Officials urge Clark to join weapons race

14 July 2002

Officials have urged the government to enter the arms race and make a killing from the war in Afghanistan.

They also urged Prime Minister Helen Clark to emphasise our SAS involvement in Afghanistan in a bid to warm relations with the US.

According to foreign affairs experts, the papers show the bid has paid off and our military links with America are the strongest since New Zealand went nuclear free.

The details have emerged in papers prepared by the foreign affairs ministry for Clark's US visit in March, where she met with President George W Bush. They were released under the Official Information Act - although Clark's advisers withheld them seven weeks longer than they were allowed by law. In one section, compiled by trade officials at foreign affairs, Clark is told that NZ has a chance to expand into the defence trade.

"Defence spending was already expected to climb before the tragedy of September 11, with the on-going war against terrorism expanding the existing trends.

"While most defence contracts still go to the big prime contractors, there are opportunities for New Zealand companies to target this sector through partnering with US suppliers to the Pentagon.

"The opportunities are not just for weapons - defence is a huge customer for nearly every product - from clothing to IT to consulting services."

Another section shows how eager diplomats were that Clark raise the efforts being made by our soldiers - because most Americans didn't even realise the NZSAS was in Afghanistan.

They told Clark "the visit should put New Zealand's record on counter-terrorism in the spotlight in Washington . . . this will be particularly true if it is possible to refer publicly to New Zealand's SAS contribution, which is not widely known in Washington".

The advice was given to Clark about the time a series of "inadvertant" slips revealed the SAS was operating in Afghanistan, contrary to the government's "neither confirm nor deny" policy.

Other advice reads: "Even though our SAS contribution is probably not widely known in Washington, it is appreciated by key administration figures." The officials go on to tell Clark that the Bush administration had made clear that countries' response to September 11 provided a new basis for a relationship. New Zealand's contribution had earned praise from US officials, with comments on the "warm, forward-looking relationship".

Officials point out the pressure to further develop ties, stating: "Our response to the events of September 11 has been appreciated at the highest level. It is desirable to sustain the improvement in the tone of our dealings at the highest levels."

The documents show Clark wrote to Bush to tell him the SAS had arrived in Afghanistan on December 12. In the same letter, she congratulated him on advancing a planned trade promotion authority.

Auckland university political scientist, Dr Paul Buchanan, said the documents showed the government had offered the SAS and fallen into line with US desire quickly.

"They moved because they saw quid pro quo in trade."

Buchanan, who has served in the US State and Defense Departments, said the most surprising aspect of the documents was the advice that New Zealand capitalise on September 11 defence spending. "I think we have got ourselves a flourishing weapons business. Does this government want to be known as a government permitting the arms business?"

David Fisher
Sunday Star Times © Independent Newspapers Limited 2002.

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