Sunday, September 26, 2010

On Diplomacy - 2

When I first started sketching out this series of ideas back in June, I resolved that I would try very hard not to drag the US into the debate; at least not until toward the end. I am trying hard to maintain that resolution.

O'Brien introduced me to the uncertainties of diplomacy and the risks involved with taking position between parties internationally.

One of the very first instances he gave was the formulation of the "nuclear-free" foreign policy of the Lange Labour government. He ran through the immediate consequences of that policy; it ended with NZ being excluded from active participation with the US in the ANZUS Treaty.

I am not going to follow that line (directly), because O'Brien also spent considerable time examining the "other consequences"; both the immediate and long term results.

Among those immediate consequences (and likely primary factor in the position that the US took) was a fear that other, more strategically important, nations might follow NZ's example. That particular result does not seem to have appeared.

What did happen was a fundamental shift in the way NZ was seen by the ROW; one of the direct results was NZ's election as a Member of the UN Security Council, followed by a year as the Presidential appointee of the Council. Not surprisingly, O'Brien makes little of this period for the simple reason that he was the individual nominated and appointed; and the native NZ humility kicks in to turn attention away from his personal role.

From that point, there is little question that, while NZ's voice is small in global terms it is heard still with considerable respect by most nations.

The point here is that NZ took a considerable risk in diplomatic terms with the creation and formulation of its anti-nuclear foreign policy. Had it been set up with an individual target (such as the US) then NZ's place at the international table would have been totally denigrated. The risk of that happening with the global exclusion was large enough. We were and are fortunate indeed that the considered shift toward a more neutral stance was accepted as an honest and brave move rather than being a popularist dart from the US into the inevitable backwaters.

It goes further though. One of the reasons for the success of the anti-nuclear policy on the world stage is that it very rapidly became a pillar of NZ domestic politics and foreign policy for both of the major parties. It was not until Don Brash tried leading the National Party against the (longstanding) Clark Labour government that the policy came into serious question. The consequence for Brash's electoral chances against Clark (which were already slim) became impossible once the idea that the anti-nuclear policy would be "gone by lunchtime" became public. Much as he might like to snuggle up to the US, the jonkey has not as yet had to consider the way that the anti-nuclear policy might be used to ingratiate favour from the US. The reverse has been true; the Brash promise was heard and with the installation of the jonkey government (which is much of the same political colour) the scent of olive branches has been carried right across the Pacific.

But, at that point the government (of any nation, globally, generally) has to recognise not only does foreign policy make for external risks there are also internal risks associated with any change in external relations. These risks might result from; negotiating a FTA with China; negotiating a FTA with US; taking part in the invasion of other nations; getting into extreme and unsupportable debt; the list goes on...

The principle of risk, and the corollary of risk-taking, in foreign relationships and policies - diplomacy - is clear. That it is an art, not science.

It is important to realise that the risks, and the uncertainties are as much internal as they are external. Brash learned that with "gone by lunchtime". He was, along with the chances of the Nats overtaking Clark's Labour government in the next six years.

It is this aspect, of controlling "internal risk", that formed a backbone in my earlier series of thoughts on propaganda; the direction of the society to a particular line of thought and action which has the effect of reducing the internal risks associated with a change in foreign direction. In the case of NZ and the anti-nuclear policy the input came from the electorate, the society, in the form of strident and vociferous protest to US nuclear naval vessels and to French nuclear testing in the South Pacific.

It is the internal risk that leads to much of the outrageous rhetoric in fora such as the UN Genral Assembly; and it is a practice not limited to the likes of Chavez and Ahmedinejad. Both of those "orators" are addressing those they govern in addition to those in the room; to confirm their power to those who support, to reinforce the fears in those who oppose. If I limit the forum to the UNGA, it can be detected in the words and actions of Colin Powell after 9/11, the shoe-banging of Khruschev, the over-long haranguing by Chavez, the spite and outright duplicity of Mugabe...

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