Reason, Imagination and Invention in the South Pacific: The Laser Beam Kiwi

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 6, June 2018 

By Bernard Cadogan, Ph.D.

Troops pose with the “Laser Kiwi” flag, submitted to the New Zealand Flag Consideration panel in 2015 by James Gray. Source: Reddit.

Address to the U.K. Defence Academy, Shrivenham, 7th February 2018

New Zealand is proof that nature does not always abhor, a vacuum. The country is truly, “the last, the loneliest and the loveliest” as Rudyard Kipling declared Auckland to be in his “Song of the Cities”. Strategic systems never tolerate vacuums. They punish confusion and ambivalence. New Zealand is no redoubt, nor is it overlooked.

The intention of this address is to consider New Zealand’s sense of geopolitical reality. Are we proof that the Versailles Conference unassociated Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nation state has been outclassed in the 21st century Pacific? Are we a living fossil ?

Woodrow Wilson envisaged a world in which there would be no assemblages such as empires, nor alliance systems even. Sovereignty-pooling exercises such as the European Union and Mercosur or Caricom would have been anathema to Wilson. They are not an option for us.

When asked at the Versailles Conference, why we had made the effort we did in the Great War, our Prime Minister Bill Massey replied, “we did it for Civilisation”.

A hundred years on our sense of civilisation has altered. It is no longer defined by Europe or the UK. We certainly do not understand civilisation the way the Americans understand it. We have provincialised – a word which I use neutrally. Goethe was provincial. Wagner was provincial. Wordsworth and Elgar were provincial. I am. But so is Sarah Palin.

Reason, Imagination and Invention, which in this essay I capitalize to stress their importance, are requisite for a situation such as ours. Cyber warfare supplants geography. We are no longer remote, except in so far as we are remote from our true situation. The modern Asia/Pacific weighs us in the scales.

Please let me pose this simple question.

Where is the centre of New Zealand? Where lies its true interior ? It is certainly not in the South Island as the annual 90 mile Iron Man coast to coast event demonstrates, when contestants almost derisively kayak, cycle and run its width.

The centre is not Wellington nor is it to be found in the Cook Strait. That is merely a geographical centre. The Crown’s success in the Cook Strait War of 1843-47 cut the Ngati Toa tribe off from the Yukon of the Maori world.

Nor is the middle of the North Island in any way ” central”. The volcanic desolation is a ” badlands” or virtual desert of tussock and ash.

No – the Waikato region south of Auckland city, is New Zealand’s true heartland. It was the old war-zone, where the hegemony of the Waikato /Tainui tribe commenced in the 1820s to be broken in the 1864. The Waikato is where settler culture received its characteristic ” Kiwi” traits.

Half of everyone in New Zealand lives north of a line that runs from Te Kuiti to Whakatane. It is the heart of our dairy industry, the core of our dairy industry. The Maori kingship the Kiingitanga is based at Ngaruawahia. As HRH The Prince of Wales observed in 2015, the Waikato is “a cultural landscape.”

In the Waikato there is a town called Matamata. The toponym means ” eyes/eyes” or ” lookout”. The town has two points of interest.

The first is the Matamata hobbit-hole, a concrete drain in a hillside, that provided the residence of the Baggins Family in Peter Jackson’s film epics of ” The Lord of the Rings” and ” The Hobbit”. Tourists – no pilgrims- come from all over the world to see an Old World folly fantasied in a pastoral Pacific landscape, which bears no resemblance to England or Teutonic lands at all.

The second attraction is far more telling. It is the Matamata Pa, or fighting fortress, commissioned (so to speak ) in 1835 at the height of the Musket Wars. The earthworks remain.

It is the first fighting pa designed for firearms and artillery warfare. This effective piece of military engineering is the precursor of the generation of fighting pa invested in our wars until the 1870s. Go to it if you visit New Zealand because you will have the site to yourself if you can find it, and get a good view.

