New Zealand's Foreign Policy: Independence, Realism and Idealism: Jian Yang Reports on a Recent Discussion with Politicians on Issues Relating to New Zealand's Stance in the World

By Yang, Jian | New Zealand International Review, July-August 2003 | Go to article overview

New Zealand's Foreign Policy: Independence, Realism and Idealism: Jian Yang Reports on a Recent Discussion with Politicians on Issues Relating to New Zealand's Stance in the World


Yang, Jian, New Zealand International Review


In his well-known book on New Zealand's foreign policy published a decade ago, Malcolm McKinnon notes that a favoured theme in discussion of New Zealand's foreign relations since the 1930s has been the idea of independence. It does not mean the independence of secessionist nationalism or the independence of revolutionary socialism. Rather, it means the independence of interest and the independence of what McKinnon calls 'loyal dissent or loyal opposition', namely a form of dissent, 'a progressive critique of an existing pattern' that does not challenge its underlying structure. (1)

While independence has been a theme embodied in the foreign policies of both National and Labour governments over the years, it is also believed that the two parties have different ideals and philosophies in the field of foreign policy. David McCraw argues that the foreign policy outlooks of New Zealand's two main political parties reflect quite well the tenets of two different schools of thought about international relations. 'The Labour Party's perspective follows the liberal internationalist paradigm very closely, whereas National's outlook has a lesser fit with the realist model,' according to McCraw. (2)

The Iraq crisis and the war--the most important event to have shaken the foundations of the world political system since the end of the Cold War--posed a major challenge to New Zealand's independent foreign policy and highlighted the differences between the political parties.

In the wake of the war in Iraq, on 13 April 2003 the New Zealand Political Studies Association and the Auckland branch of the NZIIA invited representatives of three political parties to discuss New Zealand's foreign policy. They were Richard Prebble, ACT's Leader, Matt Robson, Deputy Leader of the Progressive Coalition Party and member of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee, and Keith Locke, Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs of the Green Party.

Greatest impact

The most profound impact of the Iraq War on world politics pertains to multilateralism and the United Nations. Continuing New Zealand's traditional belief in the United Nations, the Labour government made it clear while the tension over Iraq was still developing that New Zealand would join the United States only if the military action was authorised by the United Nations. Minutes after the White House announced the start of military offensive against Iraq, Prime Minister Helen Clark emphasised in Parliament: 'I want to state again, for the record, that this government will not be assisting a war for which there was no case at this time.' (3) Just three days earlier, Parliament had voted 84 to 35 to defeat a motion put up by Richard Prebble that called on Parliament to dissociate itself from the government's position and instead offer 'all practical support to the United States and its allies'. (4)

Prebble remained convinced on 13 April that the government had made a mistake in not supporting the United States. Citing Clark's speech in February, Prebble questioned the Labour-led government's principles of foreign policy-making. These principles are multilateralism, the rule of law and respect for the UN Security Council. Without dismissing the principles per se, Prebble faulted the government's rationale.

According to Prebble, the Prime Minister's understanding of multilateralism tends to argue that the only appropriate way for nations to work together is under some sort of UN resolution. The coalition of the willing could, therefore, be perceived as unilateral. To Prebble, this is not a realistic way to look at foreign policy. Since the establishment of the United Nations, a whole range of actions have been taken by nations together that would never have been approved by the United Nations of the time. Most of New Zealand's actions have not been approved by the United Nations, although many New Zealanders would still support them. …

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New Zealand's Foreign Policy: Independence, Realism and Idealism: Jian Yang Reports on a Recent Discussion with Politicians on Issues Relating to New Zealand's Stance in the World
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