The twin strands of New Zealand’s foreign policy have been clear for all to see in recent weeks.
Shortly after visiting Chinese officials in Beijing, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta has this week been in Europe, notably in Brussels, for a Nato meeting attended by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Mahuta tweeted that she had “an informative discussion with [Blinken] to discuss our common ambition to support Pacific resilience, uphold a rules-based order and work to strengthen democratic principles”.
An informative discussion with @SecBlinken to discuss our common ambition to support Pacific resilience uphold a rules based order and work to strengthen democratic principles #MZMFABRU pic.twitter.com/OZJxSvNbzz— Nanaia Mahuta (@NanaiaMahuta) April 5, 2023
New Zealand’s balancing act on strategic tectonic plates is not getting easier as the gap widens under our feet.
Attempts to maintain good relations amid differences with China are at least in keeping with the approach of French President Emmanuel Macron, who, with European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen, has been in Beijing for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Macron has said Europe should avoid lessening diplomatic and trade ties with China. The two European leaders also hope to dissuade China from actively backing Russia’s war in Ukraine.
There has been a sense lately of New Zealand hugging closer to Australia and other traditional allies over the war, the security outlook in Asia and great-power interest in Oceania.
The Government confirmed a week ago that it was discussing being part of the non-nuclear part of the Aukus alliance.
“We have been offered the opportunity to talk about whether we could or wish to participate in that pillar-two aspect of it,” Defence Minister Andrew Little said. “I’ve indicated we will be willing to explore it.”
Although New Zealand has long-standing relations with Nato, Mahuta’s trip is another high-profile visit by a senior New Zealand official to Europe after former prime minister Jacinda Ardern attended the alliance’s summit last year.
Mahuta tweeted: “Pleased to speak [at Nato’s] second FM meeting alongside key partners of the Indo-Pacific to highlight our united support for Ukraine to defend itself against Russian aggression and in defence of the international rule of law.”
Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that “we are now stepping up our co-operation with our partners in the Indo-Pacific: Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia”.
Countries in the European-based alliance have become more focused on our wider region, particularly on China and its ties with Russia, Iran and North Korea, and cross-border issues such as weapon supplies for conflicts and cyber threats.
On Wednesday, Nato took the first step in an expected expansion. Finland officially became the 31st member, drastically lengthening the alliance’s border with Russia. Next to join is expected to be Finland’s neighbour Sweden and, down the track, it seems inevitable that Ukraine will follow.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced Finland to pick a side, and Russia will be defending a 2550-kilometre border with Nato in the years to come. Potentially dangerous consequences such as troop build-ups, military accidents and acts of sabotage are likely.
Finland’s move to ditch neutrality is a huge shift that would have made a clearer impact if Russia’s conventional military forces weren’t bogged down badly in Ukraine.
Essentially, Nato brings a new army of potentially up to 280,000 fighters under its wing, trained under a conscription system. Finland also has a range of military assets including tanks, artillery, warplanes and sea vessels.
The move underlines the hardening of geopolitical and security positions and will be viewed as a permanent threat in Moscow. The Kremlin has also said it will base tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus over Western European countries’ support for Ukraine.
Finland is right next to Russia’s Kola Peninsula, home of the Northern Fleet. Russia will be watching for any moves by Nato to base troops or weapons in Finland. Military analysts at War on the Rocks predict that “nuclear weapons will ... assume greater prominence in Russian strategy until the country can reconstitute its forces“.
From Nato’s point of view, Baltic countries Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia may now benefit from a stronger defence presence nearby.
A pleasure to host Aotearoa NZ’s Foreign Minister @NanaiaMahuta at the NZ Embassy in Stockholm. After many weeks of preparation for her visit, and the mahi done, it was time to fika, have a cuppa, and acknowledge all the staff and families behind the scenes.— AndrewJenksNZ (@AndrewJenksNZ) April 6, 2023
The fact that Finland, which has a 1340km frontier with Russia, has sought defensive protection with Nato and gained rapid-speed entry is an unambiguous blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He made his criticisms of Nato’s previous waves of eastern expansion clear as part of his justification for invading Ukraine last year.
Far from warning countries off joining the alliance, he has achieved what he didn’t want - the start of a likely new membership wave and a renewed focus on defence. Putin has written Russia’s threat on the wall for all neighbours to see.
As Ukraine receives new weapon supplies for a counter-offensive, the war’s shockwaves continue to spread.