Opinion: How does chaos in Washington affect New Zealand?

OPINION: The relationship between the United States and New Zealand is long standing. The two countries have repeatedly displayed the deepest diplomatic commitments possible – based around shared spent blood and large foreign policy goals.

Our relationship can endure difficulties and evolve. Quite simply, the relationship is much deeper than whoever is the current leaders. The history, values and visions that the two peoples' share are remarkably similar, deep and shared.

The diplomatic relationship between the United States and Aotearoa, began before New Zealand became a country in 1840. After the Treaty of Waitangi, the external focus for the new country was upon Britain, which we followed slavishly into a conflict in South Africa, and then, the First World War.

It was in the latter conflict, that New Zealanders first fought alongside Americans. We fought even closer together during the Second World War, after it became apparent that it was only Washington, not Westminster, that could guarantee our survival in that conflict. That understanding helped anchor New Zealand with the ANZUS treaty in 1951.

The result of this commitment was New Zealand stepping into conflicts, such as Vietnam, which now had ANZAC soldiers fighting with America, and without Britain. Despite the depth of this commitment, when New Zealand  became a nuclear-free country after the 1984 election, our relationship with America wilted.

Although severely tested, the defence relationship between the two countries did not die. Intelligence cooperation continued to pulse, before New Zealand came to assist the United States in 1991 in the Gulf War, in 2001 in Afghanistan, in 2004 in Iraq, and then again in 2015, again in Iraq, as Islamic State became an existentialist threat to the entire region.

For New Zealand, the problem at hand with the current American President is largely as a bystander. We are not a direct target. On the whole, Mr Trump is too busy tussling with many others, both inside and outside of his country, to poke a stick at us.  Rather, there has been some pleasant and polite exchanges, and a nice new law, the Kiwi Act, making travel for NZ business people easier to America.

Our peoples, travel relatively freely between each land, supplementing, not threatening, each other. Our trade relationship, at about $4 billion (USD) each way is balanced and positive, but lacking the depth that a specific free trade agreement would give it.  Our relationship, simply, is nice and non-threatening to Mr Trump.

However, as a bystander watching the chaos that surrounds President Trump, New Zealand finds itself impacted upon in two ways.

First, New Zealand, as a small country, needs for a rule-based international society to survive and prosper. Mr Trump, as the leader of the most powerful country on the planet does not believe this to be the case for his country.  

For New Zealand, and most of the rest of the planet, we understand very well that the challenges and rewards of globalisation will only eventuate with a solid international order based upon negotiation and agreement, not power and bluster.  

This means for deals like the Paris Agreement which attempt to confront the most pressing environmental challenge of climate change and its impact upon humanity, should be dealt with via solidarity, not lack of good faith and short term point scoring.

For nuclear control, such as with Iran, this means deals should be kept if there is no evidence that Iran was cheating. For trade deals, stability and honour to early agreements should be the goal.  Disagreements should be ironed out, not thrown out the window if the chance of leverage becomes apparent.

Fundamentally, the mechanisms to help resolve trade disputes (the World Trade Organisation) to the anarchy that occurred in the 1930s Depression from reappearing, should be bolstered, not undermined.

The second area where New Zealand suffers collateral problems from the chaos surrounding Mr Trump, is that some of the values that currently bedevil the President in a domestic context are of great importance to democracies everywhere. First, the rule of law whereby every elected official is subject to the power of the people needs to be respected.

Second, election meddling from foreign powers, in any shape or form needs to be clearly and strongly criminalised. Finally, the free press and their ability to critically examine those in power, should be enhanced, not threatened with taunts that they are the 'enemy of the people'.

How Mr Trump deals with all of these democracy defining issues, echoes from the boundaries of the United States to the shores of New Zealand.

Alexander Gillispie is a Professor International Law at Waikato University.

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