In her latest Huffington Post blog entry, Cleo writes about what Wikileaks has to say about the security situation in the Pacific. An excerpt:
In a time when the Pacific is getting more attention from Washington, Wellington's role in advising on the region is becoming more valued.
This is potentially problematic in two ways.
First, NZ's information and advice may not always be as reliable as thought. There are examples of failure to predict/manage critical situations. For example, mismanagement of the Fiji coup by NZ/Australia resulted in pushing Fiji closer towards the China camp.
Similarly, in Tonga, New Zealand has been backing the 'pro-democracy' movement. That group triggered riots in 2006 that burned down much of the capital city. Following the riots, failure by NZ to substantially participate in the reconstruction resulted in Tonga having to take out a debilitating loan from China. The fact that a group supported by NZ as pro-democracy resulted in the country becoming indebted to an authoritarian country is a small indication of the something going wrong.
Another problem is the character of NZ's engagement of the region (which can affect intelligence gathering, analysis, and operations).
There is a perception of a pervasive NZ 'we know better' attitude towards Pacific island nations. For example, NZ is proposing sending a team to train the new Tongan parliamentarians in governance, in spite of the fact that the Tongan system is fundamentally different than the NZ one.
Second, NZ's interests are not necessarily US interests. NZ has its own range of national priorities and one would expect it to put those above the interests of partner states, no matter how close the relationship.
For example, the 2010 cable notes that: "There is also collaboration [between the US and NZ] on the Energy Development for Island Nations (EDIN) project, which aims to develop renewable energy resources for Pacific Islands and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels."
However, as is seen with the proposed Meridian deal, NZ is not above using tied aid to try to get Tonga to buy a solar power plant from a Government of NZ owned company. This could potentially tie Tongan consumers in to high energy costs and so undermining economic development, which can lead to instability, which can lead to greater gains by others, including China (as has happened in the past).
All in all, while a closer relationship between NZ and the US is desirable, it would benefit both nations, as well as the Pacific islands, if the responsibility for the region's security was more embedded in the region itself. Why settle for only 'a more Pacific country', when one can also engage with actual Pacific countries.
Given the Pacific's increasingly geopolitical importance, the US might want to consider opening more diplomatic missions of its own in the Pacific (perhaps even along with the UK and burgeoning partner India), as well as helping to facilitate the opening of reciprocal missions to Washington.
There is a lot of natural warmth towards the West in the Pacific, but the relationship with NZ has left some feeling burned. That can affect intelligence flows and operational capacities, creating vulnerabilities for all concerned. NZ should encourage more direct US engagement in the region, if only to buttress its own intelligence and security.
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