Pesky Reds un­der the bed - again

Kapi-Mana News - - CONVERSATIONS - GOR­DON CAMP­BELL TALK­ING POL­I­TICS

From Hol­ly­wood dra­mas to global pol­i­tics, Rus­sia has done ster­ling ser­vice as the West’s arch-fiend for nearly 70 years.

Last week saw Rus­sia be­ing cast in not one, but two of its clas­sic roles as a global vil­lain. Af­ter the sus­pected chem­i­cal weapons at­tack in Syria, Rus­sia emerged as the prime de­fender of its bru­tal hench­men in the As­sad regime. Here at home, Rus­sia was also fin­gered as a se­ri­ous cy­ber threat to New Zealand’s eco­nomic well-be­ing.

Un­for­tu­nately, it was some­what fuzzy as to just how im­mi­nent this threat from Moscow might be. The GCSB and its brother in­tel­li­gence agen­cies overseas were un­clear whether this ‘‘ fresh wave’’ of Rus­sian­funded cy­ber at­tacks had (a) al­ready been launched or (b) were merely be­ing ‘‘geared up’’ for launch at some fu­ture date, if suf­fi­cient pre­cau­tions were not taken.

Cer­tainly, the num­bers be­ing cited by GCSB di­rec­tor-gen­eral An­drew Hamp­ton about re­cent cy­ber ac­tiv­ity were not par­tic­u­larly alarm­ing. In the year to Novem­ber, only 122 of 396 re­ported cy­ber in­ci­dents orig­i­nated from off­shore, with Rus­sia’s state-spon­sored hack­ers be­ing al­legedly be­hind only ‘‘some’’ of them.

That’s only 11 in­ci­dents per month on av­er­age, from all sources: Rus­sia, North Korea, China, and East­ern Europe. Oddly, China was not men­tioned last week. Last De­cem­ber, though, re­leased GSCB doc­u­ments had warned of a for­eign na­tion at­tempt­ing to ac­cess ‘‘sen­si­tive gov­ern­ment and pri­vate sec­tor in­for­ma­tion’’ and ‘‘un­duly in­flu­ence ex­pa­tri­ate com­mu­ni­ties’’ – which sounds far more like China, than Rus­sia.

As usual with se­cu­rity is­sues, there are more ques­tions than an­swers. Even if Rus­sia is al­ready, or is about to be, en­gaged in more of this bad stuff, by how much would this ex­ceed (if at all) the cy­ber in­tru­sions to which the GCSB has been a party, along­side our deeply of­fended Bri­tish, Aus­tralian and US al­lies?

Ba­si­cally, ev­ery de­vel­oped na­tion is en­gaged in cy­ber at­tacks and cy­ber de­fences. No doubt, some coun­tries carry out this ac­tiv­ity on an in­dus­trial scale. Prob­lem be­ing, we have sig­nif­i­cant trade links with all of them. As New Zealand tries to pursue an in­de­pen­dent for­eign pol­icy there is a gen­uine ten­sion be­tween our de­fence/se­cu­rity al­liances (which re­gard China and Rus­sia as en­e­mies) and our trad­ing pat­terns, in which China is our most im­por­tant part­ner.

To fur­ther com­pli­cate the mix, fur­ther­ing an FTA with the Euro­pean Union has been iden­ti­fied as our top 2018 trade pri­or­ity. For that rea­son (among oth­ers) Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern could hardly af­ford to be at odds with her French, Ger­man and Bri­tish hosts last week, when it came to the EU’s hos­tile stance to­wards Rus­sia over Sal­is­bury, and Syria.

These Cold War sim­i­lar­i­ties, how­ever, can be mis­lead­ing. How­ever nos­tal­gic Vladimir Putin’s apol­o­gists in the West may be, mod­ern Rus­sia is not the Soviet Union. More­over, Don­ald Trump ap­pears will­ing to be at odds with both Congress and his own Repub­li­can Party when it comes to the White House’s readi­ness to pursue a softer line to­wards Moscow.

For­tu­nately, the coali­tion gov­ern­ment does not seem un­duly ex­cited about any Red threat that may be lurk­ing in our routers. Hope­fully, New Zealand can nav­i­gate its way safely be­tween the rocks of our com­pet­ing in­ter­ests on se­cu­rity and trade.

‘‘ As New Zealand tries to pursue an in­de­pen­dent for­eign pol­icy there is a gen­uine ten­sion be­tween our de­fence/se­cu­rity al­liances (which re­gard China and Rus­sia as en­e­mies) and our trad­ing pat­terns, in which China is our most im­por­tant part­ner.’’

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