Principled, Pragmatic and Expedient? You Betcha! A Reply to Paul Buchanan.


MUCH IS BEING MADE of the fact that New Zealand firms are exporting military equipment to unsavoury regimes. Geopolitical consultant, Paul Buchanan, reflected the views of many critical of New Zealand’s involvement in the international arms trade when he declared on his Kiwipolitico blog: “If NZ is to regain a semblance of integrity in diplomatic circles, its foreign policy decision-making matrix must change away from trade obsessed expediency and towards the principled but pragmatic orientation that grants it the independence that it claims to have.”

“Regain a semblance of integrity”? Seriously? Does the rest of the world truly monitor New Zealand’s miniscule contribution to the international arms trade so closely? Are foreign chancelleries truly so insensitive to their own governments’ complicity in the world’s horrors that they expect all other sovereign states to be unblemished moral exemplars?

Certainly, New Zealand’s arms exports are not going to be condemned by their principal recipients (which, if Buchanan is to be believed includes the NATO countries and many of our most important regional allies). Nor should we tolerate the slightest reproof from the five members of the UN Security Council (USA, China, Russia, United Kingdom, France) who also just happen to be the world’s five largest arms exporters. Unlikely, too, that this country will suffer criticism from the really “bad buggers” on our list of arms importers, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They, at least, have no expectations of ever being regarded as unblemished moral exemplars. Murderous autocracy is its own reward.

So, if the foreign offices and state departments of the world are not going to waste a moment tut-tutting little New Zealand for daring to export military equipment to their friends, allies and leading petrochemical suppliers, then who is?

A couple of idealistic RNZ journalists, seemingly.  Tipped-off, perhaps, by that outspoken anti-imperialist Valerie Morse, who has never seen a gun she didn’t abhor – unless it was in the hands of her wannabe freedom-fighter friends “exercising” in the Urewera bush.

Then there’s the Greens’ Golriz Ghahraman, who has been tut-tutting fit to beat the band. But, then, Ghahraman, if properly cross-examined, would probably admit to not wanting New Zealand to have an arms industry at all – or, for that matter, an army. In the eyes of the Greens, guns (and mortar sights) are inextricably bound up with imperialism, colonialism, white supremacy and all those other things deemed injurious to children, animals and other living things. Away with them!

One can only feel a pang of sympathy for the boffins in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). On the receiving-end of a flurry of Official Information Act requests, they had little option but to reveal the extent to which New Zealand’s high-tech industries have been making the most of the world’s insatiable appetite for the weapons of war.

Promoting trade is, after all, MFAT’s job, and, to give them their due, they’re bloody good at it. Like the rest of the world’s diplomats and bureaucrats, ours tend to work on the principle that what is not expressly prohibited is tacitly permitted. Should someone have been looking over someone’s shoulder when the application for a permit to export military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the UAE came across their desk. Probably. Politicians hate surprises, so a good public servant anticipates trouble before it becomes a headline. Even so, no laws were broken.

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Buchanan has posed the question: “Principled, pragmatic or expedient”. Once again, the proposition is a curious one. Is he arguing that it is possible to be both principled and pragmatic but not expedient? His positioning of the word “or” would suggest so. But to treat all expedient decisions as in some way morally objectionable is to render practical diplomacy impossible.

The conduct of sovereign states is almost always dictated by what their rulers deem expedient. Indeed, it is easier to mount a moral case for the most principled diplomacy being that which delivers the most expedient outcomes for all the states involved in an international dispute. Pragmatism, in this context, may be seen as the ability to obtain the maximum of one’s country’s objectives with the minimum of moral and material compromises.

Buchanan would also have New Zealand draw a clear distinction between the moral status of its Five Eyes partners – most especially his homeland, the United States – and other international actors. Included on his list of countries with whom it is unacceptable to seek expedient outcomes one finds not only Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Indonesia, but also the People’s Republic of China. The latter is castigated by Buchanan for systemically abusing human rights at home, denying individual and collective rights as a matter of course and treating minorities as if they were foreign enemies.

