Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: The dangers of cosying up to the US

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The latest twist in the Kim Dotcom saga will illustrate for some the dangers of New Zealand cosying up too closely to the Americans. Photo / NZ Herald
The latest twist in the Kim Dotcom saga will illustrate for some the dangers of New Zealand cosying up too closely to the Americans. Photo / NZ Herald

Does the closer relationship with the US Government mean that New Zealand is forever going to be bending over backwards to please its new friend - even illegally spying on its own residents?

The latest twist in the Kim Dotcom saga will illustrate for some the dangers of New Zealand cosying up too closely to the Americans. The illegal spying by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) is the sort of revelation that suggests New Zealand has taken too zealously its audition to become the Americans' deputy sheriff in the Pacific. Tracy Watkins sums up today what's been going on with the Megaupload case: 'The overriding impression is of New Zealand authorities being steamrolled by US officials into a cowboy operation which overrode all normal checks and balances'.

Furthermore, she writes that the Megaupload saga resembles Keystone Cops, and that 'Bungling by New Zealand authorities in the Megaupload case has now reached such epic proportions that the inquiry announced by Mr Key yesterday should be only the start.

From day one, when officers carrying guns stormed the Dotcom mansion in a very un-Kiwi way, to a succession of legal blunders, there are now serious questions to answer over who has been calling the shots'.

Opposition parties are also pointing to New Zealand's alleged subservience to the US as an explanation for the gung-ho attitude of authorities towards Dotcom. The Greens and NZ First are both making strong claims that the spy agency broke laws 'because they were so keen to please the United States government' - see RNZ's Spy agency officials pandering to US, says opposition. Law professor Bill Hodge also discusses the possibility that the GCSB was 'being nice to the Americans', and says 'If it was the Americans who put through a request directly to the GCSB, then I think I'd be very concerned. I don't wish to leap to that conclusion' - see Adam Bennett's Dotcom still faces US case: expert.

So could the Kim Dotcom extradition case now collapse? Adam Bennett's article Dotcom still faces US case: expert downplays this possibility, while Andrea Vance's Illicit spying threatens Dotcom case, suggests it could.

There are many questions about the role of the GCSB, about Prime Minister John Key's control over it, and the timing involved. For the most interesting and important discussions on this, it's worth reading the following: Claire Trevett's Dotcom illegal spies - how their secrets were revealed, Tova O'Brien's Key under fire over unlawful spying, The Standard's Cynical Key, Graeme Edgeler's Kim Dotcom and the GCSB, and John Armstrong's PM needs to come clean on bugging. Also to get an idea of how much the Prime Minister is willing to discuss about the illegal spying, watch TV3's Montage of Key's 25 'no comment' responses.

Perhaps whoever did authorise the bugging just felt they were supporting our broader foreign policy objectives. Both the Clark and Key governments worked very hard to re-build the relationship with the US. The recent concessions from US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta are a victory for both of those governments. Crucially, they've achieved this without compromising the nuclear free policy - an important touchstone for a nation that likes to see itself as having an 'independent' foreign policy. However there has been a price to pay for New Zealand, something Panetta explicitly acknowledged says TVNZ's Tim Watkin: 'America lifting its ship ban was its quid to our Afghan pro quo. When someone next tries to claim that our engagement in Afghanistan has nothing to do with winning American favour, remember that'. Watkin also points out, as do many others, that the relationship can't be the same as it was in the 1980s: 'The trick now will be hanging onto our 'win', holding the course and not sliding back into unhealthy old relationship habits at the expense of our own independent line' - see: We got the power... So now what?.

But the change is not just about repaying favours. Q+A panel member and political scientist Raymond Miller summed up US motivations clearly: 'Great powers, like the United States, act primarily out of self-interest. They can see that the balance of power has shifted towards Asia-Pacific, they see that within that China has emerged as the major threat to American influence' - see TVNZ's US prepared to do 'whatever we can' to help NZ - Panetta.

The possibility of a US military base being established in this country might well be beyond the pale for most New Zealanders, as well as the Government taking foreign policy advice about China from the Americans - see TVNZ's US Marines possible in New Zealand - Panetta. After all, this Government, in particular, has also gone to great lengths to foster economic ties with China, even being prepared to take substantial domestic political heat in the process. So is the chance to gawk at some impressive floating military hardware, play some wargames and have a US Marine base here worth alienating one of New Zealand's biggest trading partners? Even when faced with Japanese invasion in WW2 the marines stationed here caused quite a bit domestic friction and the benefits of having them here in the 21st century will be far less obvious. They look to be outgunned as the current battle in the Pacific is mostly being fought with cold hard cash. China is not being shy about it's desire for increasing diplomatic, defence and investment ties with New Zealand writes Audrey Young in China: We want stronger military ties.

