‘Like-minded’ is a phrase bandied about with reference to New Zealand’s relationships with countries like Australia and the United States. It is mentioned precisely in these contexts in the last defence white paper, and, although the current 2014 Defence Assessment seems more circumspect on this matter, a joint statement by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and then-Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott last year still suggested that no other bilateral arrangement had the same ‘immediacy and commonality’. But just what exactly are we like-minded about? Are we, like the US, like-minded in thinking that military solutions may help address complex political problems? Or are we, like Australia, of the mind that the offshore detention of asylum seekers (or New Zealand citizens) in harsh conditions is appropriate and acceptable? We certainly do have reasons to maintain and extend relationships such as these historically close ties. But one sign of a healthy inter-state relationship is the ability to ascertain just where that relationship diverges in significant ways.
In regard to the first of these instances noted above, Robert Ayson recently commented that we are firmly in a ‘post-post-ANZUS’ era. I don’t disagree. Much has happened since 1985. Yet although some instances of warming have been reassuring, such as joint engagement in HADR exercises, much has been contentious. New Zealand’s role in Afghanistan may well be defensible in its emphasis on the Provincial Reconstruction Team’s role in helping to provide stability and development in Bamyan. But Afghanistan is on a downward trajectory , as evidenced by the recent Taliban takeover of much of Kunduz, virtually unopposed in its opening phases by the estimated 7,000 Afghan troops and police in situ. This raises questions about the overall strategy that New Zealand signed up to. Similarly, New Zealand’s contested engagement to help train Iraqi troops and recent suggestions that the USA will undertake ‘direct action on the ground’ in Iraq and Syria can also be read as signs that the American model has not delivered.
With over 30 representatives from more than 10 federal agencies, the non-Department of Defense representation at the U.S. Africa Command is one of the broadest of any Combatant Command (COCOM). Using a novel approach, AFRICOM's non-DOD representatives are placed throughout the Command and embedded directly with DoD staff, where their subject matter expertise can best be used. Non-DoD agency representatives develop their own relationships with the command; however, coordination of policies and procedures for the integration of non-DoD expertise is coordinated through AFRICOM's J9 Office of Interagency Coordination and AFRICOM's Interagency Board.
The Command has approximately 2,000 personnel of whom just 30 are non-military. And the intimation is that any civilian component will act more like a force multiplier than an equal partner. The unbalanced investment in military force as a political instrument skews priorities. In missions that comprise military and civilian components, ‘information asymmetries’ favour the agent (military) over the principal (civilian): for more on this distinction see Feaver’s civil-military Agency Theory. Translating and transforming broader politico-strategic objectives into narrow military-operational targets is fraught with difficulty. David Kilcullen, in his 2009 book The Accidental Guerilla, has argued that “an imbalance exists between military and non-military elements of capacity [which] distorts policy”. In his 2006 book Battle for Peace General Anthony Zinni notes the lack of connection between political and military objectives in Iraq. This means that while there is a need for hard military power, the military-heavy model in international affairs sorely needs to be challenged.
As does Australia’s immigration detention policy. Immigrants can be detained both on Australian soil and in offshore processing sites, with just over 2,000 being housed in immigration detention facilities in May 2015. Immigration detention was brought in in the early 1990s following an influx of migrants from Southeast Asia. Consolidated under the Migration Reform Act 1992, this Act meant that those without valid visas were able to be detained without a time limit. Offshore processing sites were initially instigated in 2001 under a Liberal Government, demand then eased until they were reinvigorated in 2012 under a Labor Government, ostensibly to prevent deaths at sea as people from far flung places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan attempted to reach Australia to claim refugee status.
The costs of this system are impressive. One report claims that the approximately 1,500 men, women and children being held in offshore processing centres on Nauru and on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) are there at the cost of over $1billion a year – almost five times the amount the UNHCR spends annually on refugee issues in the entire South East Asia region. The argument has been made that such money would be better spent on helping to address the problem at its source. But the costs of this system are not just financial. There are known human costs to those housed in immigration detention facilities. Compelling concerns have been raised about human rights abuses and the nature of the conditions within these facilities as well as the more general issue of the outsourcing of the many of these operations to private companies. A litany of incidents across these camps has come to a head with serious unrest this week on Christmas Island and international condemnation is spreading.
Australia is therefore facing the cost of losing some of its soft power. This week Australia’s periodic review by the UN Human Rights Council has seen countries lining up to condemn their detention policies. New Zealand citizens are being held in these facilities, including some whose visas have been revoked merely on the grounds of ‘character’. But the Prime Minister has given the impression of being unwilling to press the issue, with the government’s response labelled ‘feeble’.
However, the fact that New Zealanders are being held in detention is both important and yet somewhat irrelevant to the main issue at hand. If New Zealanders were detained by other apparently less ‘like-minded’ countries in the region, it is likely that government leaders and officials in Wellington would be more willing to condemn the practice. But even with Australia being our close neighbour, New Zealand has good reasons to voice its concerns. Australia has recently slipped in migrant integration rankings despite a range of studies demonstrating that the social benefits outweigh the costs of absorbing those migrants who make major contributions to population, productivity and participation. This matters to New Zealand, not least because so many kiwis live in Australia. It also matters because part of being ‘like-minded’ is the ability to have enough common ground upon which to press harder on important issues where we really don’t agree. This means taking stock of where we remain ‘like-minded’ and being honest in identifying the areas where we are out of step with traditional friends and allies.
Beth Greener is Associate Professor of International Relations at Massey University. She can emailed email@example.com