As someone who has worked closely with not only America’s soldiers, but also America’s diplomats, Buchanan must be aware of the speciousness of this line of argument. The great distinction between Chinese and American imperialism is that China, for its whole history, has been a contiguous land empire. Unlike the United States, which, upon subduing (and in many cases exterminating) all those who hindered its expansion across the North American continent, proceeded to extend its imperial reach across the entire planet, China has been content to remain within its historical borders. Ethnic and religious threats to China’s rulers have always been dealt with internally. Threats to America’s global hegemony, by contrast, almost always originate offshore. From Korea to Vietnam, Afghanistan to Iraq, the USA – no less than China – has abused human rights with wanton and murderous abandon.

Buchanan’s laborious description of the United States process of determining whether or not arms should be supplied to a particular regime would be funny if it was not for the sobering fact that this former participant in “the decision-making chain” for “US military sales and training, etc. to Latin American countries” clearly believes every word he is writing. As if the sickening history of Uncle Sam’s murder and mayhem in Latin America was perpetrated by some other power. “The process was slow and circuitous but in the end it was comprehensive and transparent.” Tell that to the victims of the Contras, Paul! Tell it to the Mayans!

Perhaps it is Buchanan’s own experiences in Latin America that cause him to treat expediency as a dirty word. Certainly, what New Zealand finds it expedient to do differs greatly from what the United States considers expedient. Buchanan knows full well that New Zealand’s size and relative powerlessness severely restricts the harm it can do. Ultimately, the well-being of New Zealanders depends upon their country’s trading relationships with the rest of the world. Maximising that trade is, accordingly, the principled, the pragmatic and the expedient thing to do.

Buchanan is the son of a brutal imperial power. New Zealand used to be the colony of one and must now do all within its power to avoid becoming the colony of another. It ill-behoves a former citizen of the United States (and a newly-minted citizen of New Zealand) to lecture his adopted country on the morality, or otherwise, of its foreign policy. The Kiwi, unlike the Bald Eagle, is not a bird of prey.


    • Agree. I think he’s trying to play Devil’s Advocate and so stimulate discussion.

      But, sorry Chris, it just makes you sound old and tired, imo.

      • New Zealand is not a superpower. We can’t change the world. I think it is a question of being controlled by much more powerful forces, China or America. What is an independent foreign policy if we don’t have big ships and planes of our own to stop them from coming down to the south pacific and having a play with pacific islanders like they do in North Korea or we could turn into a banana Republic.

      • You DID have a bad day.
        Pots and kettles.
        If it helps Chris, I often find (since I’m so fucking gorgeous), that when I have a bad day and start passing judgement on others, I get out my newly minted Gold Card and luxuriate on a fairy trip across the harbour. Perhaps a little outing on Fullers might inspire some more poettry where you are

        Sorry Chris, but IMHO and on this occasion, you were and are wrong. Of course that’s not negating many of your other contributions. And if I can stand the advertising on MajikTork on Sunday, I might even deign to listen.

        Fuk me! No wonder “the Left” are losing it

    • Not for the first time, Chris Trotter seems determined to expose himself, and the regime he serves, as politically amoral. At least there is no whiff of hypocrisy there. For that we can be grateful, and give him credit.
      But is this just a of left-wing infighting between the pro-American Buchanan and the Anglophile Trotter? Or does it reflect simmering tensions between within the regime between the free-traders of MFAT (where Trotter’s sympathies seem to lie) and the security forces (with whom Buchanan has close associations)?
      Buchanan does not take criticism of this kind gladly and he is almost certain to respond. The ensuing polemics may give us some indication of just how deep is the rift within the regime.

      • The left is contested ground. We are good at criticising but really useless at the boring mundan administration of getting the resources to where they are badly needed. That is precisely why I am uncivil to people charged with allocating resources but through obfuscation don’t. There’s no point in being nice to peoples who’s job is to aid and support our most vulnerable.

        Checks on power and opposing forces with in the crown to discover the most objective truth possible. With no critics there is no descent and we become a people unbeholdened to anything. It’s the separation of state power, the mistrust and critiscms that puts a break on anyone of us over taking the power of another and motives each of us in learning.

        Far from backing down I fully expect Buchanan to come out and clarify his position or at least give him a chance to finish his thoughts. He does have a right to reply.

