi Arabia.

But if we take all of this and acknowledge the willingness of Russia to exercise veto powers when U.N. Resolutions against Iran are proposed, the extent to which Russia has enabled Hezbollah to be armed, and so forth, it is clear Russia has a significant stake in Iran’s well being.

To the extent it could be compared with America’s in Israel.

Trump betrays democracy – and every nation believing in it


In a single press conference in Helsinki yesterday, after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, the President of the United States dealt what might be a death blow to democracy. With the refusal to hold Russia accountable for a dozen Russians indicted for interference in the 2016 United States Presidential election, Mr Donald John Trump effectively conceded to the Russian Government world view: trust no one.

In the last 18 months since he took office, Mr Trump has shown his utter disdain anything good that the West has tried to achieve. By withdrawing from the Paris Agreement just as the only nations not in it were preparing to sign up, Mr Trump has signalled his contempt for the environment. By withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Mr Trump has done likewise with human rights as his Immigration and Customs Enforcement ratchet up their campaign against anyone whose reasons for existing in the United States look even the slightest bit dodgy – whether they are being another story altogether.

But most of all, Mr Trump has given global consensus built on democracy a truly frightful knee to the stomach.

Imagine that. An American President declaring that no one should be trusted, thereby throwing into doubt decades of anglo-saxon co-operation. Imagine that. An openly contemptuous American President declaring that a country whose Government has long sought to undermine the United States at every opportunity, whose contempt for democracy is as legendary as its ability to rally in times of crisis.

It is a signal to every western nation. You are on your own. America no longer values or cares about you. It is a signal that global co-operation is somehow a bad thing and that the last 70 years trying to build more civil world and prevent World War 3 is all for nothing. It is a signal to N.A.T.O.: go stuff yourself.

But should we suddenly now kowtow to Russia and Vladimir Putin? To China and Xi Jinping? Because apparently strong men with grandiose visions of global influence, heading countries with strong militaries, and an authoritarian rule of their own people are suddenly good according to Mr Trump?

And what does that mean for little ol’ New Zealand, in the South Pacific? Does that mean we are on our own in a sea of increasingly hostile nations trying to make the best we can for ourselves? I hope not. New Zealand is too small to influence the big nations in a military or economic way, but not so small that we cannot set an example through how we treat other peoples, nations and cultures.

New Zealand needs to tread carefully, but that does not mean we should give up our values and principles. New Zealand needs to look after its own needs. We need to forge a path that suits us, whilst keeping in contact with as many friendly nations as we can – Canada, France, Germany, Britain. Just because America is determined not to be a part of the free world any more does not mean the rest should just give up all that lie in those many war graves in Europe, north Africa, the Pacific, where brave New Zealanders gave their lives for our freedom so bravely fought and died for.

Never.

Iran vs Israel: the confrontation no one should ignore


The day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced to the world that he had conclusive evidence that Iran was non compliant with the conditions of the J.P.C.O.A. plan to ensure Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons, I had two thoughts and two thoughts only: Either Netanyahu really does have evidence or this is a false flag attempt to start a major war.

The moment Mr Netanyahu made this claim, the onus was – and still is – on him to show the evidence. Simply showing the number of C.D. or D.V.D.’s that he had in display cabinets is not enough. Open the files and show us what is in those files.

Why has that evidence not been laid in front of the United Nations Security Council, and in particular the Permanent Five nations (United States, France, Britain, Russia and China)? Is that evidence going to be laid out at all? Will the General Assembly get to see it? If not, why not?

The potential consequences of an Iran vs Israel confrontation are, short of World War 3, almost too depressing to contemplate. I see the following potential outcomes happening:

  • A potential Middle East regional conflict dragging in nations such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon
  • Israel and Iran reach some sort of uneasy peace that has a long term risk of flaring up again
  • The war remains between the current states due to awareness of the danger of escalation
  • The war escalates, with Russia and U.S. both ratcheting up involvement
  • World War 3

Neither Russia or America will want to be the nation that started World War 3. In the Middle East where life is considered cheap and the values placed on humanity are not the same as the West, there may be restraint. But will Israel and Iran share the same view? I hope that they do, but I fear not.

