A proxy war New Zealand does not need

A proxy war is normally a war fought by small actors on behalf of bigger actors. As such, there is a war between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a client state of America, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is a client state of Russia. As client states, they receive aid from their more powerful mate.

Neither Russia or America want the other to gain absolute control in the Middle East. This is a cross roads region between the Asian, North African and European continents. Both need the oil that comes with these nations, and both are propping up dictatorships who care nothing for the supposed Western influence of human rights.

Both America and Russia are guilty of arming war criminals. They will deny it as this is a very heavy allegation to make, but American and British cluster bombs have been dropped by Saudi Arabia on Yemeni schools, hospitals and homes. And irrefutable evidence of these events has been found by Amnesty International.

Russia has blood on its hands from supporting the regime of Bashar al Assad in Syria. It has vetoed numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions trying to hold Mr al Assad to account. Russia has also steadfastly stood up for Iran in the same way America has for Israel. It has vetoed U.N. resolutions against Iran. It has ignored Iran’s abomination of a record on women’s rights. Were a war to start between the two I expect Russia will respond militarily to a direct attack on Iran, at which point the stakes rise by orders of magnitude. So too does the risk.

Has the U.S./Israel /Saudi Arabia thought about this? I am not sure that they have.

Iran, perhaps under the Russian umbrella may think it is safe and that the United States would not strike. Perhaps true, but I think Israel would. It struck Saddam Hussein by knocking out his Osirak reactor; it struck Syria several years ago. What would happen if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to bomb the entire Iranian nuclear programme and any military installations deemed to be strategic back into the stone age?

But there is another country involved. Turkey. Over the decades Turkey has maintained an increasingly hard line against its Kurdish minority. As a result some Kurdish groups such as the P.K.K. have been labelled terrorist groups. Turkey is in a unique position. It is friendly to Russia and – to a decreasing extent – the United States. It has hosted N.A.T.O. forces during various operations, including the 1991 Gulf War and the U.S. used to have missiles there, which were removed after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Recently the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become more authoritarian and survived an attempted coup in 2016 that led to a massive crack down against the intelligentsia and activist groups.

But in the last few months that has taken on a new dimension with Turkey acquiring advanced Russian S-400 anti aircraft missiles and is talking to Moscow about participating in its 5th Generation combat aircraft programme. This has led to a sharp and possibly long lasting deterioration in its relationship with N.A.T.O. and the United States, which has cut Turkey out of the F-35 fighter programme.

And then, last week it started a military operation against Kurdish forces who had been participating in the war against I.S.I.S. after the Americans downgraded their forces in northern Syria. In an already complicated geopolitical mess, this was something totally unnecessary on Turkey’s part and that of Washington.

And all it achieves is the diminishing of the prospects for a lasting peace in a region that has been nearly continuously wracked by some sort of conflict since October 2001. It is not a conflict New Zealand needs to be a part of. It is not one we will gain anything from and definitely one we should be actively pushing towards the peace negotiations table.


Why New Zealand needs to condemn Saudi Arabia’s human rights record

This blog was going to be about the detention of female Saudi Arabian activists making a stand for women and a call to petition Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters to speak out. But the same country deciding it is okay to attack a bus full of civilians and the fact that this is a war crime, forced a change.

Saudi Arabia is a country that has long shown open disdain for human rights. It regards them as a “western” concept, perhaps because much human rights law was developed in the West. But western or not, there is nothing humane or proper about attacking civilian targets.

A country that attacks a civilian bus, killing dozens of people including numerous children as Saudi Arabia did a few days ago and thinks that such conduct would horrify many New Zealanders. A country that uses military grade munitions and delivery systems to destroy hospitals, homes and schools would horrify New Zealanders.

It should also horrify people to know that two nations we respect and admire are supplying Saudi Arabia with those munitions and delivery systems. Their names are Britain and United States of America. Both have supplied combat jets and cluster munitions, despite these being subject to international bans – which notably none of the United Nations Security Council permanent five members have recognized, lest it jeopardize the lucrative sale of weapons.

In his valedictory speech as President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower made mention of the potential threat posed by the military industrial complex. That was in 1961. It was before the Cuban Missile Crisis, Exercise Able Archer 1983, a host of wars where one could argue the main reasons for having them were nothing to do with national security, humanitarian emergencies or caused by internal strife. What would the former President think today if he could see the current orgy of violence and in particular America and Britain’s role in arming the combatants?

