Democracy and the rule of international law. Part III.

Democracy and the rule of international law Part III.

Harry Truman tells the first lie of the golden era

Blog No. 142.

Stephen Hoadley is associate professor of Politics and international Relations at the University of Auckland and a frequent writer on US/NZ relations. In the November/December edition of the NZ International Review, he published an article based on an address he had given to the Royal NZ Navy Fleet Warfare Forum. The article was entitled “New Zealand’s strategic context: one or many scenarios.”

The NZIR, like other such establishment journals around the world that address themselves to foreign and defence matters, has a readership drawn largely from the diplomatic service, the military, academia and the upper echelons of the civil service. Prime Ministers and other members of cabinet occasionally contribute tone-setting articles.

Given the prestige associated with his academic qualifications and the influence that the establishment audiences he is addressing have over New Zealand’s future foreign policy, I found Stephen Hoadley’s arguments not only wrong, but dangerous.

To summarise, the introduction consists of a nostalgic and rose-tinted review of the good old days, when NZ could feel secure under the umbrella of the virtuous American Empire. Having expressed alarm that the Trump administration might be on the point of overturning this so desirable status quo, Hoadley sets out a smorgasbord of alternative scenarios with which future NZ foreign policy-makers may find themselves faced. These consist of:

· A forecast that the EU could well collapse.

· A call to arms for the free world to block the evil and expansionist Russian state.

· A warning that the USA might be replaced by a Chinese hegemon.

· A dire warning that the world is in danger of slipping into a state of Hobbesian anarchy and internecine warfare.

· Some simplistic and nasty words about Kim Jong-Un (who is at least accepted as a rational actor to be treated with caution and diplomacy.)

· A plea for all men of good intent and stout heart to rally around to restore the primacy of the pre-Trumpian, American Empire. (George Bush, mon amour!)

In the initial paragraphs Hoadley sets out his ultra-orthodox view of the functioning of the international political system. “The mainstream strategic view with which we are most familiar is that which like-minded Western governments have pursued since the Second World War. It was initiated by the internationalist administration of President Harry Truman. During this period the United States has been the principal shaper of a strategy of voluntary engagement with allies and partners around the world to resist rogue states threatening to destabilize the current balance of power and redraw national boundaries. It is a strategy to strengthen international institutions, free up trade, encourage global communication and encourage governments to cooperate to curb disease, poverty, climate change, crime and terrorism. The outcome of this strategy, regrettable pockets of conflict and natural disaster aside, is a continued rise in human welfare throughout the world.”

The writer then goes on to lament the advent of the Trump administration as one which risks weakening “… the familiar alliances and webs of mutual trust and cooperation with the United States” and risks “moving the United States from a benign hegemon providing the public good of geopolitical stability to a neo-isolationist state abandoning the field to rivals, some not so benign.”

After a brief coverage of a disintegrating European Union that ”… may again regress to a small space at the edge of Eurasia occupied by 28 governments, each pursuing its own interests.” Hoadley moves on to the question of Russia’s place on NZ’s geo-political map. Despite his later description of the Russian President as the ‘leader of a resurgent Russian empire’, “… President Putin presides over a failing economy and an authoritarian, corrupt and brittle regime. He compensates for weakness by inventing enemies abroad, mainly the United States and Germany, then rallying his people to defend Mother Russia. … Putin’s strategy of defence is to mount military, covert and cyber offensives in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. He has subverted and colonised bits of Georgia, including South Ossetia, and Ukraine, including Crimea and the Donbas and put Lithuania under pressure.” 

Hoadley then deals to the seemingly inexorable rise of the Chinese economy. Thanks to its human rights violations, its conduct in Tibet and Xinjiang and its occupation of uninhabited islands in the South China Sea, right-thinking New Zealanders are told they should not consider China fit for the role of global hegemon.

But an even less desirable alternative would be the ‘Hobbesian scenario.’ Evidently the adventures that Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo embarked on during the previous phase of US isolationism, could now be repeated by a group of “current ambitious candidates posed to take advantage of a lack of global leadership and regional order.” According to Hoadley’s appreciation of the situation, Turkey’s Erdogan, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un, as well as other non-state actors could all, or individually, be poised to embark on the adventure of global conquest.