The old wounds of the colonial era and more recent spats might be tearing asunder, unable to constrain the geopolitical pressures internationally and the domestic pressure within, may begin to tear open along pre-existing lines.

This is a sad indictment on the whole world. Sure there has been much provocation. Sure the east vs west of the Cold War has never really gone away. Sure the world changed on 11 September 2001.

But there have been some huge opportunities for peace that were not taken. And some huge ones that certain nations refuse to take even though, many of their adversaries would cease to exist if those opportunities had been. Lasting peace between Israel and its neighbours is just one example. Palestinian leasderder Yasser Arafat’s inability to accept a peace deal, another. In terms of  post Cold War disarmament, a deal in say 1995 to reduce nuclear weapons right across the permanent five would have vastly undermined the rationale for any one else having them.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the price we pay for being in the grip of the military-industrial complex that sends our finest off to fight wars and grow the list of servicemen and women lost in the wars. This is the price our allies – I don’t speak for them, but certainly imagine the pain and suffering of their citizenry in war – pay as well. When the dollar trumps the international and moral good. This is also the price we pay for a toxic fear permeating all aspects of life and politics where fear of the unknown becomes an irrationally powerful, toxic, all consuming paranoia that turns neighbours against neighbours and in the context of international geopolitics, country against country; ideology against ideology.

This is the real reason why wars like the one potentially about to start in the Middle East must be uniformly and unflinchingly frowned upon by the most powerful people in the world.

Right now, they are smiling on it.

New Zealand should keep itself at arms distance from U.S., Russia


A while ago Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated that she thought the nuclear moment of our present time is climate change. She said it, stating that New Zealand needs to take a decisive leadership role in reducing our carbon emissions. An admirable thing and certainly something that needs to happen.

But it is not the nuclear moment of NOW. That is playing out in the Middle East and has the potential to become much more immediate than climate change, which – whilst affecting us already – does not (so far as I know)have the ability to usher in a global holocaust in a matter of ours. It does not have the ability to accidentally usher in a nuclear exchange before people even realize what is happening.

I honestly never thought, until about early 2014, when Russia began its military build up in Syria and started testing western resolve over Ukraine that the risk of an East-West military confrontation would revive in my life time. Whilst since 2000 the risk had certainly been growing from one year to the next, the immediacy of the danger was not there. It is now. And the causes of it are dubious to say the least.

Neither the United States or Russia are playing an entirely honest and responsible game in Syria. Both have agenda’s that are more about suiting their foreign policy ambitions than helping to end a bloody civil war that has gone on for much too long. Both have the power and the means to end it today, but the strangulation of their geopolitical objectives mean their peoples are captive to politicians being jerked around – willingly – by the military industrial complex. For this is not about Syria anymore, but about who will be the decisive power in the Middle East. This is about raw ambition.

Perhaps it is telling us something that Russia has used its veto power as one of the Permanent 5 in the United Nations Security Council to block 12 separate resolutions on Syria. Perhaps it is telling us something that none of the N.A.T.O. countries purportedly standing for the rule of international law attacked suspected chemical weapons sites before United Nations personnel could verify that that is what they actually were.

But also the danger level in this conflict brings the world as close to an international incident – an incident that could potentially trigger a nuclear exchange by accident – as any conflict during the First Cold War. An accidental attack by N.A.T.O. forces on Russia, or vice versa could very easily escalate into a world conflict. If it does not do that, at the very least it would result large scale deployment of N.A.T.O. and Russian forces including potential nuclear forces.

What the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters should be doing is telling our international partners in no uncertain terms we only abide by international law. If they want our cooperation, they need to abide by it too.

What New Zealand should be doing is four fold:

  1. Demanding all countries comply with international law – and telling them New Zealand will have no participation in anything judged to be against said law
  2. Demanding an immediate cessation to hostilities
  3. Letting United Nations inspectors in with unfettered access to all sites of concern in Syria
  4. Let Red Cross have unfettered access to all victims of war

Our nuclear moment I do not think is climate change. Our nuclear moment is stopping this war turning into a nuclear moment.

I know not what weapons World War 3 will be fought with, but World War 4 will be fought with sticks and stones

ALBERT EINSTEIN