But those nations are not New Zealand. Those nations are not a country in the southwest Pacific with a record of defending human rights.

New Zealand needs to make stand against the human rights abuses of Saudi Arabia. Our trade is not so great that we should suffer a crippling blow if the Kingdom throws a diplomatic hissy fit – noting the recall of their Ambassador to Canada, and expulsion of Canada’s Ambassador for having the gonads to tell Saudi Arabia imprisoning female activists is not acceptable conduct. Our reputation for being a nation that champions a fair go and common decency will certainly not suffer from having a bit of steel in our spine.

New Zealand had opportunities to condemn earlier actions by Saudi Arabia that involved war crimes in Yemen. It has had opportunities to speak against the imprisonment of and flogging of activists such as Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes – 50 were struck before human rights activism brought enough pressure on Saudi Arabia to desist (so far)in carrying out any further. Unfortunately under the National-led Government of Prime Minister John Key, securing trade deals was a higher priority than protecting universal human rights.

If Canada stands alone, Saudi Arabia will assume that it is just one country that is annoyed. But if others including, but not limited to New Zealand join in the Kingdom will see that – whether they acknowledge it or not, being something altogether different – war crimes and any other illegal war like acts are not okay.

As for stopping Britain and the U.S. from supplying more weapons to cause more civilian deaths, tragically that is probably going to take them being referred for war crimes to the Hague and a change of Government in both countries.


The crisis New Zealand should pay attention to

Whilst the world focuses on United States President Donald Trump and his strange tweets, there is a crisis simmering away in the Middle East that many people should be paying attention to, but are not. It is between Saudi Arabia, a host of other Arab nations and its much smaller neighbour Qatar. The crisis, which pertains to Saudi Arabian accusations that Qatar is sympathetic to terrorist groups has been followed by a cessation of Saudi-Qatari relations, a list of demands and the cutting of travel links with the outside world.

Whilst it is true that in the past I have said New Zealand should cut and run from Middle East politics, because New Zealand has been seeking to improve ties with Saudi Arabia and other M.E. countries, this is a crisis that we would do well to pay more attention to. Saudi Arabia is the ring leader. It is the regional power that challenges the perceived encroachment of Persia into the Middle East.

We should pay attention because there are several troubling aspects to this crisis that have the potential to affect New Zealand:

  1. There is a possibility that the United States would ask for more New Zealand involvement and New Zealanders should know the arguments for and against
  2. Whilst we should not have military involvement in Middle East wars without a United Nations directive, it is quite okay to raise concerns about human rights, breaches of international law and humanitarian issues should they arise
  3. Another crisis in a region already beset by wars and civil wars will just further complicate an already problematic situation in terms of trying to restore some semblance of stability
  4. The list of demands is bullying type behaviour from a country that has no respect for human rights, dissenters and has been accused of committing war crimes in Yemen

But if one were to ask the average New Zealander on the street what they think of the Qatar crisis, the respondent – assuming they even know where Qatar is – would most likely say “I don’t know” or “I don’t care”. Fort them there are bigger problems in life than a geopolitical crisis in the Middle East, such as paying rent, having enough money to put food on the table and so forth.

The media seem pretty content paying no attention whatsoever. Stuff, the main website for New Zealand newspapers may be the exception rather than the norm to this. Newshub, 1 News, Radio New Zealand and other outlets have shown little interest.

Whilst there is no immediate signs of a potential clash between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the stakes are very high if one does occur. Iran, like Syria is a major Russian ally in the Middle East; Saudi Arabia, like Israel is an equally major ally of the United States, to the point that a massive arms deal was concluded when United States President Donald Trump visited there last month. And there is a question that only Saudi Arabia and Iran could answer: would both sides refrain from directly attacking each other and risk dragging in their world power allies? Given the relative lack of regard for international law shown by Saudi Arabia and Iran this is a question of considerable magnitude.

New Zealand implicated in war crimes

For a year now, a coalition of nations led by Saudi Arabia has been actively bombing Yemen. They say that the aim is to beat Houthi militants who have been fighting against the Yemen government in a bloody and often brutal civil war. The western media makes little of it, and has hardly reported on any of the strikes. Washington D.C., an ally of Riyadh refuses to condemn the violence.

