Our government’s deployment of troops to Iraq illustrates a lack of analysis on the utility of such a deployment to the actual people of that country. It does nothing to directly address the causes of why predominantly young men flock to seek the illusive promises of the Islamic State.
In truth, this deployment is a missed opportunity to do good – to actually have a strategic impact and to signal the depth of our independent foreign policy to the world worthy of our campaign for a seat on the Security Council.
Instead, our choice to deploy compounds a flawed approach, blindly following our masters into a reactive strategy lacking in creativity. This pathway shows a New Zealand foreign policy absent genuine impact except to parrot the imperial echo resonating from Pennsylvania Avenue.
New Zealand is in a position to employ a more creative use of our skills and profit off our limited geopolitical relevance. If only we had a government willing to be creative. If only we had a government believing and acting on the rhetoric that we have an independent foreign policy.
Specifically, there are three immediate areas where I can see New Zealand having a more positive impact in this conflict. They are:
- Using our “independent” voice on the Security Council
- Targeted nation building
- Increasing our refugee resettlement quota
We campaigned on being a small, independent nation when we ran for the Security Council. We campaigned on being in favour of a strong multi-lateral rules based approach to international law. We have good people at our UN mission in New York working hard to live up to those commitments.
If given the leash, there is considerable work those good people can do consistent with those objectives. Our unique role can be behind the scenes in bringing different players together. Using our position of relative unimportance, we can build those bridges using mutual interests and narrowing down points of distance.
Primarily, this will include isolating Islamic State targeting those who finance or allow the group to be economically self-sustaining. The isolation strategy is better than bringing western boots on the ground playing into Islamic State’s “crusader” propaganda.
If we are going to be on the Security Council, then let’s make it worth it. Let’s do something worthwhile and not just make up the numbers.
Iraq is a country stained by decades of conflict and uncertainty. The 80s saw the Iran-Iraq conflict with incredible loss of life as the west supported a mighty Saddam against the Persian threat. Then the first Gulf War occurred quickly followed by punishing sanctions crippling the civilian population. It was not long until the illegal invasion of George W. Bush and Tony Blair leading to over a million deaths fermenting the sectarian tensions directly creating the reality of modern Iraq.
Is it any wonder that Iraq is quite simply devastated? As a country, its human capital has been stripped away bare crawling desperately from one crisis to another.
It is in this context that New Zealand can contribute through targeted aid and development. To date we have provided aid to the region, but this needs to be stepped up to show a real commitment. Genuine nation building – more than superficial PR driven hearts and minds – involves institution strengthening and developing human capacity. This is consistent with our supposed commitment to strong rule of law and accountability while also playing a genuinely positive role in our foreign affairs.
New Zealand’s contribution can be in a number of ways. We can provide law enforcement and rule of law training along with other areas where our excellent civil servants can assist. We can work with UN agencies, NGOs and other like-minded states to develop sustainable programmes and provide funding for programme delivery where our citizens are not required on the ground.
Imagine the impact the funds committed to our military deployment could have in these targeted programmes where we are actually developing human capacity to create a genuine civil society?
In going further, our universities could provide scholarship opportunities in key areas such as medicine, education, engineering, and science showing our commitment to make a positive contribution in directly developing that capacity. There are other areas where we can contribute if we think creatively driven by a genuine desire to assist, rather than frozen in our current reactive state anchored in fear.
Finally, our refugee resettlement quota of 750 per annum sees us ranked 87th in the world per capita for hosting refugees. The quota has not risen in some 28 years and there are years when we often do not meet the quota.
The good folks at Action Station are campaigning to increase our quota. Click on the link to read about their campaign and sign on – if you have doubts, read their FAQs page, including issues around affordability. There is a similar campaign called Wage Peace NZ showing the growing acknowledgement that we can and should increase our quota.
These campaigns build on the excellent work over the last few years of Murdoch Stephens at Doing Our Bit. Murdoch, motivated by his own time in the region meeting and photographing refugees, has worked tirelessly to raise this issue with our politicians. His efforts, and other campaigners, are laudable.
The lack of response to date to increase our refugee quota by our politicians is a disgrace and speaks poorly to our humanitarian commitment. Direct action on this issue is easy, immediate, and better reflects the true nature of New Zealanders.
In theory, there is nothing stopping the government moving on all three areas now. This can be in addition to our military option and complement that role. This does not require bravery – it is just smart and constructive foreign policy and is ultimately more consistent with our values as New Zealanders.