    • Kia ora ano John
      We have all done Chris a disservice. Let’s look at the issue in context. The colonial political establishment is divided in the face of a looming crisis. On the one hand we have the free marketeers of MFAT who wish to find and maintain a modus vivendi with China and on the other the Five Eyes loyalists in the military and intelligence community – of which Paul Buchanan is a member.
      In all probability the current story about New Zealand military exports to unsavory regimes was leaked to the media by those in the Five Eyes camp, despite the fact that most, if not all, of these regimes are in league with the Five Eyes. To the Five Eyes loyalists, any stick with which to beat MFAT is good enough.
      Now Chris is one who believes that in politics the only choice we have is between the greater and lesser evil. In one sense he is right, in another he is wrong, but we don’t need to traverse that question here. He considers those elements of the New Zealand state which are blindly loyal to the concept and ideology of the Five Eyes to be a greater danger to the well being of the nation than the free marketeers of MFAT, the dairy industry and so on, and on that I would not disagree with him.
      I believe that the same reasoning underlies Trotter’s vehement opposition to the creation of a Treaty of Waitangi respecting “partnership state”. Chris, you and I all know the names of those senior Maori in the service of the Crown who work hand-in-glove with the security and intelligence apparatus. We also know (or should know) that the concept of treaty partnership provides an opening to the destruction of democratic institutions, which the New Zealand security forces and their Five Eyes partners will be quick to seize upon.
      That also explains why Chris does not follow the rest of the left in urging greater powers of surveillance to be used against right-wing extremists. He sees, quite rightly, that such powers will ultimately be used by the Crown against our own people.
      So while I come from a very different position to Chris, I have to allow that his arguments, and his warnings, and not without merit.
      Nga mihi
      Geoff Fischer

  1. I can only assume you had a bad day yesterday @Chris.
    Are only old tarnished citizens allowed to undertake any sort of research and analysis of New Zealand’s foreign affairs and trade arrangements?

  2. The punchlines in the last two paras appear to distill down to-Trade is Good-and-Zip it sweetie-!

    MFAT and it’s predecessor Ministries is/were loaded with career diplomats, ex military and security people whose support for the Anglosphere and US Imperialism is often barely disguised. Deep state types who are quite capable of surfacing decades later like Gerald Hensley, to defend one section or another of the elite as required.

    Mr Buchanan may technically be a recent citizen, but that hardly disqualifies his comments-he has been in this country a long time-and has a demonstrated better understanding of how our foreign policy operates than many pundits.

    • Goodness me, Tiger! You’ve just discovered that our diplomatic service is peopled by “career diplomats, ex military and security people whose support for the Anglosphere and US Imperialism”, this must have come as quite a shock.

      Here’s another: Paul Buchanan is, himself, a former employee/contractor of the US State Department and the US Department of Defence.

      Seems as though the worlds of diplomacy and national security are peopled by something less than unblemished moral exemplars – both here in NZ and everywhere else.

      Countries either learn to operate – expediently – in this flawed universe, or they suffer the consequences.

      Individuals either learn to do the same, or, they end up shouting pious slogans from the sidelines – to no effect.

      • Individuals either learn to do the same, or, they end up shouting pious slogans from the sidelines – to no effect.

        Kind of like MLK, I guess.

        And all those stupid suffragettes.

        And those calling for the end of the war in Vietnam.

        And testing on Mururoa.

        Oh, and people such as Minto, of course…

        Someone forgot to tell them, I guess.

        • We sent a Frigate to Mrururoa, the international community listened. O couldn’t have gone to the no nukes protest with out it. All our 2 frigates have been in refit for the almost 2 years! No one is listening! To quote Cersei, “power is power.”

          • Kirk’s moral and practical stand hit headlines around the world.
            Atrocities do not have to be accepted nor supported.

  3. World Beyond War, Divestment from Weapons

    “Divestment is organizing to remove public and private assets from weapons manufacturers, military contractors, and war profiteers. Grassroots-led war divestment campaigns are springing up all over the world, from students organizing to divest university endowments from weapons manufacturers and war profiteers, to municipalities and states coming together to divest public pension funds from the war machine.”

