Positive foreign policy in the Middle East



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.

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Specifically, there are three immediate areas where I can see New Zealand having a more positive impact in this conflict. They are:

  1. Using our “independent” voice on the Security Council
  2. Targeted nation building
  3. 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.


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Michael Timmins is an expert in international human rights law. Specialising in refugee rights, Michael has worked in Egypt, the United States, Australia, Thailand, Pakistan and his home country of New Zealand across roles in advocacy, academia, and government. He is also a member of the Child Poverty Action Group's Management Committee. Michael’s writing covers international human rights, counter-terrorism, international environmental law, rule of law and accountability issues, as well as anything interesting happening in international relations.


  1. All of the above , actually …..but then again…..when you have a compulsive liar like John XKEYscore as your PM with ulterior motives and globalist agenda’s…

    You just aint gonna see it.

    The best thing we can do now is vote the bastard out ….and to do that ?

    The MSM needs to stop being such a bunch of wanker sell – outs and start acting like the media – not as Liar John XKEYscores little flunky’s.

  2. Totally agree with

    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.

    However I think NZ should take a stand and say NO we will not send our troops into Iraq unless sanctioned by UN.

    We can’t afford to feed NZ kids in NZ. But we can afford to help blow up other’s kids in the middle east, supporting someone else’s occupation. I don’t think that is right.

    Likewise the comment mostly young men are joining IS, if you carry it further then you can see that like with Israel/Palestine conflict, more violence and occupation will mean more civilians dead and more Mother’s taking up arms. That is something we do not want.

    Sort if out now as peacefully as possible in Iraq and then leave before the whole population becomes radicalised by all the Western bombing and every man and woman becomes a suicide bomber.

    It’s been 12 years already since ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ (What a joke while being ironic in the Enduring!).

    NOW is the time to change the strategy.

  3. Michael, you would not seriously expect John Key and his government to have any “vision”, any constructive or positive, even independent ideas, would you?

    It is all about the 5 Eyes, the 5 Eyes Monster, led by the Pentagon and White House, and the other powerful lot in Westminster and London.

    Licking boots and pleasing the master is the game, none else.

    Whosoever would get the Saudis and Iran at the table to work out a peaceful, constructive solution, may get somewhere, but even Obama cannot achieve that, let along manage all the other players, some of them very rogue ones, active now in the Middle East.

    The disaster will need to get worse before it gets better. I wish I had reason to be hopeful, but I see little hope.

    But thanks for your insightful, balanced, well written post.

  4. Excellent post!

    A well-thought-out response to a difficult situation, unlike the knee-jerk reaction we got lumbered with by our elected ‘government’.

    However, expecting anything even remotely creative from this ‘USA-boot-licking government’ is a bit like expecting Godzilla to hatch out of a sparrow’s egg.

    Love the flag graphic! It’d be a great solution to to the upcoming referenda and their utterly absurd cost blow-out if everyone in the country simply voted for it. Then ditched it at the next change of government. The millions thus saved could possibly be spent on something worthwhile.

  5. Micheal’s assessment of the Middle Eastern situation, including his suggestions for NZ’s response is a good one.
    Increased humanitarian aid should be a high priority as should an increase in our refugee acceptance numbers. Involvement on the ground in terms of protecting innocent citizenry should be via U.N.
    End -solutions will be achieved through a (preferably hastened) evolution and universal enforcement of human rights,which in turn is achieved through the necessary further evolution of the U.N..

  6. Michael,

    Well said. I began #WagePeaceNZ a couple of weeks ago to showcase what I believe is the saner, more humane alternative to NZ troop deployment; double our refugee support and quota instead. It is measurable. It is positive and constructive. Most importantly, it very specifically transforms the lives of those caught in war’s disastrous spiral. I also firmly believe that it is an answer that better suits most Kiwis’ sense and sensibility.

    For those interested in the issue, may I ask a favour? Kindly go to the Facebook page #WagePeaceNZ, ‘like’ it and share it to friends. I’ll do my best to keep you posted on asylum and refugee issues in our region.

    Thanks for your support and help in spreading what I think is a better idea for us all,

    Tracey Barnett

  7. The opening paragraph was absolutely correct in that there is minimal utility in our deployment of troops to the middle east. Also the harm done by the neoconservative aggression is undeniable.
    However much of the article is poor analysis in that it fails to recognise that the root cause of the regions instability lies with the local cultures inability to cope with modernity. Additionally the increasing of refugee intake from cultures who do not accept the underlying principles of the UDHR, regard as immutable proscriptions on individual / social belief and behaviour that was set down by an expansionist, prescience, pre-technological society is a danger to our society.

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