New Zealand and the New Cold War

As soon as the Labour-Alliance Government offered soldiers for the orwellian-sounding “War on Terrorism”, declaring “total support for the approach taken by the United States”, it began drawing New Zealand into the hidden agendas not only of the Afghanistan War, but also of what are, in effect, the early days of a renewed cold war.

We are watching the beginning of a new era of US dominated international politics, in which the War on Terrorism has become the cover for extreme shifts in policy that have almost nothing to do with investigating or deterring terrorism. Carried for now on a wave of September 11 patriotism, the new, very right wing US Government is attempting to recreate a bi-polar “for us or against us” world, where anyone disagreeing with US policies may be a target for disapproval or retaliation. How New Zealand responds will affect this country’s 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 the Cold War role of dutiful US ally, preferring a more independent approach to international issues. But a tension has remained between this growing national identity and New Zealand’s traditional role in a five-nation US-led alliance. In the renewed cold war climate, our moves towards an identity independent of the US, UK, Canada and Britain is threatened.

The Bush Administration was already moving 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 to recreate their preferred operating environment, to increase military budgets and to stifle critics 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.”

When George W Bush appears on television, it can feel like watching an actor playing president in Cold War movie. The sense of unreality comes from the obviously scripted lines, but Cold War feel is all too real.

Here’s Bush in 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.”

What’s going on is much bigger than catching terrorists, or even one war (replacing nasty uncompliant rulers with nasty compliant ones) to gain access to Central Asian oil resources (see Listener, … Nov 2001). On 22 September Bush revived the classic Cold War slogan, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Whatever name historians eventually give it, this is the beginning of a new cold war.

It is about establishing a new ‘us vs them’ framework within which the extreme conservatives now running the US Government can get on with their own “mad, global ambitions” – bypassing the UN, interfering in other countries and using that nation’s overwhelming military force wherever it suits their economic or political interests. The Pentagon’s new name for this is “full spectrum dominance”.

How does New Zealand fit into this? Behind the trumpeted “international coalition against terrorism”, only a handful of countries were willing to go to war in Afghanistan. Britain and Australia – embarrassingly enthusiastic – followed by Canada and New Zealand. For NATO, Germany offered some troops for “support duties”.

The reason New Zealand’s SAS is there is a 50-year old alliance configuration: US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Whenever there is a war or international dispute: the US’s most enthusiastic, “reliable” allies are usually Britain and Australia, with Canada and New Zealand somewhere close behind.

This US-led, five-nation, Anglo-Saxon alliance was the basis of all New Zealand military and intelligence activities during the Cold War – albeit as the smallest and 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, New Zealanders have been more reluctant always to back US wars and policies and so the five-nation alliance has gone underground (the United States is not mentioned once in the Labour-Alliance’s defining 2000 “Defence Policy Framework”). But 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 risks being the official resumption of New Zealand availability for US operations all around the world. US ambassador Charles Swindells said the US was “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 “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. But if this attitude goes on “long-term” – and especially if Helen Clark acccepts trade favours in exchange for uncritically supporting US policies (“Bombs for Beef”) – then her moves towards a New Zealand-oriented defence and foreign policy will be rendered meaningless.

New Zealand’s three main Cold War services – SAS commandoes, SIS internal spies and NZCSO (later GCSB) external spies – were formed at the same time in 1955-56, each closely integrated into the allies’ operations.

The SAS’s role was “unconventional” warfare in various US and British resource and influence wars that occurred under cover of the Cold War. In 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, and in South East Asian conflicts tracked and killed Malayans, Indonesians and Vietnamese, to whom they gave the self-justifying label “CTs” – “Communist Terrorists”. Today, they would just be “Terrorists”. The public rarely hears about these missions – and we won’t for Afghanistan either.

The SIS’s role was fighting the Cold War inside New Zealand: spying on Russian and Chinese diplomats and New Zealand “communists”. The role grew to include socialist groups, students, Springbok and anti-globalisation protesters, Maori political groups and more.

During the 1990s (the inter-(cold) war years) the SIS had to devise not-very-credible new roles to justify its existence, such as protecting New Zealand’s agricultural secrets. But September 11 and the coming cold war are restoring its traditional role as local office for the US and British intelligence agencies, pursuing anyone they define as threats. Its chief target will now be “terrorism”, its powers are being increased and its budget is sure to rise.

Phil Goff’s recently expanded Terrorism Bill is based, of course, on US, British, Canadian and Australian legislation (the draconian US Patriot Act, together with attacks on freedom of speech, are undermining what’s best about the US: its commitment to civil rights). Goff’s worryingly broad definition of terrorism, and provisions to declare people “terrorists” based on secret information “from other governments”, provide scope for SIS operations for many years of work.

A week after the September 11 attacks, a New Zealand woman was questioned by the SIS for three hours because of a phone call she made to Boston after the attacks. In it she had mentioned an Arabic friend – and got onto the FBI’s huge suspect list because one of the hijackers had the same (very common) Arabic name. Luckily she was respectable and her explanations were accepted.

Compare that to sensational front-page stories about an Afghan refugee in Auckland, who had his home raided twice in March 2000 and six hours of interrogation about a supposed terrorist attack planned against the Sydney Olympics. The Police said the “plot” was uncovered during smuggling investigations. In fact the SIS began the investigation at the prompting of US intelligence services, after they noticed a satellite phone call into Afghanistan from the refugee’s phone number. There was no plot. Imagine the hysteria if this had been after September 11 (in the US there are still large numbers of people in detention following mass arrests).

These cases illustrate the power of the electronic spying systems of which our other Cold War agency, the GCSB, is part. Their calls were among millions going in and out of the US and Central Asia, with just a name or country code enough to trigger the high-tech eavesdropping systems.

The New Zealand’s GCSB facilities monitor Pacific e-mails and other communications. Already 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.

The SAS, SIS and GCSB are 45-year old Cold War creations being mobilised again for the new Cold War. Whose enemies will our SAS be fighting? Whose interests and prejudices will determine who our spy agencies monitor (and even put at risk)? In the growing cold war, the answer may simply be anyone who George W Bush and his advisers see as a threat to “US interests”.

Why would anyone want a new cold war? Looking back at the First Cold War we can see that it was much, much more than just a contest between the US and USSR. It actually served right wing Americans and their allies very well. By putting the world on a continuous war footing – with a massive military mobilisation and incessant publicity about “dark threats” to justify pressuring and even attacking other nations – the US was in a powerful position to pursue its interests around the world. Middle East: oil. Latin America and Asia: cheap food production, natural resources and mining. Thus our SAS being in Oman, a country New Zealanders have barely even heard of.

Pre-1945 this was called colonialism; after 1945 it happened under the 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 proportion of the world’s resources and wealth (clue: lots of people elsewhere do not have control of their resources and are not wealthy). If they hadn’t had the Soviet threat, as the saying goes, it would’ve been necessary to invent it. The same goes for Osama bin Laden today.

When US and British leaders blithely 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’s 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 of course talking about both al-Qaida and the members of Bush’s Administration.

Many Labour-Alliance Ministers quietly agree with a Robert Fisk view of the Afghanistan war (stop bombing, act through the UN and an international court, don’t let terrorism destroy freedoms) but they’re being stampeded into going along with an agenda almost diametrically opposite: joining the war, degrading civil rights and endorsing the new George W Bush world order. They are undermining New Zealand’s independence while going along with undermining other countries’ too. That the result will be more “underdevelopment and tension… ghettos, refugee camps and slums” shows the folly of their actions since, as Helen Clark told parliament, it is these that “breed the conditions for terrorism”.

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