‘She’ll be right’ attitude to security is shortsighted

Could we be doing more in the Asia-Pacific and how secure are we following the US election?

Some may be heralding the end of days with President-elect Donald Trump headed to the Oval Office, but a Massey University Professor says increased tension and conflict in the Asia Pacific is coming, no matter who leads the United States, and New Zealand needs to decide to stay on the sidelines or step in.

Massey University hosted more than 100 people this morning at the Mac's Function Centre on the Wellington waterfront for the second Future NZ Forum.

Professor Rouben Azizian, director of Massey University’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies, discussed whether New Zealand is still ready to stand up for its principles and ideals, or whether we are more focused on our wallets.

The forum, ‘She’ll be right – Security Planning in the Asia Pacific’, opened with Professor Azizian stating that New Zealand needs to be proactive in regional security matters and develop a comprehensive national security strategy.

“If we are complacent, our neutral stance on regional conflicts and major power rivalries may come back to bite us,” says Professor Azizian. “The New Zealand Government seems to be overly-concerned with protecting the country’s economic and trade interests, at a time when regional security and economics are more and more intertwined.  

“The ‘she’ll be right’ attitude to regional tensions, backed by the assurance that we’re protected by our geographical isolation, is quickly dissolving,” he says. 

Professor Azizian asks the big questions about how we move forward with our security.

Weighing the options

Professor Azizian discussed the regional security environment since the American election and the role of existing regional mechanisms in dealing with current and future tensions and conflicts. 

He said Donald Trump’s victory is destabilising due to the expected escalation of international trade frictions, while Hillary Clinton’s presidency may have lead to increased political confrontation between Washington, Beijing and Moscow.

He further stated that New Zealand has two options in responding to the scenario of increased regional instability – continue to sit on the sidelines or act as a regional facilitator.

“We could take a proactive role in developing common regional norms and de-escalating rivalries and tensions. This would be more consistent with the government’s aspiration to promote a rules-based international order and to be a bridge-builder and problem solver.”

He suggested that New Zealand and other balancing, neutral and non-aligned nations in the Asia-Pacific should advocate for regional agreements similar to the Cold War’s Helsinki Accords, which were signed in an attempt to normalise and improve relations between the Communist bloc and the West, and were facilitated by small countries like New Zealand.

Panel members: Grant Robertson (left), Mark Mitchell, Dr Anna Powles, Candy Green, and Professor Azizian.

Weighing the options

Guests heard from a panel of security experts and were given the chance to ask questions about democracy, transparency and security. Panelists included Candy Green, US Embassy; Labour Party Spokesperson for Finance and Employment, Grant Robertson; National Party MP, Mark Mitchell; and Dr Anna Powles of Massey Centre for Defence and Security Studies.

The panel hotly debated the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) with Mr Robertson claiming the it is now “dead in the water”, whilst Mr Mitchell said there is still hope for its future.

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