    “Every dollar currently invested in weapons and war is a dollar that could be better spent on job creation, education, housing, healthcare, food security, and so much more.”

  4. It all looks pretty accurate to me, except these sentences:

    ‘Ultimately, the well-being of New Zealanders depends upon their country’s trading relationships with the rest of the world. Maximising that trade is, accordingly, the principled, the pragmatic and the expedient thing to do.’

    International trade is a major component of the system that is rendering the Earth uninhabitable for humans and most other life forms. It is therefore totally UNPRICIPLED to promote ANY international trade, and the children of the world are going to pay the enormous price that has to be paid for all the trade-based insanity that has prevailed over recent decades and is still being promoted.

    420 ppm atmospheric CO2 this year. 422 or 423 ppm atmospheric CO2 in 2022…..

    The lowest Arctic sea ice cover ever is anticipated this year, followed by complete disappearance of Arctic sea ice some time between 2022 and 2026.

    The trade-obsessed bureaucrats and politicians would love that, were it not for the fact that the entire global financial system is on its last legs, along with the energy system, and won’t last much beyond 2022.

    • Nah, it is a weasel column of the first order. It’s only a little bit of military grade hi tech being exported you see…and it was only a little bit of not fully informing Govt. that exports included some on the “no no” list…

      • It’s hard to know whether to describe them as weasels or pigs with their snouts in the trough.

        Both are insults to animal life, since neither weasels nor pigs would render the Earth uninhabitable for their progeny to prop up and dysfunctional financial system.

        Tony B Liar was known as The Weasel. Then he was known as George’s poodle. It didn’t matter to him what people called him because he got what he wanted….lots of fiat currency, lots of property and a life of luxury….all for lying egregiously. There’s a ‘deal’ for you: lie through your teeth and get what you want.

        It probably doesn’t worry Tony B Liar that he is now regarded as a criminal of the highest order, any more than it worries our very own Shonkey.

      • This has got a lot to do with the leadership Style of a Prime Minister. I don’t believe a Prime Minister in charge should just allow its ministers and baruacracy to do what ever.

        The whole point about the corona recovery package is to kick start everything, quick spending, by September this year the economy gas to be growing at 4%. Someone’s got yo pay the debts now, not in the future.

  5. Am I happy for New Zealand firms to sell mortar fire control systems and the like to bad actors? Fuck no. Do I want it to continue? Fuck no. Why aren’t Judith and Seymour jumping all over this? Is it because they are also complicate? More than likely. Surely Chris could use his argument for any situation…climate change? ‘Just a little co2 that makes hardly any difference’, Live stock shipments? ‘just a small amount of distress amid a whole world of sorrow’, Road Toll? “just a small amount of death but necessary for speedy transfer of goods in a timely manner’. Is the old maxim correct? the older you get the more you drift to the right?

    • I believe it’s more accurate to observe, Six Foot Four, that the older you get the clearer it becomes that there are no clear choices.

      Clarity is an attribute of youth. That effectiveness is not should drive home the lesson that the counsels of perfection is all too often associated with the most imperfect outcomes.

      Grey is not an heroic colour, but it kills a lot fewer people than black and white – or, for that matter, red.

      • the older you get the clearer it becomes that there are no clear choices.

        Sure. …Just ask anyone out there with age-related dementia 🙂


        I strongly disagree with the statement by Chris, however.
        Things that can contribute to lack of clarity around ‘choice’ include vested interests, – not necessarily financial. Other things also contribute to that lack of clarity. Age a factor? Some people become clearer and more decisive with age.