It could be an opportunity for New Zealand to play hardball. Just ten years before the Fourth Labour Government's polite 'thanks but no thanks' to nuclear ships, Vietnam was actually at war with the US. Now they are also getting overtures from Uncle Sam about ship visits. Rather than just claiming the moral victory, Gordon Campbell thinks New Zealand should emulate Vietnam's determination to drive a hard bargain - see: Leon Panetta, and gunboat access diplomacy.

Other recent important or interesting political items include:

* We've been hearing a lot about 'Planet Key', but Steve Braunias has managed to land on the surface and report back: 'Secret Diary of Planet Key'.

* What lessons does the current US presidential campaign have for New Zealand politics? Pollster Stephen Mills is currently over there following the election, and reports that 'The battle to define David Shearer will almost certainly decide the next election' - see: Defining battle critical in politics.

* All ministerial standards are equal but some are more equal than others - Sean Plunket compares the PM to Animal Farm's Napoleon, who 'has moved into the farmhouse where it would seem two legs (or a bit of lying over campaign donations) is now OK' - see: PM should ponder the Orwellian switch to the farmhouse.

* Bryan Gould thinks the most worrying aspect of the Banks/Dotcom saga should be the allegation that John Banks wanted the donations kept secret because 'because that would allow him to "help" Dotcom more effectively' - see: Banks affair should ring alarm bells.

* If, like John Key, reading the police report on John Banks is just too hard then Toby Manhire has done the dirty work for you: Sometimes it is best to leave things unread. But the damage has been done, Banks is already political history and so National will just ride this one out says Tracy Watkins in All set for a bumpy ride on Planet Key. And there is some damage according to TVNZ's latest poll which has the centre-left bloc now ahead of National for the first time since the election in 2011 - see: Labour makes gains on National - poll.

* However, lowering the standards for ministerial behaviour could have long term benefits if it allows John Key to retrospectively rehabilitate Winston Peters as a suitable coalition partner. He wouldn't ever do that though surely....would he? Duncan Garner thinks so - see: John Key refuses to rule out Winston Peters.

* Even David Farrar is horrified at the revelation that Christchurch school principals found out about the fate of their schools via coloured name badges - see: The Christchurch Schools announcement and also Beck Eleven's How to turn a city into a wounded lion. But there is an educational upside to it all says Jane Bowron: 'In the meantime, the kids are getting an education in civil rights, democracy, the power of protest, and on the way might even grow up to become the generation who make exercising their franchise sexy again' - see: Residents set on protest mode.

* Poor kids or bad parents? The debate over child poverty continues with both Michael Laws (Parents real source of 'child poverty') and Rodney Hide (Poverty claims show welfare system failure) using anecdotal evidence and 'common sense' to refute claims that kids are going hungry because their parents don't have enough income to feed them. But evidence to the contrary keeps coming - see TVNZ's Thousands of Kiwi children living in poverty. Meanwhile, Chris Trotter says, Blame game won't prevent poverty.

* The political impact of the hundreds of job losses yesterday is compounded by the massive impact they will have on small communities and the fact that state owned agencies are responsible - see Spring Creek: Hundreds of jobs to go and KiwiRail reveals job loss plans. Even if Kiwirail and Coalcorp claw their way back into profitability, the state will still be picking up the tab in unemployment benefits and lost income tax. But the government can't do much about the either the price of coal or, as both Matthew Hooton and retiring Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard argue, the high exchange rate - David Parker's currency fantasy and Brian Fallow's Alan Bollard: Steady steering through a crisis.

* If the jobs are not there then beneficiary numbers won't decrease says Gareth Morgan and so 'National is conducting a witch hunt and it is not just disappointing in terms of the intellectual vacuum that underlies its social policy, it's a despicable display of victimising the less fortunate. Benefit tightening won't reduce unemployment.

* David Farrar has republished an interesting press release from 2007, when the then Labour Government criticised a National Party policy for feeding schoolchildren: Who started food in schools?. Possibly it reflects poorly on both major parties, which seem to have just swapped rhetoric along with the treasury benches.

* Before iwi can agree to a national framework for the water claim they will have to sort out their own individual positions. Yvonne Tahana reports that even Tainui don't seem to be clear about their position on negotiations - see: Iwi tries to fix split on water.

* At first it was reported that New Zealand and another country voted against an further protection measures for our Maui and Hectors' dolphins. Nope - New Zealand got two votes, so it was just New Zealand against 576 other governments and NGOs - see Paloma Migone's Dolphin vote 'tarnishes NZ's reputation'.

* Finally, Deborah Hill Cone wonders why 'good' capitalists don't come forward and defend themselves and why 'most people who call themselves capitalists are dicks' - see: Capitalism lacking in sex appeal.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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