Help PMA grow | Petition forms | Site map | PMA main page
Hidden agendas: New Zealand and the new Cold War
8 December 2001
As soon as the government offered soldiers for the "War on Terrorism" and declared our "total support for the approach taken by the United States", it started drawing New Zealand into the hidden agendas of the Afghanistan War. It began our involvement in what is, in effect, a renewed Cold War.
Essentially, the "War on Terrorism" has become the cover for extreme shifts in policy that have almost nothing to do with deterring terrorism. By riding the wave of September 11 patriotism, the Bush Government is trying to rebuild a bi-polar "for us or against us" world, where anyone disagreeing with US policies can be a target for disapproval or retaliation. How New Zealand responds will affect our foreign and defence policies, and civil rights, for many years to come.
Since the Vietnam War and the fight to establish our nuclear free policy, most New Zealanders have rejected our Cold War role of dutiful US ally. Even so, a tension has always remained between this emerging national identity and our traditional role in a five-nation US-led alliance. Given the renewed cold war climate, New Zealand's moves towards an identity independent of the US, UK, Canada and Australia are now under threat.
The Bush Administration was already taking the US to the right well before September 11. The key foreign policy advisers are former Cold War hardliners, with other top officials opposed to civil liberties, environmental protection and social programmes. The Washington Post described it as "the most conservative administration in modern times, surpassing even Ronald Reagan."
What these Cold War veterans needed was a renewed atmosphere of threat. As Ignacio Ramonet, editorial director of French Le Monde Diplomatique, wrote, "At a stroke, the attacks of 11 September restored what had been missing since the collapse of the Soviet Union 10 years ago - an enemy. At last. The enemy may be known officially as terrorism but everyone knows that the real name is radical Islam. You enjoyed anti-communism? You're going to love anti-Islamism."
Similarly, here was Bush in full Cold War mode on 6 November: "For more than 50 years, the peoples of [Eastern Europe] suffered under repressive ideologies.. Today, our freedom is threatened once again. Like the fascists and totalitarians before them. we see the same mad, global ambitions.. Given the means, our enemies would be a threat to every nation and, eventually, to civilization itself. We're determined to fight this evil. [and] lift this dark threat from our age."
This agenda is much bigger than catching terrorists, or of gaining access to Central Asian oil resources. It marks the beginning of a new Cold War, and its outlines are clear. It entails a new 'us vs them' framework within which the conservatives running the US Government can get on with their own global ambitions - sidelining the UN, interfering in other countries and using overwhelming military force wherever it suits US economic or political interests. The Pentagon's new name for this is "full spectrum dominance".
How does New Zealand fit into this? Only a handful of countries were willing to go to war in Afghanistan. The reason New Zealand's SAS is there is a 50-year old alliance configuration: US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This US-led, Anglo-Saxon alliance was the basis of all New Zealand military and intelligence activities during the Cold War - albeit as the least influential member. For intelligence, the alliance has the classified name "UKUSA". The five-nation Army co-operation is called "ABCA". For Navy it is "AUSCANNZUKUS", Air Force "ASCC" and military science "TTCP".
Since the end of ANZUS, the five-nation alliance had gone underground - the United States is not mentioned once in the Clark government's defining 2000 Defence Policy Framework. Yet it remains the hidden agenda in most military and intelligence decisions, quietly trying to tug New Zealand back into line with the expectations of the UKUSA club.
Sending the SAS to Afghanistan may mark the official resumption of New Zealand availability for US operations around the world. US ambassador Charles Swindells has been "very satisfied" with New Zealand's contribution. "I think we have in place the right structure, the commitment that's necessary. It's gonna work and be longer term and proceeding." Helen Clark spoke in Parliament of a "lengthy" and "worldwide" campaign which &uquot;we have to be prepared to support for the long term".
Maybe in the shock after September 11 political expediency seemed to require following Australia to war. However, if this attitude continues "long-term" - and if Helen Clark accepts trade favours in exchange for supporting US policies ("Bombs for Beef") - then her parallel moves towards a New Zealand-oriented defence and foreign policy will be rendered meaningless.