By 1835 Maori were undergoing a series of tremendous revolutions that demonstrated all of their capabilities to reason, to imagine and to invent. The era of the Musket Wars was both horrific and marvellous. Despite their lack of immunity to global pathogens, Maori responded with courage and resilience as they underwent an agricultural and horticultural revolution, a commercial revolution, a literacy and printing revolution, and a revolution in military affairs. This profound transformation took place under their own auspices and by their own efforts, and not as the result of colonial rule. The Waikato was their leading zone of energy.

The same people whose cosmology taught them that it was the God of War -Tumatauenga – who created humankind, to be his allies in the fight against the God of non-being – were impelled to say yes to the new Pacific and seek to establish themselves in it. A break-through people, they were betrayed in the future they arrived at.

However New Zealand never truly became The Shire. Instead our two peoples co-evolve and shape one another, sharing the same political system and citizenship on terms that gradually became more equal over a century and a half. The result is an Anglo-Oceanic polity.

We Pakeha have learned much from Maori – how to fight them with light infantry and light cavalry in the bush and on open ground – skills which passed into our style of New Zealand soldiering. Governor Sir George Grey learned from the future first Maori King, the Tainui paramount chief Te Wherowhero Potatau, that power in New Zealand rises from control of the Waikato and its great rivers, the Waipa, the Waikato, and the Piako. We learned the arts of endurance at patient and careful negotiation, and learned to work and live with, equal yet different, world views.

Back to Matamata – the question is – which feature of Matamata defines New Zealand’s response to the Asia-Pacific – have we gone down one of our periodic flights down the hobbit hole, and slammed the big round door shut, or are we braced and vigilant up on the fighting pa ready to blow our conch shell trumpets ? Are we the militant little “Prussia of the South Pacific” we once were or Quaker Pennsylvania?

The Key/English National Party Government of 2008-17 has arguably been the definitive administration for this 21st century. Sir John Key once declared that ” New Zealand is post the postcolonial”.

This is true. While being post-the-postcolonial may mean that the postcolonial is superseded, it does not mean that the experience is denied. The skills acquired through working with our postcolonial moment have not been discarded. I would suggest that they have passed into our Foreign Policy style. Sir Donald McKinnon’s patient mediation of the Bougainville conflict, Sir Paul Reeves’ mediation and constitutional work with Guyana, were shaped by responses to the postcolonial which we have relearned from our own Treaty of Waitangi negotiations.

Response to the postcolonial is locked into our civic framework, whether we are Maori or Pakeha, and no other Anglosphere polity with a significant white population, is as much at home with this problematic.

Allies and friends are only of so much use to another if they replicate just each other’s assets, as they might standardise weapon systems and communications. Asymmetries can add to a geopolitical system, or more broadly speaking, a civilisation. Our ability to cope in a matter of fact way with the stress of postcolonial mindsets and demands distinguishes us with a rare understanding.

Perhaps the Jackpot answer to the Kiwi conundrum lies in one of the entries for Sir John Key’s 2016 Flag Referendum. A highly popular entry, which got to the penultimate round, depicted a Kiwi firing laser beams out of its eyes. Although the design was patently unsuitable as a national ensign, we all had a good laugh. Quite why – no one ever spelled out. I shall try now.

The laser-beam Kiwi was not (just) an instance of Australasian mockery of pomp and circumstance. Between the Crown and Maori, New Zealand has a rich and fascinating vexillology over the past 200 years, which amounts to a body of lore in itself.

The laser Kiwi was the entry that said something about ourselves.

What was that? A Kiwi lives down a burrow. There we have the Matamata hobbit-hole. The Kiwi is a flightless and modest bird. Yet here it is – a weapons platform.

Shooting laser beams is hardly a defensive posture. This is a passive-aggressive Kiwi, capable of offensive action, of cognitive penetration, and of the skills and mindset necessary to sustain nation state sovereignty. This Kiwi actually wants to zap people. This is the Kiwi that fought in the Great War, fought Hitler and the Japanese, a kiwi that can hold its own in the world. It is the Kiwi that helped set up the UN and made a real go of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the Uruguay Round and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Let’s go deeper and decode this image through the heraldry of the British Armed Forces. The badge of No. 3 Fighter Squadron is a cockatrice – the fabulous bird that kills with a searing look. The rooster portion of a cockatrice is admittedly a little more airworthy than a kiwi – but you take my point. Emboldened by No. 3 Fighter Squadron, I propose that the laser beam kiwi does join our vexillogical repertoire of southern crosses and ferns, and that it should become the badge of our Cybersecurity and Cyber warfare units.

