Why business as usual is a risk for New Zealand's foreign policy: Jayden Evett critiques the recent foreign policy speech by the prime minister.

AuthorEvett, Jayden

One well-worn cliche describing Aotearoa New Zealand on the world stage compares it to a dinghy, a smaller but defter boat compared to aircraft-carrier-sized countries like the United States. Since the late 1990s, the dinghy has embodied our approach to how we act internationally -use our small size to be more manoeuvrable and responsive to changes overseas.

Chris Hipkins's July foreign policy speech to the NZIIA (to be found elsewhere in this issue) marked his first as prime minister and confirmed that its business as usual for the ship of state. The same is likely be heard from the Opposition heading into the 14 October general election --part of an unspoken decades-old agreement to fence off foreign policy from election year politicking.

There is a benefit to this in ensuring New Zealand's foreign policy remains depoliticised so others can trust and expect the continuity of our international behaviour. But it limits the opportunity to air out and evaluate policy the way we do in all other areas at an election--in the public forum, with a critical eye, and in a way that is straightforward. Academic analysis is not a substitute for public scrutiny.

Returning to the dinghy metaphor, this removes the opportunity for New Zealanders to regularly look at what course our craft is taking abroad and how it is being charted. By not doing this, we have missed a pretty important development: that the rudder on our foreign policy dinghy stopped working years ago, leaving it directionless. Hipkins's decision for business-as-usual risks leaving New Zealand adrift in international waters among increasingly volatile tides of global change.

What was there before? New Zealand's current 'values-based' foreign policy direction comes from the 1990s. It reflects the changes brought by the nuclear-free movement, our expulsion from the ANZUS alliance and the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. As a country we made the right choices internationally, even if they were unpopular, and we were willing to stand alone.

It was the start to a great journey that was never charted in any detail. Instead, successive governments hit autopilot on foreign policy, letting high ideals set the course. Three decades on, Hipkins has hit that button as have those before him. Only this time, that foreign policy is not working like it used to.

Rusted engine

Like a rusted rudder engine, New Zealand diplomacy's tools do not work like they used to. Our independence has lost its meaning. On...

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