John Armstrong 's Opinion

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Whale tale not all over yet

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Photo / File
Photo / File

To the casual observer, Monday's ruling by the International Court of Justice would suggest that whaling in subantarctic waters is finally all over bar the shouting. Except it is not quite all over. And there is not going to be any shouting - at least not on Murray McCully's part.

The Foreign Minister will not be indulging in megaphone diplomacy by demanding assurances from Tokyo that it formally accept Monday's decision that Japan's current programme of so-called "scientific" whaling is illegal and must cease - and, crucially, that Tokyo does not seek to circumvent that ruling.

While the detailed nature of the court's judgment will go some way to dissuading Japan from embarking on a new whale "research" programme, the findings are seen as leaving enough room for it to drop the programme stopped by the court and come up with a replacement.

The greater the pressure applied to Japan to comply with the court's decision, the more likely that Japan will thumb its nose. The challenge is for New Zealand and Australia to be humble in victory.

Take note, Sea Shepherd.

Quiet diplomacy is now needed to nudge Japan into accepting that stopping the slaughter is the only thing to do; that dispatching vessels to the southern ocean is expensive and largely pointless given its warehouses are already full of whale meat.

McCully is clearly hoping the international court's ruling has tipped the balance and will bring the practice to an end, removing the one thorn in Japan's otherwise excellent relationships with New Zealand and Australia.

But it is a decision that - for the sake of national pride - Japan must be seen to be making itself.

Much hangs on whether the Japanese Government sides with its future-focused Foreign Ministry or its inwards-looking pro-whaling fisheries agency.

The big plus is that Japan's initial response was pretty unambiguous. By saying it will abide by the decision because it is a responsible member of the global community and it believes in the rule of law, it has left itself little or no wriggle room for a change of mind .

It's tempting for New Zealand and Australia to celebrate what looks like victory in a near 30-year struggle. Even McCully was using extravagant language on first hearing the court's decision.

But within hours he was singing a more restrained refrain, saying Japan should be given the "space" to absorb the judgment - no doubt as shocking for it as pleasantly surprising for us.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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