In the writer’s opinion “The first scenario, the President Truman scenario, is most favourable to New Zealand, and we should support its continuation….characterised by benign hegemonic stability underpinned by the United States, to which like-minded governments, and their armed forces, may contribute voluntarily…New Zealand should support the current international order, with its benign webs of consultation, co-operation, trade and human interaction safeguarded by international institutions laws and norms.”

The Truman presidency was indeed a golden age for the western powers. The evil axis powers had been routed. The Cold War was only a twinkle in the eyes of certain western leaders and not yet a reality. The USA was sole possessor, and had clearly demonstrated the will to make use of, nuclear weapons. The state of Israel was only just setting out on it’s, for other Middle Eastern nations, calamitous search for Lebensraum at the expense of those inferior peoples, who had failed to be chosen by God. The world was indeed a tabula rasa on which western capitalism, under United States leadership was free to scrawl its wish list.

Alas, modern history is a fast-flowing river and attempts to swim up-stream must inevitably end in tears. No matter how strongly desired, a return to the fondly imagined Utopia of the Truman-era, is not possible. Setting aside that impossible (and arguably, undesirable) pipe-dream, what else does Hoadley have to offer? Hoadley apparently believes that, failing a return to the Truman era, the US hegemonic period that followed on through all the subsequent presidencies until the election of Donald Trump, still represented a happy place to which the peoples of this planet and right-minded, western politicians should endeavour to return.

There are several points which need to be made. Firstly, that even were he removed from office tomorrow, the Trump interregnum will have already changed the international status in multiple ways: there can be no return to the status quo ante Trumpi. Secondly, Trumpi is the consequence of an egregiously dysfunctional governmental system that seems impervious to all attempts at reform. It has a system of decision making that seems more reliant on the wishes of a rogue CIA and the sixteen other US intelligence agencies, the military-industrial complex, the Israeli alliance, the American Petroleum Institute and Wall Street, than on any powers given by the Constitution to the President. Should the hegemonic system established under it continue, an unprecedented global disaster will almost certainly occur – and sooner rather than later.

Part II of my blogs on this subject revealed the extent of the nuclear brinkmanship being played by this hegemonic system to which the existence of life on Earth seems but a stake in a game of poker. This benign hegemony, to which Hoadley is advocating New Zealand should aspire, has been responsible for multiple wars of aggression and breaches of international law. My previous blogs have documented many examples of the global mayhem and suffering created by this paragon of empires. One of the American empire’s most persistent chroniclers is William Blum. His book ‘Killing Hope’ takes us up to 2003.

Of course, since then, in the post 9/11 era, the Empire of Chaos (not my coin of phrase) has been on steroids – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran , Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, have all had to endure its beneficent attentions. Of the above, Syria is the most recent example. Here, the CIA has been discretely (and many would argue, deliberately) arming the Islamic State to further the overthrow of the legitimate Syrian government. Besides the multiple assassinations, war crimes and breaches of international law, which the United States has been committing with gay abandon ever since Truman came to office, those ‘human rights violations’ that Hoadley places at China’s door and uses as an argument for avoiding too close a relationship with that up and coming hegemon, are pallid indeed.

On the 11th December, Charles Freeman, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, gave a lecture to a symposium at an American University. It is a detailed critique of American Middle East policy formulation and execution. I challenge anyone to read it and emerge with the belief that nations, such as New Zealand, should entrust their future security and well-being to the self-harming decision-making apparatus of this fast degenerating empire.

If Hoadley is teaching New Zealand audiences a totally misplaced confidence in the virtues of its American alliance, he is also hopelessly wrong and outdated in his dismissive appraisal of ‘the Russian menace.’ Even if he has chosen to allow himself to be taken in by the barrage of propaganda designed to convince the subjects of America’s empire that Russia is an implacable enemy of the West and all it stands for, he makes a grave error in trying to persuade his readers that such an enemy would prove to be a paper tiger.

