Hager book value lost in head­lines

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION/NEWS -

The lat­est book by in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Nicky Hager cap­tured a lot of at­ten­tion on the po­lit­i­cal land­scape last week.

The head­line claims were about the col­lu­sion be­tween Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and New Zealand troops en­gaged in aid and de­vel­op­ment work in Afghanistan, but they were not an es­sen­tial part of the book’s core ar­gu­ment.

Dur­ing the past 15 years, a suc­ces­sion of pub­li­ca­tions by Hager have all had a com­mon theme.

Each book has ex­am­ined var­i­ous ways in which the coun­try’s au­ton­omy is be­ing eroded by pro­cesses largely con­cealed from the gen­eral pub­lic. This ab­sence of gen­uine demo­cratic par­tic­i­pa­tion and de­bate has been Hager’s re­cur­ring theme – re­gard­less of whether the lack of trans­parency has been the by-prod­uct of our mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence al­liances, or fos­tered by our own politi­cians and bu­reau­crats and their pub­lic re­la­tions ad­vis­ers.

Other Peo­ple’s Wars is no ex­cep­tion.

Hager’s sub­ject this time is the in­ner work­ings of the de­fence es­tab­lish­ment postSeptem­ber 11, and its al­leged at­tempts to sub­vert the quasi­in­de­pen­dent for­eign pol­icy of the Clark Gov­ern­ment.

Pre­dictably, the cur­rent Gov­ern­ment has cho­sen to ig­nore the con­tents of the book, and trusted that most New Zealan­ders will not bother to read it.

Like­wise, the de­fence bu­reau­cracy has main­tained that it has al­ways com­plied with the de­fence poli­cies of the gov­ern­ment of the day.

This is de­spite re­ports in the book with re­gard to the mil­i­tary’s own con­cerns about the blur­ring of lines be­tween our in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing and aid ef­forts in Afghanistan, and to the covert as­sis­tance be­ing given to the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary ef­fort in Iraq, de­spite gov­ern­ment pol­icy to the con­trary.

For many read­ers, the last­ing value of the book will be its doc­u­men­ta­tion of a fas­ci­nat­ing chap­ter in our re­cent his­tory.

By the late 1990s, the New Zealand de­fence hi­er­ar­chy was be­ing yanked, kick­ing and scream­ing, out of its Cold War mind­set, and from its au­to­matic def­er­ence to the pri­or­i­ties of our tra­di­tional al­lies in Canberra, Lon­don and Wash­ing­ton. At the same time, our armed forces also faced ma­jor re-equip­ment needs.

Prob­lem be­ing, the Bol­ger/ Ship­ley Gov­ern­ments had been happy to take ad­van­tage of the Soviet Union’s col­lapse to run down our armed forces – as was il­lus­trated by some em­bar­rass­ing equip­ment fail­ures dur­ing New Zealand’s de­ploy­ment in Bos­nia.

Thus, the in­com­ing Clark Gov­ern­ment had to de­vise a fresh pol­icy frame­work, and find an af­ford­able way of reequip­ping the armed forces for this new role.

The an­swers Clark came up with? In fu­ture, any armed forces de­ploy­ment would re­quire an ex­plicit United Na­tions res­o­lu­tion, and be rel­a­tively in­de­pen­dent of our tra­di­tional al­lies.

Such a role would be af­ford­able only if our armed forces be­came army-fo­cused, with the air force and navy reduced mainly to sup­port roles.

That vi­sion was met with fierce op­po­si­tion from both the residue of Cold War thinkers within the de­fence hi­er­ar­chy, and its re­cently re­tired for­mer lead­er­ship.

That ten­sion is well cap­tured by Hager’s book, which gives chap­ter and verse on the brief pe­riod (punc­tu­ated by the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks) when New Zealand briefly tried to put dis­tance be­tween it­self and the neo-colo­nial ten­den­cies of our tra­di­tional al­lies.

In some ways, we can feel grate­ful.

Else­where, when sol­diers de­cide their po­lit­i­cal masters are be­ing mis­guided, they take more dras­tic action. Hager has shown that even within the New Zealand con­text, such ten­den­cies have not been en­tirely ab­sent.

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