No Kiwi is a “hawk”. We sustain one of the world’s best small liberal polities. We have a healthy economic and decent economic growth – a rock star economy it has been called, even though we lack the oil wealth of Norway, the mineral wealth of Australia, and the literary prowess of Ireland.

What are we then? Nordic analogies have been frequently proposed ever since Bishop Monrad led Denmark into the 1864 Schleswig-Holstein War and then fled to New Zealand, only to flee back to his mother country from our own wars in 1869 when he got caught up in our wars.

The Nordic nations share a region acute tectonic pressure between geopolitical systems. Historically the Russian Plate, the Teutonic Plate and the Atlantic Plate collide in Scandinavia.

Yet each Nordic nation responds differently to their common predicament. Sweden is neutral, but has always invested in Defence. Finland has had to fight, and is a member of North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO). Iceland is a non-belligerent member of NATO in that it has no defence establishment. Denmark is a wobbler – yearning for hygge and the hobbit-hole while more or less staying in NATO and the European Union (EU).

Norway invests both in credible capabilities as an alliance partner, and in peace-making diplomacy, whether through the Oslo Committee of the Nobel Peace Prize, or its most expert diplomats, who dedicate earnest and self-effacing effort to assisting parties to conflict find sustainable solutions.

The ceremonial centre of every Australasian city is the cenotaph. Australians and New Zealanders are now divided in how and why they commemorate the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp with ANZAC Day on the 25th April.

Australians have militarised their history. New Zealanders remain more where the Australians were in 1979 when they made the film ” Gallipoli”. Our history was military, and conversely it has been demilitarised. On 25 April, people emphasise rather the futility of the Great War a century ago, and its potential to engulf us as a nation.

So powerful is the hold of WWI on the public memory, that a farmer once faxed me in 1999 a protest that read: “Did my father fight Hitler at Gallipoli (sic), for you bastards to give the country away to the xxxx Maaries (sic) and sell it off to the xxxxx Asians”.

Hitler of course has long since become a meta-Hitler, but it is telling that our own epic Hitleriad can be so easily subsumed into the Great War. The Brexiteers invoked Hitler and WWII and struck sub-Churchillian poses in 2016. Australasians never emphasise the second German War. Yet New Zealand never did anything more right than fight the Axis and to make Germany our main commitment.

Another respect where we remain where the Australians once were, is with the United States. Some of us have acquired the suspicion of Dr Herbert Vere Evatt, the Australian Foreign Minister, who proposed the Evatt doctrine in January 1944 for the security of the South Pacific. Evatt was possibly obsessed about the United States. His government had identified Japan as the main war threat. The US and UK prioritised defeat of Germany, a decision with which New Zealand concurred. New Zealand however accepted the requirements to motivate the Soviet Union as an ally. Our primary military deployment was in the Mediterranean.

Between 1966-1985 New Zealanders moved towards the Evatt position, while Australia shifted to become a more ardent ally of the United States than it ever was of Britain.

What kind of break did the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS) crisis for New Zealand and the United States mark in 1985? A lot about the New Zealand position was discreditable and lacked authority. The episode was worthy of Captain Pugwash. The Americans had bent over backwards by dispatching the USS “Buchanan” on a fleet visit, only to be insulted and deceived. Prime Minister David Lange has been described as Rabelasian by Rt Hon Winston Peters’ Chief of Staff Jon Johannsen. I prefer “Falstaffian” – the Beppo Grillo Falstaff of Verdi’s opera.

Yet the number of battle honours on the walls of The House of Representatives in Wellington have grown since then, as we have contributed to the operations of our Western friends and allies abroad. So much for our ” Deutschland ’83” moment of 1984-85.

