Policy-making in the age of bewilderment: Terence O'Brien considers geopolitics and New Zealand's relationships and suggests the need for an alternative and progressive trade strategy.

AuthorO'Brien, Terence

Someone recently described these present times as the 'Age of Bewilderment'. The task of devising alternative progressive trade strategies has undeniably got a lot harder. The combination of international tumult created by US President Trump, the looming exit of Britain from the European Union with consequences for both sides and the world beyond, plus on-going structural shift: in the tectonic plates of the world economy caused by the dynamism of East Asia led by an increasingly confident China and India, each determined to be major league influences in the 21st century, all add up to a substantial geopolitical kettle of fish.

All this coincides, too, with the unfurling revolution in robotics, artificial intelligence and communications technology where in the key domain of cyber America strives to sustain dominance and where others, too, are bent upon rival proficiency --government and non-government forces alike. It includes magnifying rivalries in space. It coincides, too, with the spread of capability to manufacture highly dangerous weapons; and with severe damage to the world's climate, ecology and resources from heedless exploitation.

Nagging concern persists about signs of a repeat of the 2008 global financial crisis triggered in the United States, while misgiving about unequal distribution of the benefits of economic growth propels political upheaval in several key places on the back of so-called populism--with obvious consequences for traditional politics, for international relations and for terms and conditions of trade between nations. So the cup runneth over. How will New Zealand cope? In her first speech at the UN General Assembly last September, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern focused upon the qualities that modern unthreatening New Zealand brings to the table of international relations. Unlike others she did not dwell upon current geopolitical preoccupations like the Middle East--thus drawing a distinction with hardnosed and sometimes menacing presentations by other leaders at the UN rostrum.

Strategic statement

To obtain better insight into actual New Zealand thinking about aspects of today's geopolitics, we are obliged to refer back to the Strategic Defence Policy Statement 2018, approved by Cabinet and released in July by Defence Minister Ron Mark. In making a case for New Zealand acquiring specified military capabilities, that statement asserts a strategic imperative for New Zealand of sustaining and deepening...

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