Casually wasting diplomatic capital

Is the government deliberately setting out to upset international friends?

It started with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s repeatedly sticking her nose into Australia’s affairs over Manus Island refugees.

She followed up by making the mistake of telling a story about Donald Trump mistaking her for Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s wife which she ought not to have shared.

Then came the reluctance by her and Foreign Minister Winston Peters to condemn Russia for the nerve agent poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

And now New Zealand is an international laughing stock over the PM’s claim we have no undeclared Russian spies here.

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and foreign affairs minister, Winston Peters, say they would expel Russian spies from the country, if there were any.

More than 100 Russian diplomats alleged to be spies in western countries have been told to return to Moscow, in response to the use of a chemical weapon in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, a former Russia/UK double agent, and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, England on 4 March.

The New Zealand government has condemned the attack and supports the international action, but says there are no such “Russian intelligence agents” in the country. . . 

The ABC explains the difference between declared and undeclared spies:

. . . Spy is the conventional term for someone who gathers intelligence overseas, without letting their host country know what they are doing.

They often present themselves as diplomats and work out of embassies, alongside declared intelligence officers.

The difference between declared and undeclared intelligence officers is that the legitimate ones present their credentials to their host country and make it known they are there to make contact and to formally share mutually beneficial information.

Spies appear on an embassy’s list of diplomats, but they are involved in gathering other intelligence.

According to Ian Lincoln, a former diplomat who is now president of the Australian Institute of International Affairs (New South Wales), spies have the same objectives as intelligence officers but use different methods, such as gathering intelligence through unofficial contacts, sometimes by finding a weakness in an individual.

John Blaxland, a professor of international security and intelligence studies, says undeclared intelligence officers pretend to comply with regular protocols, appearing at events and doing other things that make them look like regular diplomats, but on the side, they are carrying out a range of other activities. . . 

Richard Harman’s Politik morning e-newsletter says:

There has been no comment on whether any of the 16 staff with diplomatic status at the Russian Embassy [ in Wellington] may be undeclared intelligence officers — but it is a comparatively  large staff for a country which would seem to have only peripheral interests here..
In comparison’ Australia has 13; China 23 and the USA, 48. 

David Lange’s government burned off friends with its anti-nuclear policy but that was a matter of principle.

This government’s stand doesn’t look to be done on principle:

Whether or not we are seeing the emergence of a new Peters Doctrine is moot. We shall have to wait to see. But it’s curious that Labour has been dragged into this line of thinking.

It may be that Ardern & Co have an instinctive willingness to not necessarily fall in behind the great powers of the West. But is this really the time? Given the personalities in charge of what can be loosely called the West – especially President Donald Trump – there may well be a time quite soon when we want to play an independent hand. There may soon be issues where we want to stand apart from the US and other Western (or Five Eyes) allies on issues of real importance.

So why waste your card playing it now? Why raise the eyebrows – and perhaps the ire – of our traditional friends over this case? New Zealand bases its foreign policy on the international rule of law, so when there is a global consensus that Russia has blatantly and murderously broken those rules, why would we not rush to stand alongside those protesting such an action? Surely this is an opportunity to earn show some solidarity with Britain, the US and others, given that down the track we may want to spend some diplomatic capital distancing ourselves from them.

It seems a careless, overly casual and unnecessary waste of diplomatic capital; one I suspect this government will soon regret.

If the government was acting on principle its words and actions might be understood.

But rather than principle, it looks like it’s fooling round with foreign policy, carelessly and casually wasting hard-won diplomatic capital.

In doing so it’s dangerously out of step with both security and trading partners in a time when the foreign and trading environments are anything but benign.

4 Responses to Casually wasting diplomatic capital

  1. Roj Blake says:

    Of course there are spies in NZ, but the russians are the least of your worries.

    A bigger concern is the “5 eyes” which is supposedly about sharing information, but what information is shared? One Thing that each of the 4 eyes can do in the 5th eye’s country is the type of spying that would is illegal for a nation to do on its own citizens, but is perfectly legal when done by any or all of the other 4 eyes, and that information is then shared.