Russia, in contrast to the USA and NATO, has an entirely defensive strategy. This may not prevent a western attack, but would certainly result in any western alliance’s failure to gain a recognisable victory. It is perfectly conceivable (and Russia’s plans are drawn up accordingly) given current US military and political thinking, that a government will come to power in Washington, (if not already in place) that will provoke a war with Russia. NZ decision-makers should make it an over-arching priority to avoid any entanglements that could see NZ as part of an alliance participating in such a war. For those who might think otherwise, a well-informed breakdown of the Russian position and insight into the probable outcome of such a conflict is to be had here

The most recent updating on that topic that came to hand was this lecture by Gilbert Doctorow, given to the National Press Club in Washington on December 7th. “Does the United States Have a Future?” A Google search of ’khakispecs Putin’ will reveal much more on the subject.

To my mind the most amazing omission from the ‘expert’ advice offered by Hoadley on the future direction of NZ foreign policy is any mention of the United Nations Organisation. This is despite some lip-service being paid to the US system ‘representing the international rule of law’ (when, of course, it does the exact opposite, with both the USA and its Israeli partner doing all they can to undermine the status of such institutions and particularly that of the UN.)

So to where, in fact, should the makers of New Zealand’s foreign policy turn? This is my summary of the situation. Though in contrast to Stephen Hoadley, I am not an associate professor of Politics and International Relations, I did at least obtain a University of Southampton BSc. in those disciplines and subsequently, have kept myself very well informed of the matters in question.

To my mind, the collapse of American empire is inevitable. Whether it collapses as the result of a war it instigates, or just through the internal forces of greed, corruption and decay that are devouring its intestines, it is doomed. New Zealand should not hitch its wagon to an imploding star. If the collapse of the US Empire comes about as a result of war, it is improbable that it will ever have a successor.

On the brave assumption the war scenario and any nuclear exchange is avoided and that there is a relatively peaceful handover between the US and Chinese empires, then, climate change aside, NZ and all humanity will have one further major problem geo-political hurdle to cross. As Doctorow so accurately states in his lecture, Russia and China are not natural allies. They have only become so due to the exceptional stupidity of an American foreign policy that, to an outside observer, would seem designed to force them into each other’s arms.

Once the US threat has faded, the tensions along the enormous land frontier between Russia and China will inevitably rise. Climate change will not only force the teeming Chinese population to move northward, but will also make the frozen and sparsely populated lands of Russia that much more desirable. Furthermore, as Japan’s confidence in the US as an ally in any possible conflict with China, falls away, its reasons for drawing closer to Russia will become more pressing. As Doctorow points out, this shift is already under way and currently being pursued by both governments.

In October 2016, I posted a blog on the Heartland Theory In the coming decades, as the USA loses relevance, the Heartland is the area that will be coming into desperate contention between the Chinese and Russian states. Given Russia’s vast nuclear superiority and China’s, soon to be, vast superiority in conventional ground forces, the potential is for yet another situation in which the whole of humanity is threatened with a nuclear disaster.

Those responsible for the security of New Zealand should ignore the advice of the traditionalists, who would seek to shelter under the skirts of New Zealand’s “Natural Allies.” Peeping out at the world from that particular haven is to guarantee failure in the only manoeuvre likely to save the world from a sooner or later nuclear holocaust.

New Zealand’s leaders, while maintaining strict neutrality between them,  need to do all in their power to keep on friendly terms with both China and Russia (indeed, there are signs that the new coalition government is doing just this.) At the same time, they should do all in their power to advocate and bring about changes to the UN structure and that of other international institutions. These should be designed to enable the protagonists, and the rest of the community of nations,  to peacefully negotiate their way not only through the immediate and multiple crises that will be induced by the delusional incompetents that find themselves at the helm of the American empire as it enters its death throes, but also to ensure a soft landing for the Russia/China crisis when it arises.

Part I of this series of blogs, ‘World Peace through Law,’ while not offering any final word on the subject, deals exclusively with this problem and includes details of  the proposed structural changes to the international conflict-avoidance system advocated by Professor James Ranney.)


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