Can Labour Reinstate ‘Independence’ Into New Zealand’s Foreign Policy?


Pte T.N. (Cody) Te Koi escorts a prisoner into Victor 4 Company's base, Vietnam, 1969. Image displaying on TDB from www.vietnamwar.govt.nzA new Foreign Policy Beginning: This month I stood next to the pond in Hanoi where the American bomber remained fixed from its death dive in 1970 as Nixon and soon –to-be Nobel Peace Prize winner Kissinger gave a Merry Christmas to the Vietnamese. Death not just for the crew shot out of the sky but for the inhabitants of this resisting city and country. I could feel, or so I thought, the night sky lit up by the anti-aircraft fire and searchlights as Hanoi burned from the bombs of hundreds of American aircraft.

This was a war, a 30 year one for the Vietnamese against French, Japanese and American colonialism. More bombs were dropped on them than in the entire Second World War in Europe. They were also the victims of chemical warfare as American forces set out to drench the country in defoliants using the deadly Agent Orange.

In New Zealand we hear the stories of our participating soldiers in this war crime and their descendants who suffer from their exposure to this chemical warfare. The whole Vietnamese population was exposed to this illegal chemical warfare (no it didn’t begin in Syria). They and their children suffer still. My Lai, Song Mai and countless other war crimes rank alongside Lidice and Oradour. This was a war of terror not on terror. No American leaders have been brought to trial. No red line was drawn. But the United States and New Zealand now happily trade with an independent Vietnam.

And I thought of New Zealand’s complicity in the aggression, through which 3 million (at least) Vietnamese died in one of the greatest war crimes of the century and what it meant for our foreign policy settings and what David Cunliffe could do to set it right. Strangely it never crossed my mind that National’s fawning pro-US Key and McCully duo eager to be back in the military embrace of the world’ superpower ,would even dream that there was something to set right.

But New Zealand, as a founding member of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) in 1954 gave its enthusiastic support to the well-laid plans of the US to carry on the illegal war against the Vietnamese and any others who dared to assert their independence against the Western Powers. US Vice-President Nixon returned from Vietnam in 1953 where the Truman and then the Eisenhower administrations had taken over the funding to the tune of 78% of the French war to retain its colonial possession.

New Zealand took part in the SEATO planning sessions to make sure that Asia, now that China was “lost”, did not fall to communism. Nuclear warfare was a part of these discussions in succeeding years. Thus New Zealand was an eager an active participant in a criminal conspiracy. Illegal wars, nuclear weapons, political assassinations, terrorism against whole populations and the use of chemical weapons were all part of the discussions and plans and, apart from nuclear attacks, were carried out. These plans began with the Truman doctrine and were implemented by successive administrations, including that of the revered “liberal” Kennedy, with their enthusiastic allies such as New Zealand.

As a result millions died in Indochina and later in the 1965 bloodbath of up to a million people in Indonesia as the SEATO nations “removed” the obstacle to exploitation of Sukarno nationalism. New Zealand cheered that defeat of the Reds in Indonesia and the use of fanatic Islamic fundamentalist terrorists to carry out the killings under the direction of the American trained Indonesian military and the CIA. Terrorism was the name of the game. We approved. Then in 1975 our foreign policy settings allowed us to officially” tut tut “about the invasion of East Timor but behind the scenes to be enthusiastically cheerleaders.

As an Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs 1n 1999 I tried to engage senior MFAT officials in an analysis of New Zealand’s foreign policy settings. I wanted the simple question posed, and answered, as to why we had supported and participated in an illegal war in Indochina, supported the bloodbaths in Indonesia and East Timor, backed the apartheid regime in South Africa and in general had been a willing junior partner for first British and then American foreign policy. I did not get an enthusiastic response from those who had gone along with all of that.

TDB Recommends

This then is another challenge for David Cunliffe’s Labour Party. New Zealand under Labour in 1987 earned the world’s respect, or that part we want respect from, for returning its membership card to the Nuclear Weapon club.

