The right step: New Zealand’s engagement in the Middle East

Dr Oliver Hartwich
Insights Newsletter
26 January, 2024

The Government’s decision to deploy defence force personnel to the Middle East marks a significant, yet reasonable, shift in its foreign policy. Far from undermining our long-held independence stance, this move reaffirms New Zealand’s commitment to democratic values and global security.

Historically, New Zealand has prided itself on an independent foreign policy that navigates the complex geopolitical landscape with a nuanced and principled approach.

The decision to engage in the Middle East aligns with these principles, reflecting a willingness to stand up for New Zealand’s values and interests in the face of emerging global challenges.

It is crucial to understand that independence in foreign policy does not equate to neutrality, let alone isolationism. In a world increasingly polarised between liberal and authoritarian forces, such neutrality would be cowardly.

Independence, in its true sense, is about making sovereign decisions that align with one’s values and interests. Therefore, New Zealand’s engagement in the Middle East is not abandoning its independent policy but its practical application.

Today's world is markedly different from the era when Wellington could afford a more hands-off approach. The threats to global security and the liberal democratic order are more pronounced, necessitating a more active role.

We should also put New Zealand’s contribution into perspective. New Zealand will send six defence force staff, not six frigates. Incidentally, New Zealand only has two of the latter (and whether they are even operational is a different question).

The deployment to the Middle East, especially in a non-combat, intelligence-support role, is an appropriate way for New Zealand to contribute to international efforts to safeguard freedom of the seas. It aligns with our capabilities and our historical commitment to peacekeeping and upholding international law.

The Government’s decision also expresses of solidarity with our democratic allies. Democracies need to stand united against authoritarian forces challenging the rules-based international order.

Finally, New Zealand is a nation dependent on trade. Keeping international trade routes safe will always be in New Zealand’s national interest.

It is disappointing that the Government’s decision did not have the support of the opposition. Our dedication to global stability and the protection of international maritime law should enjoy support across the democratic spectrum.

One can only hope for the opposition to rethink its stance.

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