NEW Zealand has three main Cold War services - SAS commandos, SIS internal spies and NZCSO (later GCSB) external spies. All three were founded almost simultaneously in 1955-56, and integrated into the allies' operations.
The SAS's role was "unconventional" warfare in US and British resource and influence wars during the Cold War. Within the context of 1970s Middle East oil politics, for instance, our SAS soldiers fought in Oman (the Dhofar War), protecting western oil interests by defending a western-backed sultan against a local uprising. Our SAS helped British forces control Northern Ireland. In South East Asian conflicts they tracked and killed Malays, Indonesians and Vietnamese, to whom they gave the self-justifying label "CTs" - "Communist Terrorists". Today, these would just be "Terrorists".The public rarely hears about these missions, and won't for Afghanistan either.
Meanwhile, the SIS was fighting the Cold War inside New Zealand, by spying on Russian and Chinese diplomats and local "communists". This role grew to include socialist groups, students, Springbok and anti-globalisation protesters, Maori political groups and more. By the 1990s, the SIS had to devise barely credible purposes to justify its existence, such as protecting New Zealand's agricultural secrets. Now, the September 11 attacks and the coming Cold War are reviving its role as the local office for the US and British intelligence agencies. Its chief target will be "terrorism", its powers are being increased and its budget will rise.
In line with that trend, Phil Goff's Terrorism Bill has been based on US, British, Canadian and Australian legislation. Within the US, the draconian Patriot Act is undermining what is best about the US: its commitment to civil rights. Goff's worryingly broad definition of terrorism, and the provisions in his draft legislation to declare people "terrorists" based on secret information "from other governments" will provide scope for SIS operations for many years to come.
Electronic eavesdropping will increase. A week after the September 11 attacks, a New Zealand woman was questioned by the SIS for three hours because of a phone call made to Boston after the attacks. In it she had mentioned an Arab friend - and got onto the FBI's suspect list because one of the hijackers had the same (very common) Arab name. Luckily, she was respectable and her explanations were accepted.
Last year, an Afghan refugee in Auckland was not so fortunate. He had his home raided twice and endured six hours of interrogation about a supposed terrorist plan against the Sydney Olympics. The Police said the "plot" was uncovered during smuggling investigations. In fact the SIS had been prompted by US intelligence services, after they noticed a satellite phone call into Afghanistan from the refugee's phone. There was no plot. Both of these cases illustrate the power of the electronic spying systems to which our other Cold War agency - the GCSB - belongs. These phone calls were among millions going in and out of the US and Central Asia, with just a name or country code being enough to trigger the eavesdropping systems.
The New Zealand's GCSB facilities monitor Pacific e-mails and other communications. Many of the names, addresses and voices they search for are provided by the US, in pursuit of its - not New Zealand's - policies. Since September 11, Helen Clark has offered greater use (if that was possible) of these facilities. In sum, the SAS, SIS and GCSB are 45-year old Cold War creations now being mobilised again. Whose enemies will our SAS be fighting? Whose prejudices will determine who our spy agencies choose to target? In the new cold war, the answer may simply be anyone whom George W Bush and his advisers see as a threat to "US interests".
Pre-1945 this was called colonialism. After 1945 it has happened under cover of the Cold War, and "free trade" systems. It is part of the explanation why the US, with less than 5% of the world's population, controls such a large share of the world's resources and wealth. So when US and British leaders declare that the "War on Terrorism" will stretch around the world and last for years - some talk of decades - we should take it seriously. It is what they want. Noam Chomsky wrote recently: "Terror attacks, and the escalating cycle of violence they often engender, tend to reinforce the authority and prestige of the most harsh and repressive elements of a society." He was talking about both al-Qaeda and the members of Bush's Administration.
Here, many government ministers may quietly support a different response to the Afghan situation - act through the UN and an international court, don't let terrorism destroy freedoms - but are being stampeded into something diametrically opposite. We are joining the war, degrading civil rights and endorsing the new George W Bush world order. If this continues, it will be back to the bad old days: where to act independently is called anti-American, where the US's enemies are automatically ours and where we turn a blind eye to "our" side's injustices, even where, as Clark told Parliament, it is these that "breed the conditions for terrorism".