  6. I have to question whether there is anyone left in this country that understand that making points in the process of putting an argument forward doesn’t necessarily mean that there is an emotive motivation behind it.. I got trapped here during lockdown, and have had the “pleasure” of watching, and reading what amounts to gangs of self absorbed adolescents squabbling over trivialities.. This is obviously what passes for “political discourse” in NZ… It seems that “nuance” has dropped out of the lexicon of words that have a use in the NZ edition of websters… If the only way to counter this blog is to belittle the writer by projecting emotional ownership of their own “feelings” then this was just another waste of the bloggers time… I generally have held Mr Minto in high regard, and still do, so I will assume he is having a very bad time at present, as I would rather not indulge in what could be easily misunderstood by the woke children that seem to infest every aspect of the debate here… Is there not one single person out there in “unwashed land” that understands the the utter hypocrisy of Buchanan’s outbursts? This bloke was, quite recently, working against NZ’s interests on behalf of cousin Johnnies owners/handlers in the US of A, and doing it willingly… So, once more, we have a tory crawler instantly shifting his “opinion” 180deg now that he’s a “kiwi”… Give me a break! his mewling is nothing but party political self interest, and an attempt to shift the “blame” for this behavior on to the current government, when this was perfectly acceptable behavior when cousin johnny was working for the same paymasters that Buchanan was… This is not a blind defense of the current admin, but what ever happened to “constructive thought”? Is NZ’s education system gotten so wishy washy that we are producing nothing but drones now? Having been involved in political/environmental activism around the world over the last couple of decades, I come back here to be with my failing mother to find a country that has lost it’s head, and has become reactionary, conceited, and self absorbed to the point of becoming an evolutionary cul-de-sac… What is so disappointing is that not one person on here has acknowledged that the reason for this blog is the utterly hypocritical, and politically motivated nature of the ex Ambassadors statements, and the fact that these self serving utterances have received as much publicity as they have from what amounts to a tory gossip sheet rather than a real fourth estate… Jeez, it ain’t rocket science boys and girls…

    • Yes Buchanan is a hypocrite… Trotter based on his blog is an apologist for MFAT but that’s ok because it is only a little crime… then his reply about having to compromise or be irrelevant is pathetic…does he think he has influence? None of us do so we may as well say what we think. And to Sam, NZ can’t change the world by force but if our leaders adopted a moral stance and based all decisions that way, we might be a catalyst for change in the world. And in so doing we might create a fairer society in our own country. And have a country to be proud of. Jacinda said she wanted to be transformational and that is impossible if she complies with the rules of 5eyes and other global powers.

      • Maybe it’s time for another “nuclear free zone” – type event.
        This time, for placing limits on our international arms dealings.
        If we don’t place some sort of limits, across the board, it will only get worse.

  7. Thank you Chris. Glad to see someone whose opinions I respect has a realistic view of arch-bloviator Buchanan. I cannot comment on this current issue since I have placed him on “ignore” since his lame response to his sacking – the selfie in the Herald outside WINZ was pathetic.
    It has always seemed to me that Buchanan’s main object has been to expand opportunities for his cohort – the keyboard and sound-bite spooks, even if this means promoting the surveillance state. Most of his stuff does not age well. Try this piece from “Countervailing the Domestic threat” circa 2006:

    “Sometimes it is necessary to curtail domestic freedoms in order to thwart those who would take liberties with liberty.
    One of the perceived weaknesses of Western democracies is their relatively weak border controls and their equally weak powers of internal surveillance and administration. The issue is simply one of realizing that this is a war on multiple fronts, including the internal, domestic front which constitutes the western rear guard and which is its softest point precisely because of the emphasis on individual rights.

    Confronting the internal threat requires more of a militarized, covert approach, which will undoubtedly impact on civil liberties for both the few and the many. Yet with proper legal demarcation and the use of temporary exceptional rules of internal control, the infringements on the rights and movement of the general population can be minimized. The key to success is to specify targets with absolute certainty, act decisively and without equivocation, and only in the instance of absolute mistake, apologize and compensate.
    Read differently: if you are hanging out with the wrong crowd and a Delta Force squad ruins your day, your survivors need to remember that you were only as good as the company you kept.

    The inevitable lawsuits over mistakes can be dealt with by legal limits on liability for actions undertaken in combating the terrorist threat and a whole lot of “sorry.”
    Unfortunately, this is not what the US government has been doing.

    The US will have to accept the fact that it must make these changes if it is to prevent repeat attacks on the US mainland. It also must admit the possibility that it will have to respond in similar kind to atrocities, perhaps with some measure of decorum in order to maintain some type of ethical supremacy in the eyes of its own people and world opinion.”

    State Sponsored, limited liability murder, atrocity and “a whole lot of sorry”. Lovely stuff.

