New Zealand must rise from its foreign policy slumber

Jason Heale

Jason Heale
Auckland, April 18, 2022

How is our foreign policy working out? We maintain a stance of neutrality, and yet we seem to be alienating our historical allies, with no gains being made in overall security.

Our defence spending is about 1.5% of our annual GDP. Not only do we have fewer people in the armed forces, but their morale is at one of its lowest points following two years of monitoring MIQ. We currently have about 12,500 defence force personnel (across the Army, Navy, and Air Force), not enough to defend our country against any invading enemy.

We have hedged an awful lot on our isolation.

Isolation advantage

Our position at the bottom of the world has been touted as one of our greatest defences. However, the world we inhabit now is so connected that there are threats that can easily overcome our distance. Think of cyber-attacks or economic sanctions. How quickly could we be crippled?

Or how about in economic terms? Another dimension of foreign policy. Our largest trading partner is China, we export about $19 billion worth of goods to China, and import about $13 billion. Our trade relationship with them is worth $32 billion. What if that relationship was taken away? We have already seen how sanctions can increase the cost of goods.

Petrol price has gone up since Russia invaded Ukraine. Our wallets here have felt the impact of war on the other side of the world.

Disturbed ties with Allies

If we do not have the personnel to fight, we could build relationships with countries that might come to our defence. How is that going for us? How is our relationship with our historical allies; USA, UK, and Australia? They didn’t include us in their conversations around the AUKUS Agreement, and our Five Eyes allies have been critical of our stance towards China, accusing us of undermining efforts to combat increasing aggression.

They point to our trade relationship as the reason.

The cure for all of this is to recognise that the world is bigger than we thought. It is a dangerous place, a volatile place, and we must look after ourselves.

The best way to do this, other than significantly increasing defence spending, is to strengthen our relationships with those nations who see the world the way that we do. With those who have traditionally been our allies.

Defending the Pacific

It is clear that we need also to look wider when signing agreements than simply what gives us the most money. Are we a nation that stands for something? Or will we simply let other countries do what they want? Will we cede our power to speak out because we want to make some money?

Let us be discerning in the relationships that we prioritise and strengthen. The Pacific is our home, and we need to be thinking about how best to defend it. We are in the position to help other nations that are smaller than us through our strategic relationships.

Let us take responsibility for ourselves, and our neighbourhood, and stop thinking distance will protect us in a shrinking world.

Jason Heale is Communications Consultant at the Maxim Institute based in Auckland.

(Infographics from Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade)

About our Foreign Policy
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has seven strategic goals to achieve for New Zealand in the world over a 10-year timeframe.
International Rules and Institutions: Strengthen, protect and use international rules and institutions to pursue New Zealand’s values and interests.
Economic Returns and Resilience: Grow sustainable economic returns and resilience from trade, investment and other international connections.
Indo-Pacific: Embed New Zealand as an active and integral partner in shaping an Indo-Pacific order that delivers regional stability and economic integration.
Pacific: Promote a peaceful, prosperous and resilient Pacific in which New Zealand’s interests and influence are safeguarded.
Environment and Climate Change: Promote sustainable international solutions to the global environment and natural resource challenges that impact New Zealand.
Security and Safety: Lead Aotearoa New Zealand’s international action to advance and protect New Zealanders’ safety and Aotearoa New Zealand’s security.
International Relationships: Build and leverage targeted international relationships to achieve our goals.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

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