NZ has these constraints:

1/ imagine what it’s like being an ordinary New Zealander and having no foreign passport. “Oz” is the only escape from “Tennessee in the sea”. Our teens do not go on tour buses and see the West like young East Euro, German, French, Iberian and Italian secondary school children can visit the UK and other EU countries.

2/ primary production + tourism means a low value placed on thought for thought’s sake and negalitarian resentment of technocrats intellectuals and migrants who can do this.

3/ the concepts necessary to explain government are heavily constrained by the demotics and a media that demands entertainment or disaster for their ratings. It is simply impossible to explain the contents of a whiteboard in the Kiwi vernacular.

The art of New Zealand politics consists of turning lynch mobs into Greek choruses. The Treaty Age so heavily protocolled political discourse with a jittery and skeptical white public, so that an extraordinary ritual of appeasement has to be undertaken to broach the comfort zone.

Two things have set in, for New Zealanders like concrete. These two attitudes are:

“It’s too hard for New Zealand”.

“We can only do what’s within our capabilities”.

A great dumbing down has occurred in New Zealand. Small countries are either conservative, or they disproportionately suffer from intellectual viruses and plagues from abroad. The economic resilience we gained by dismantling the modernist State from 1984 has been offset by how language-based disciplines at our universities collapsed. Our publishers dropped to a reading level of age twelve, and our media has infantilised, as it struggles to compete against satellite TV, social media and the Internet. This has impacted on our civil society.

As for our limited capabilities, making them even more limited seems to have been the game, in removing the air combat capability from the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF), and in the Greens’ policy of reducing the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) to a coastguard. We have got the post-Cold War period wrong. No post-Cold War dividend resulted.

We are now witnessing neo-imperial formations among powers that profess a multipolar world system.

New Zealand is not Hobbiton. New Zealand is a small nation with a big footprint. The geopolitical footprint spreads from the Tokelau Islands at 11 degrees South to the South Pole, through the Ross Dependency. The political class lacks fluencies in Halford Mackinder, Nicholas Spykman, Raoul Castex and other strategies. Our recent prime minister, Rt Hon Bill English, is exceptional for possessing the requisite tools.

We are never going to imagine ourselves an outpost of the “Civilisation” that Sam Huntingdon talks about. We are not Oceania’s Airstrip Fourteen. Ordinary New Zealanders will attribute the Law and ambient Liberalism of our country to only ourselves and not to any wider context.

What New Zealanders have not appreciated is that we share the Pacific with non-friends and that these non-friends are no longer contained as they were during the Cold War. It’s a porous world. The Eurasian powers have their strategists, intellectuals and bloggers who critique the West for its democracy and human rights. We are lumped with that supposedly “decadent” and done-for West.

Only so much can be done in a small nation state. Even our excellence plays against us – the economic and domestic foci of successive governments since 1984, as well as the Treaty of Waitangi grievance resolution project consumed a vast amount of intellectual effort. By virtue of a bean-bag effect, not much was invested in our deeper strategy. Such problems were deemphasized, even though we responded to conflict in the Gulf War, Bosnia, Timor, Afghanistan.

We need to reinvent relationships with our friends and allies.

As the Chinese themselves told us straight at the China in the Pacific Conference at Apia, in February 2015, they like us, but the trouble for them with us is that we belong to the West. Well, of course. That was news to some however.

We have to accept that destiny and deepen it a bit beyond the comfort zone provincialisms of Kiwiana. China has a ” stovepipe” foreign affairs ministry. Multiple agencies are involved in the South China Sea situation. To put it charitably, it must be like herding cats. We see something similar along the North Korean (DPRK) border. China too has its wannabe Cecil Rhodes.

We should know what to do about the South China Sea. Our own world-class jurisprudence tells us. Our own D.P. O’ Connell was Chichele Professor of Law at Oxford. His “International Law of the Sea” ( Oxford 1982-1988) contains our compass and kit. We live in the sea, and belong to the sea as many other nations do not. We must simply be who we are, and that involves Law as much as Trade and Sport.