  8. But let’s not forget about those bloody sneaky maori’s too, ay?

    Nanaia trying to sneak through a 2040 Rangatiratanga Manamotuhake Republic plan to the ministers in 2019…no wonder they’ve all been quiet lately. Bloody sneaky maoris. 🙂

  9. Aotearoa NZ is at a critical time in our history. We are defining who we are as a nation, what we stand for, what are our limits. This means that when a significant question arises as to whether or not we continue down a particular path, we need to consider it with great seriousness.

    Are we going to continue as as a participant in the supply of weapons of war, of contributors to ongoing wars?

    Or, do we say, “No. That is not who we want to be in the future”.

    • I am a “No” on Aotearoa NZ enabling war.

      Nuke Free NZ was powerful symbolism and had a real world effect too. It was literally won street by street with posters in windows, and Council District by Council District. And by school kids meetings, and marches, vigils and rallies and political struggle of various kinds. Nuke Free status still obviously gets under the skin of the elite of that time when you hear them talk.

      Things that in the 80s may have remained mere thoughts, or an ignored comment in a room, are now everywhere thanks to instant online access, reach and self publishing capacity. Social media encourages too many people to believe that they are actually “someone” whose view matters. But really we are only “someone” when we combine with others and achieve progress for the many not the few.

  10. Life goes on. We’ll send food to nourish China where atrocities happen. And next year we’ll send our bright-eyed bushy-tailed athletes to the Winter Olympics which emphasise man’s humanity to man.

    • Peter I am interested in what those atrocities might be and any credible sources giving evidence of them.

      • I personally know nothing about this controversy but this caught my eye:
        “US media hailed a Newlines Institute report accusing China of Uyghur genocide as a “landmark” independent analysis. A look beneath the surface reveals it as a regime change propaganda tool by interventionist operatives at a sham university.
        By Ajit Singh
        Published on the Grayzone, Mar 17, 2021”
        An excerpt:
        “A majority of the report’s “expert” signatories are members of the Newlines Institute and the Wallenberg Centre. Others are members of the hawkish Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, former US State Department officials, and ardent supporters of US military interventionism. The report relies most substantially on the “expertise” of Adrian Zenz, the far-right evangelical ideologue, whose “scholarship” on China has been demonstrated to be deeply flawed, riddled with falsehoods and dishonest statistical manipulation.
        The reliance on the voluminous but demonstrably fraudulent work of Zenz is not surprising, given that the report was financed by the Newlines Institute’s parent organization, the Fairfax University of America (FXUA). FXUA is a disgraced institution that state regulators moved to shut down in 2019 after finding that its “teachers weren’t qualified to teach their assigned courses”, academic quality was “patently deficient,” and plagiarism was “rampant” and ignored.”

  11. Chris. I thought the article was a good read. If all countries acted on the holier than thou comments here, there would be no trade. Who said living in this world was pretty. Every country has its human rights issues including us. Maybe Buchanan is meaning that it’s harder for us to wave an angry finger at another country if our own slate is dirty. He’s probably right so let’s think twice before waving the finger. We are a tiny turd on the bum of the world but as they say we punch above our weight. Our weight is still tiny and we aren’t that important. Yes we have to support our allies on occasion. But we need trade more so now than ever. We shouldn’t be producing components that can be directly used in military applications but if those components have good applications as well, the good /bad lines become blurred. I don’t see much wrong with Chris’s point of view.

  12. Was trotter smoking something when he wrote this?
    OBTW what was the Buchanan position that he was removed from? Why?
    Nudge ,nudge, wink, wink, do not good commentary make.

  13. Trotter needs to explain his reasons to justify his comments about Buchanan.
    It was an outright (out left?) attack with no supporting evidence. Trotter clearly has access to secret evidence.
    It would be honest to show the evidence.
    Why has Trotter chosen to attack Buchanan? What has Buchanan done to deserve attacking?

    Is Trotter a Chinese agent?

      • It’s always the case that monkey brains in the comment expand on the differences. Y’know I’m guilty of that to. I just reject being a messenger that’s all, I’d much prefer being a lion. And if it makes sense then bonus.

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