It is strange that Iran was deprived of weapons systems and spare parts for its F-14 Tomcats following the 1979 revolution, but Saudi Arabia was allowed to have F-15 Eagle air superiority/ground support jets from the United States, and Panavia Tornado multi-role jets from Britain. And that despite Saudi Arabia being implicated in airstrikes that have hit civilian targets, including medical facilities, it still appears okay for Saudi Arabia to service those jets and use them as weapons of war.

Unfortunately little ol’ New Zealand is not entirely clean either, not least because New Zealand sits on the United Nations Security Council and is scheduled to chair the Council twice during its two year period as a temporary member. New Zealand therefore has the loudest loud hailer in global politics. It could easily call out Saudi Arabia for the atrocities it has committed. But unlike the United Nations chief for Human Rights, New Zealand refuses to do so.

The reasons for Wellington’s deafening silence could well include an increasingly chummy economic relationship with the Saudi Arabian regime. Despite Sheep-gate, despite Saudi Arabia showing callous disregard for freedom of speech by bloggers and having one of the worst rates of capital punishment in the world, the New Zealand Government has bent over backwards to accommodate Saudi demands. They could also include the fact that this particular New Zealand Government seems very keen to impress the United States Government, and Prime Minister John Key famously said that being involved on the U.S. side of the “War on Terrorism” is a price we pay for being part of the club.

But is it a price New Zealanders want to pay?

In February I saw something in a TIME Magazine edition that made me very angry. It was a brief article about a Saudi Arabian air strike in Yemen that hit a medical clinic run by Medicins Sans Frontieres (also known as Doctors without Borders). A medical clinic. A facility that is protected by international law from such incidents. A war crime in other words.

If this is part of the so-called “War on Terrorism”, then that war is being lost because the West is responsible for atrocities just like the miltant groups they claim to be fighting. The emphasis that the West places on the rule of international law is being lost because just like it accuses Russia and China of doing so – which they do on a dreadfully regular basis – the West is complicit in breaches as well. And bombing hospitals – mistake or not – is a very grave offence to be committing.

Could it be a War on Humanity? If so, I want New Zealand to slam the brakes on it as hard as it can at the United Nations Security Council by pointing out the legal and moral wrongs and doing as much as it can to hold the perpetrators to account.

Economy shudders into 2016

The new economic year is only a few days old worldwide, but it is shaping up to be a turbulent one both in New Zealand and abroad. As the year begins it is useful to look at the events going on around the world and in New Zealand to help better understand why the start to 2016 has been so turbulent.

Since New Zealand began returning to work after the Christmas festive period a wave of bad economic news from both here and abroad has been going past. Shares plunging in China so far that on consecutive days trading has had to be stopped and a major electronics retail chain imploding are just two events that have economists on edge.

The Saudi Arabian decision to assassinate a key Shi’ite cleric causing a violent reaction in Iran where the Saudi Embassy was ransacked and a consulate attacked in Tehran has led to several countries severing diplomatic and/or economic ties with the Islamic Republic. When coupled with ongoing uncertainty about the war against Daesh in the Middle East and the continuing fallout from Turkey shooting down a Russian combat aircraft, no one can honestly say they know how the region will affect global economics.

But New Zealand has its problems as well. The major electronics retail chain Dick Smith has had to be put into voluntary administration for the foreseeable future whilst the company tries to address a red ink surge on its balance sheet. Although nothing has been said about winding it up, the hundreds of staff in New Zealand whose future suddenly looks cloudy are rightfully nervous, especially given the criticism regarding the sale of vouchers are not going to be honoured. Employment has remained stubbornly high at around 6% and the New Zealand dollar has lost considerable buying power in the last 12 months. The brief surplus that the Government boasted about getting is gone and replaced with a $400 million debt.

The Government’s much coveted Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement with eleven other countries including the United States, China and Japan will be signed in February. Widespread protests are planned to greet this event. This is despite the Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell telling President Barak Obama to not bring the T.P.P.A. for signing before the 2016 Presidential election, which will increasingly distract both Republicans and Democrats from now until November. Because New Zealand has its own elections in 2017, no sooner will President Obama’s replacement have been sworn in than the electioneering will start in New Zealand.

As the world economy wobbles its way through the first week of 2016, many eyes must be looking to the economic gods for inspiration. But will they find any?