We then, stutteringly, struck out on the road to an independent foreign policy. I say “stutteringly” as the Lange government accepted Indonesia’s East Timor conquest and the Pol Pot regime. With a National government the stuttering has come to a full stop.

Labour can restart the process of developing a foreign policy fit for an independent country and one that rigorously adheres to international law. A new generation will be won to Labour, the respect of the world regained and an important contribution to a better world.


  1. “A new generation will be won to Labour, the respect of the world regained and an important contribution to a better world.”

    There’s likely to be a long gap before this new ‘true Kiwi way’ becomes embedded in our national psyche.

    Who is going to reliably and persistently tell the same story through many media that this is ‘the ways we are in the world. This is what we stand for’? How will it stay true and be heard of the usual rumble and babble of national politics?

    And there’s no guarantee at all that such a generation will be ‘won to Labour’. Might even be Greens, or an entity yet to be created. But, yes, Labour can start, both at home and abroad. They need reminding.

  2. With our media in the govt pocket the truth of the injustice our govt has supported is know to only a few.

    I fear that labour along with the nats are so embedded within the US mindset they don’t even know it.

    The greens at least have greater awareness.

  3. Chris Trotters excellent Post on the Deep State would disagree with you Matt Robson .
    New Zealand can always ‘ pretend ‘ it’s independent . And we do . We do it all the time . We pretend to matter . We pretend the world listens to us when we squeak .
    If NZ truly became ‘ independent ‘ we would celebrate our ‘ independence’ as we were being masticated , swallowed then excreted by any one of a hundred predators who hunt us just out there , just out of range of the candle light . To pretend we can be independent is without logic . What we need to do is be more careful with whom we associate . And at this juncture I’d like to say not Americans . Please . Not the Americans . I treasure my soul . Nor them jesus freaks of muslim nutters . I say , lets snuggle up to the French or the Italians . Or the Spanish . Or the Portuguese . Ok . They have checkered pasts but then don’t we all ? What they’ve managed to retain from what I can tell though is their humanness .
    Have you not noticed how bleak , brittle and hollow our society is when compared ? The difference between New Zealand and say the South West of France isn’t money .It’s attitude . It’s about Class and Style . It’s about art and love and food and fun . All we can do is worry about money and status . We are all about wank actually . We are 4.3 million people suffering from the mental illnesses of others . So I say , if we must be mad , lets be happy and mad . The trouble with us Kiwis will always be that we are , as a people too smart and our country too pretty for our own good .
    It’s a terrible burden . To be too fabulous .

    • I agree with your 2nd to last paragraph but believe we can be independent. It would take a strong statement of neutrality from us and development of our economy rather than remaining a land of sheep and cows but we could do it.

  4. An important article, and thank you for the clarification that the ultimate future for NZ involves developing a foreign policy fit for an independent country and one that rigorously adheres to international law.

  5. …..And I thought of New Zealand’s complicity in the aggression, through which 3 million (at least) Vietnamese died in one of the greatest war crimes of the century and what it meant for our foreign policy settings and what David Cunliffe could do to set it right.

    Matt Robson October 19, 2013

    Kia ora Matt, as well as Vietnam you touched on East Timor and South Africa. But you never mentioned this country’s involvement in the Afghanistan war, or your own “complicity” in this decision. Which has cost eleven New Zealand soldiers their lives, next to the tens of thousands of mainly civilian casualties of this war.

    Alliance torn apart by Afghan war November 28, 2001
    When the New Zealand parliament voted on October 3 to offer Special Air Services troops and other military assistance to the US-led war in Afghanistan and declared that it “totally supports the approach being taken by the United States of America”, members and supporters of the Alliance were shocked to discover that all 10 of their parliamentarians voted for the resolution.

