National and Labour close on foreign policy

We are running a series of discussions around similarities between National and Labour.  Starting with foreign policy, is there a distinct difference? Is Labour more progressive than National?

NZ troops in the ‘Malaysian Emergency’; the first Labour government (1935-49) sent NZ troops to Malaya in 1948 to help crush a left-wing insurgency and the second Labour government (1957-60) kept them there

by Daphna Whitmore

Prime Minister John Key has shown he is hesitant about committing to military involvement in the US-led bombing campaign against ISIS. He has said he “would be reluctant to extend New Zealand’s involvement beyond providing humanitarian help.”

While he “won’t rule out sending New Zealand’s elite SAS personnel to assist US efforts to counter Islamic State (Isis) militants in Iraq or even Syria,” he says “that would be done reluctantly as a last resort, if at all” (NZ Herald).

Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff isn’t ruling out supporting the intervention, but like Key he’d rather not get drawn into a ground war and says: “I don’t see us having boots on the ground but I do see us having diplomatic and humanitarian support through the United Nations, most particularly if we’re a member of the security council next month.”

Labour’s foreign policy has never been significantly to the left of National’s, as we examined in The Truth About Labour:

“Decade after decade Labour remained consistently pro-imperialist. At no time during the US invasion and attacks on Vietnam and other Indo-Chinese states did the parliamentary Labour Party declare itself in opposition to the US aggression, nor did it ever demand withdrawal of New Zealand troops. Individual Labour MPs occasionally criticised specific aspects of US policy, but never the US aggressive war as such. Nor did the Labour Party officially campaign against either the aggression or New Zealand’s support of it, though a number of individual members and a few branches participated in demonstrations against it.

“Labour supported the blitzkreig of Panama in 1989 and in October, 1990 offered military help to the imperialist powers who were preparing to invade Iraq.

“Labour has never made any move to get New Zealand out of imperialist alliances. As a junior partner in the US bloc New Zealand has taken part in nearly all America’s military adventures in the postwar period, from Korea (1950-53) onwards, as well as pursuing its own specific imperialist interests.

“Most recently, Labour was quick to support the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and sent SAS troops, and in 2003 sent army personnel as part of the occupation of Iraq. Although the New Zealand military presence in Iraq was supposedly merely ‘engineers’ helping ‘rebuild’ the country ‘our allies’ had devastated, investigative journalist Nicky Hager uncovered papers showing the ‘engineers’ were spending a lot of their time guarding the British military compound, repairing British combat vessels and working inside the British headquarters in Basra. A confidential New Zealand Defence memo reported that New Zealand ‘engineers’ were filling British staff officer positions which were heavily stretched at the time. The ‘engineers’ were also authorised to use deadly force to ‘defend’ themselves, other occupation personnel and buildings of importance to the occupation. Far from being greeted as liberators, the New Zealand ‘engineers’ were regularly pelted with rocks and security became the priority for them. The involvement of the Labour government in the occupation of Iraq was a message to the US that ‘we’ are still on their side and helped New Zealand firms gain access to lucrative occupation contracts.

“The Labour government has also supplied naval vessels to work alongside the US navy in blockading the waters of the Middle East. Not surprisingly, Nicky Hager wrote in the NZ Herald that ‘Helen Clark is moving much closer to the US military than the last National government ever did.'”

On foreign policy Labour and National are more alike than dissimilar, and Labour’s defeat in the election was not a defeat for the left.

One comment

  1. I think there’s just no way that their foreign policy positions can be much different. Both parties are absolutely committed to the class interests of the NZ capitalists, expressed both in terms of their operations via the market and the way in which their interests are expressed via the NZ nation-state. The only disagreements can be, essentially, tactical.

    It may well be the case that the scope for disagreements on foreign policy, for the reasons above, is even less than the scope for their disagreeing on domestic policy.


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