Sunday, August 7, 2022

Some see NZ’s invitation to the NATO summit as a reward for a shift in foreign policy, but it is far from accurate

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s acceptance of an invitation to speak at this week’s NATO Leaders Summit in Madrid has fueled a narrative that New Zealand’s independent foreign policy is falling victim to a new Cold War.

According to this view, Ardern’s participation is a reward for the recent alignment of New Zealand’s foreign policy with the US and its allies against Russia and, to a lesser extent, China.

This narrative claims this shift was illustrated by sanctions against Putin’s Russia, humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine and public questioning of China’s growing involvement in the Pacific.

These developments allegedly show that American power has forced New Zealand to abandon its preferred strategy of entrenching the two superpowers and instead follow Washington at the expense of its own national interests and the country’s crucial relationship with China.

But this reading of the current international situation and its impact on New Zealand’s foreign policy is wide of the mark.

There is no new Cold War

The post-Cold War era differs fundamentally from the period between 1947 and 1989 and its competitive global economic systems and competitive but comparable alliance systems. Those features simply do not exist in the globalizing world of the 21st century.

China’s rise to superpower status is based on full – blooded participation in the global capitalist economy and its dependence on key markets such as the United States, the European Union and Japan.

At the same time, the Ardern government has distinctive reasons, other than simply following America’s leadership, to oppose Putin’s Ukraine invasion and express public reservations about the China-Solomon Islands security agreement.

Since World War II, New Zealand has been a staunch supporter of a strengthened international rule-based order, entrenched in institutions such as the United Nations and embodied in norms such as multilateralism.

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Read more: War in Ukraine: NATO summit meets in a world rearranged by Russian aggression and Chinese ambition


Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a blatant violation of the UN Charter. This confirmed what was clear for much of the post-Cold War era – the UN Security Council is no longer fit for purpose.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed to push for a reformed Security Council that can curb aggression more effectively. The Ardern government believes it is of great importance to help Kiev defeat Putin’s expansionism.

By raising concerns about China’s “militarization” of the Pacific region as a possible violation of the 2000 Biketawa Declaration, the Ardern government seeks to promote local resilience against China’s assertiveness in a region known as New -Seeland’s neighborhood is considered.



Read more: Ukraine may be far away, but a security crisis in Europe could still threaten Aotearoa New Zealand


New Zealand’s worldview remains distinctive. It shares many of the concerns of close allies about the threat of authoritarian states to an international rule-based order. But it also rejects the view that any great power should enjoy extraordinary rights and privileges in the 21st century.

Here, New Zealand’s foreign policy company shares with those of its traditional allies. New Zealand not only seeks to defend the international rule-based order, it wants to strengthen it.

New Zealand’s strategic positioning

There are other important strategic and economic reasons for Ardern to make this five-day visit to Europe.

She will have the opportunity to stress to so-called realists within NATO that the surrender of Ukrainian territory to Putin to bring peace is delusional, which is likely to invite only more territorial demands from the Kremlin.

China will also play a major role in the talks. Xi Jinping’s regime diplomatically supported the Kremlin and recently declared that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was “legal”.

Ardern said China should not be “taken” with Moscow. But she will also be aware that a failure to strongly oppose Putin’s attack on the rule-based order in Ukraine could increase China’s pressure on Taiwan, a state with vibrant trade and cultural ties with New Zealand, in to close.

Ardern should tell leaders in Madrid the best China strategy at this stage is to make sure Putin’s invasion is averted. If Putin’s army is defeated and expelled from Ukraine, it will be a serious blow to Xi’s leadership and could complicate any plans he may have to annex Taiwan.

Opportunity to promote bilateral trade talks

The NATO Assembly will also facilitate bilateral meetings with European leaders on a number of key trade issues.

In Brussels, Ardern and Trade Minister Damien O’Connor will seek to advance already advanced talks for a New Zealand-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The EU internal market remains the world’s largest and most prosperous. It offers New Zealand the prospect of improved trade ties with a key like-minded partner.

In London, Ardern and O’Connor will meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to build on a “gold standard” New Zealand UK Free Trade Agreement negotiated earlier this year.



Read more: What New Zealand should gain from its trade deal with Britain after Brexit


The UK government has applied to join the Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTTP). Ardern can warn Johnson that breach of the EU withdrawal agreement with regard to the Northern Ireland Protocols could jeopardize this objective.

Ardern’s participation in the NATO summit and bilateral discussions in Europe in a time of geopolitical uncertainty reflect New Zealand’s key national objectives of promoting an international rule – based order and diversifying trade links.

Nation World News Desk
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