The Evolving Pattern of New Zealand's External Relations

By Harland, Bryce | New Zealand International Review, January 2001 | Go to article overview

The Evolving Pattern of New Zealand's External Relations


Harland, Bryce, New Zealand International Review


Bryce Harland reviews the development of New Zealand's international approach and cautions against falling into the trap of wishful thinking.

The term `foreign policy' can cover a multitude of sins, but it still seems to me rather restrictive. `Policy' is, at least notionally, a deliberate plan of action which is coherent, sustained and well articulated. One example is the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, in which the United States made clear its opposition to any extension of the European empires in the Americas. Another example is the Crowe Memorandum of 1907, in which a senior official of the British Foreign Office gave a classic definition of the then widely accepted principle of the Balance of Power. A third is the article written by George Kennan in 1947 and published in the periodical Foreign Affairs under the pseudonym `Mr X'. There Kennan set out the strategy of Containment, which remained the basis of American foreign policy until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

So far, New Zealand has produced no definitive expression of its approach to the rest of the world, though there are some beginnings.

* When Julius Vogel and Richard Seddon were, as Allen Curnow put it, `howling Empire from an empty coast', the young French visitor Andre Siegfried suggested in a book called Democracy in New Zealand, published in 1904, that the policy was `Oceania for the Anglo-Saxons'.

* At the outbreak of war between Britain and Germany in 1939, the hitherto pacifically-minded Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage, gave utterance to the then widespread view that `Where Britain goes, we go'.

* A more recent Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon, said repeatedly `Foreign policy is trade'.

* Muldoon's successor, David Lange, adopted the anti-nuclear policy, which has, since 1990, become a bipartisan New Zealand foreign policy. But, as far as I know, it has not yet received a classic definition.

All these formulae, apt though some of them are, seem to me to exclude too much to serve as an expression of New Zealand's whole foreign policy. To cover all aspects of New Zealand's interaction with other countries, it seems better to follow my teacher, Professor F.L.W. Wood, and talk simply about `New Zealand in the World'.

So stated, the subject is very broad, and already a number of different approaches have emerged among those who write about it. Wood himself, and his colleague John Beaglehole, saw the history of New Zealand's external relations as one of growing independence from Britain -- sometimes sought, sometimes thrust upon it. Most of those who have come later have followed their lead. David McIntyre sees New Zealand more in the context of the decline of the British Empire, and he uses British as well as New Zealand documents to throw light on New Zealand's actions, Ian McGibbon relies mainly, though not exclusively, on official documents, from Defence as well as External Affairs files. He gives valuable insights into the interplay of political and military considerations, and latterly into the play of personalities as well. Malcolm Templeton has written a series of monographs on specific aspects of foreign policy, which are based on a deep reading of Foreign Affairs files, as well as wide personal experience.

Malcolm McKinnon takes a different approach, relying less on official documents and more on public expressions of political views. He shows that ideologies have played a significant part in the formation of policies, under both Labour and National governments. Witi Ihimaera and others have called for more account to be taken of Maori views and interests without, as far as I know, making many specific suggestions, except perhaps that the government should support the draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Other approaches are of course possible, and will gradually emerge. The more persuasive will be those that are firmly based on sources contemporary with the events under examination, rather than on present-day perceptions. …

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