    Thus the UK spies on US citizens the US spies on Kiwis, Kiwis spy on Canadians, Canadians spy on Australians, Australians spy on the UK and all that “perfectly legal” information is “shared”.

    I congratulate Ardern for not being stampeded in to following the herd.

  2. Andrei says:

    We may have an overgrown schoolgirl who is hopelessly incompetant as our Prime Minister but this issue is far too important to use to score partisan political points

    The reality is that if GB believes a foreign power has carried out a chemical attack on its sovereign soil there there is an established protocol to be followed. This protocol is established by a treaty that both GB and Russia are signatories to and exists to ensure that the truth of any incident is established before precipitate action is taken

    Now Thereasa May accused Russia in the British Parliament before the incestigation has been completed, in fact before it had barely started and has yet to start the procedures as laid down by treaty, prefering instead to posture

    Very dangerous

    OK so some Nations will go along with this farce willingly or under duress to try and embarrass Russia

    And I’m sure they are goi9ng to use this to rain on the parade during Russia’s hosting of the World Cup (GB has sour grapes because Russia was awarded this over their bid by FIFA and as we know soon thereafter the FIFA ruling body was rolled)

    And while politicians in the West are expelling Russian diplomats over a very dubious charge that absolutely zero evidence has been put forward for in Russia itself a huge human tragedy unfolds and the nation is in mourning

    None of this is very clever and it exactly the sort of thing that leads me to hold politicians at about the same level of respect with pedophile rapists

    “Truth is like poetry
    most people don’t like either”

  3. Will says:

    Am I the only Kiwi struggling to process the absurdity of the Russian nerve gas attack? The whole thing seems cartoonish, like a Tintin plot. I can’t see why Russia would do something like this unless it is a deliberate message to the UK foreign office. Nerve gas is so incriminating. They could have just knocked the guy on the head, England is so violent now, no one would care.

    Or has it become convenient to have a big scary enemy in the East to terrify everyone now that Western Europe is rapidly unravelling?

    Commiserations on that fire Andrei. A horrible thing.

  4. Andrei says:

    I repect Ele but I’m sad that she is using this as a partisan political issue to advance her tribe’s interests rather than to examine it in the context of finding out the truth and advancing the real interests of ordinary men, women and children in New Zealand, England, Western Europe and Russia by advancing the cause of Truth and Justice

    Our problem Will is the reporting of this is selective, one sided and propgandistic – Thereasa May posturing in Parlianment along with Boris Johnson and accompanying images of people in hazmat suits in a provincial English town

    Youe will never be given the Russian official response, you will never hear Sergei Lavrov’s view nor that of Maria Zakharova responding to what is being said

    Boris Johnson godwined the issue in Parliament a few days ago – which is disgusting considering the price the Soviet Union paid to defeat Hitler

    He also quoted Dostoyevsky in an English translated paraphrase and amusingly Maria Zakharova quoted Dostoyevsky back at him in its original language – fun for a University debate but doesn’t advance our knowledge of what really happened

    There are so many holes in the official British narrative, the one which TV ONE News has reported, as to make it absurd

    For example we were told that they were attacked with a “military grade nerve agent 10 times more toxic than sarin”

    And we are now told they were attacked at their front door – so why didn’t they die there if the agnet is what they say it is? How were they able to visit a cemetery, have a drink in a pub and lunch in a restaurant before collapsing?

    Why didn’t the civilian doctor who went to their aid and who had no idea of who they were or what ailed them when he did not suffer any adverse effects?

    We might be told the Russia vetoed a British UN security Council resolution that virtually demanded Russia confess to this crime but not be told that Britain and the USA vetoed a Russian sponsered resolution that called for the crime to be investigated under the terms of the non proliferation of Chemical Weapons treaty that all three nations are signatories to

    But what should raise real alarm bells is that the few politicians who do raise pertinant questions are shouted down

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