If there’s an overwhelming theme to global politics in recent years, it’s of governments struggling to keep up with foreseeable potential changes and events.
The world should have been far better prepared for a global pandemic than it was. It’s an open question as to how much better prepared we are now for the next one.
Moscow’s military adventures into eastern Ukraine before February 2022 could have spurred serious scenario planning in Europe on what any further Russian expansion might mean for energy and food supplies.
Instead, after Russia’s invasion, fuel prices went up and there was a scramble to find alternative energy sources. There were sudden changes to both short and longer-term energy policies.
This week, startling images of forest fires and people being evacuated in Europe ran alongside reports of heat records being broken in various parts of the Northern Hemisphere and new climate research.
A lot of media coverage still seems focused on clearly proving climate change and what the powers that be should be doing about it - as though this is about the future rather than the present. We are dealing with it now and the disaster appears to be sprinting well ahead of human actions to limit it.
Here in this corner of the world, we are having to think about how we position ourselves on such issues and also regional security and trade.
The transtasman neighbours made progress on a plan for easier travel with a simplified border.
There would be a joint Australia-New Zealand expert group looking into ways to “move closer towards seamless travel across the Tasman”, according to Prime Minister Chris Hipkins. The group would have a deadline of 12 months.
Hipkins added: “This process will bring the experts together to talk about whether there are ways in which we reduce barriers at the border, while not compromising our security”.
Albanese talked of making better use of existing “SmartGate” technology, meaning that “before you get on a plane in either country, it’s already recognised that you are ‘okay’ to come in”.
This seems a commonsense goal to help businesses and tourism. And this one area of extra co-operation should be just a step to what could be done between the two countries.
But considering how quickly global problems can and do affect both nations, NZ and Australia probably need to move towards closer relations at a faster clip.
We need a permanent transtasman bubble for more than just seamless travel and further entwined businesses.
There’s strength in combining greater numbers, having common processes of doing things, being able to pass on what works, and helping out. EU countries have their national identities and sovereignty while working with each other.
Crises are now normal. A warming climate will increase migration away from areas harder to live in. It will cause food shortages, supply disruptions, and more conflicts over territory and resources.
The two countries need to see what’s coming and not let rivalry get in the way of being useful to each other.
The obvious question mark is the Aukus security pact between three of NZ’s intelligence partners, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the US. Within the Aukus pact is a nuclear-powered submarine agreement.
If ways could be found for NZ to have some non-nuclear, increased defence input without being at the top table, that would be good for longer-term security. Both Albanese and Blinken seemed to suggest NZ could have a wider role.
Albanese noted the possibility of “co-operation across a range of areas as well including access to technology, including complementarity including interoperability”. Blinken said: “The door is very much open for NZ and other partners to engage as they see appropriate.”
Blinken and other senior US officials recently visited China in what appears to be a positive attempt to lower the temperature between Washington and Beijing.
Asked about NZ’s relationship with China, Blinken referred to the usefulness of regular contact. “It’s vital given the intense competition we’re in, we have different visions and views, it’s vitally important that we communicate. That we make sure the competition doesn’t veer into conflict.”
NZ being outside the top level of Aukus but with regular co-operation with it and Nato, seems the best way of ensuring our security and showing our Western values while retaining good trade ties with China.
NZ and Australia being proactive on closer general ties makes the most sense of all.