    Given that the Alliance had opposed the Gulf War, opposed sanctions against Iraq and opposed the bombing of Kosova and Serbia, most Alliance members had assumed that their MPs would also oppose the war in Afghanistan.

    The difference now is that the left-of-Labour Alliance is in coalition government with the Labour Party. When the Alliance previously opposed US militarism, it was in opposition.

    The MPs’ decision sparked fury among Alliance members, with some resigning from the party or threatening to resign if the decision wasn’t overturned.

    Among the party’s rank-and-file, opposition to the war is strong. Many Alliance members and supporters have been involved in organising and attending anti-war demonstrations. One opinion poll revealed that opposition to the war was greatest (at 70%) among Alliance voters.

    The conflict between pro-war MPs and anti-war members reared up at the party’s annual conference, held in Auckland on November 10-11. The conferednce was members’ first major opportunity to hold their MPs to account……

    ……In the ensuing debate, all of the key non-parliamentarian figures in the Alliance spoke in favour of the amendment to withdraw support, leaving only the MPs and a couple of others to argue against.

    In arguing against the amendment, MPs made no attempt to justify the war, instead arguing that withdrawing support for the deployment of troops would give Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark the opportunity to sack Alliance cabinet ministers and call an early election……

    ……Many of the anti-war delegates were especially disappointed by cabinet minister Matt Robson’s support for the deployment of SAS troops. Robson, minister for disarmament and aid and associate minister for foreign affairs, has been involved in previous anti-war movements and has been regarded as a left-winger.

    In his address to the delegates, Robson justified the war against Afghanistan by claiming that it was “within the framework of international law”. Pressed about his stance later, Robson claimed that the US was not indiscriminately bombing civilians and was only bombing the Taliban frontline.

    Sue Bolton Green Left Weekly

    Matt, do you think that there are lessons that can be drawn from your experience, that could inform the Green Party on the eve of contemplating entering a cabinet dominated by the Labour Party?

    I ask you this, as humanity are entering a new historic phase analogous to war, where hesitation and compromise will have dire consequences, possibly contributing to the loss of millions of human lives. I am talking about the struggle against climate change. The Green Party are opposed to any new coal mines, the Green Party also oppose extreme fossil fuel technologies like deep sea oil and gas exploratory drilling all of which contribute to climate change. While the Labour Party support both these policies.

    What is your opinion.

    Should the Green Party forgo cabinet positions unless they get agreement from Labour to halt the huge open cast coal mine on the Denniston Plateau, and stop Deep Sea Oil drilling?

    Do you think the Greens could win such concessions from a Cunliffe led Labour Party?

    If the Green MPs entered a cabinet dominated by Labour, and bound by cabinet collective responsibility, had to support these two policies on which their party is diametrically opposed. Do you think that they would be at risk of destroying their party?

    In a roughly analogous situation, this conflict between cabinet responsibility and overruling the majority party members’ wishes, ended up destroying your party.

    In the light of this experience,..

    What in your opinion, do you think the Greens should do?

    The choice is clear; Business As Usual, (with all the misery that entails), or making a stand.

    Matt, if a Labour-Green government did agree to make a united stand against new coal mines and deep sea oil drilling, would this in your opinion regain the respect of the world and be making an important contribution to a better world?

    • *THUD* (feet hit ground,but head had been enjoying itself for about 30 minutes, up there, in the clouds, )

  6. The harsh realities well stated in this article should cause all New Zealanders (I am native born but a US citizen) to carefully analyze the parameters of the Labour Party – I am not competent to do that, being as stated above.

    I would strongly urge this good blog site to get a handle on the ‘two party’ system being orchestrated by the oligarchy which runs the United States. An excellent basis for this is the following:

    Be very sure this is not still being imitated in your own lovely land. Wolves in sheep’s clothing are not any longer to be tolerated. ( I say this because I was disappointed in TDB’s coverage of the so-called debt crisis in the US.)

Comments are closed.