It has suddenly become more difficult than even usual to identify with the United States. That great power is undergoing a Cultural Civil War that is replicated neither in New Zealand or the UK. The Culture Wars have not spilled into Canada, Australia or Ireland. Our public regard President Trump with fear and loathing.

We prefer what President Woodrow Wilson said a century ago at his Buckingham Palace speech. To condense what he said – we are not your brothers and we are not Anglo-Saxon cousins to one another. We are nations bound in so far as our interests coexist. In normal times those interests are extensive and we enjoy our associations and encounters. In abnormal times they should be close.

What would I do? Develop durable dialogues with the East-West Foundation in Hawaii, and with the Hoover Institute at Stanford. We need to overcome the imputations of weirdness on both sides. There’s no substitute for ongoing personal relationships and responsible professional discourse.

Three presidents and three presidents only have come from the Pacific coasts of the United States – too few in my view – and they were Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon and Barack Obama. Each was involved in innovative things which New Zealand seconded. We are sceptical of the New York perspective on the Pacific. Boston would be better – that at least was where the whalers came from 200 years ago.

The best creator and nurturer of new nations in history has been Great Britain/ the United Kingdom. The Papacy and Byzantium attempted this role between the 6th and 15th centuries. Powers in India helped develop the jungle and island kingdoms of SE Asia. China extended recognition to a periphery of states from Korea to Japan, to the khanates of Manchuria, to Tibet and Vietnam.

No power has matched the British global achievement for the successful launch of new nations, despite some failures between the 16th and 20th centuries. New Zealand we hope is one of the successes and an accomplishment of which you and we can be proud.

The regular Imperial Conferences between 1887 and the early 1960s, which became in time the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM), were the most impressive exercise in mentoring new nations ever undertaken. The Imperial War Council of the First World War was tour de force of imperial reason, imagination and invention. It was not what the Imperial Federation movement of the 1880s had wanted, nor was such a Council of State regular Westminster government. Whatever it was, it was a superlative response to our common danger.

If it were not for your statecraft and forbearance and patience, quite a few more failed or troubled states might be on the map. I have found your High Commissioners and Deputy Commissioners and other Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) officials posted in Wellington to be the best diplomatic staff any friendly power sends to us. The FCO sets the standard.

If the Kiwi really wants to be a cockatrice, it needs to switch on those lasers of reason, imaginative and invention. It has no choice – it cannot hide down a hole or blunder round in the dark.

New Zealand would never have been discovered if it were not for the Reason, Imagination and Invention of Polynesian navigators over 800 years ago from Eastern Polynesia, their seamanship and star lore.

The Enlightenment Reason, Imagination for human situations, and the Invention and adaptability of James Cook RN discovered New Zealand for the Atlantic World, mapped and observed it with respect and wonderful intelligence.

New Zealand was secured for the Crown and our polity founded because of the Raison d’etat, the romantic and ethnographic imagination and governance inventiveness of Sir George Grey, twice Governor of New Zealand, who succeeded as other ruling governors failed.

You will know that New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Rt Winston Peters, is showing an interest in Pyong-yang.

We need to be extremely clear in our minds about who and what we are, when we talk with the DPRK. Foreign policy is best conducted on a transparent, Euclidean basis, with appropriate signalling and timing. The recent Manus Island imbroglio is one I am glad to be out of, because of the confused signals and mixed messages sent to Canberra.

Without wasting epithets on certain Eurasian powers and non-friends, I can well imagine dialogue with the DPRK in an attempt to preserve the peace of the Pacific, the security of our North Asian markets, to prevent an humanitarian disaster, and to stand by the Republic of Korea. We are aware of American and Eurasianist grand strategies, and we understand why it’s significant to them who is stationing troops on whose limitrope.[1]

It is not our business to do “pivots”, identify with American interests or to appease irredentism. We cannot sell a “pivot” to our public. We want to do business with China. We do not want to lock it up in the Qin Shi Huangdi’s tomb. We may have our own concerns, but have decided that respect, trade and dialogue are the best ways for us.

I recommend it is our business to prize the peace and security of the Pacific for its own sake, yet to keep this simple constant before us- to be true to the Republic of Korea. To manage we need to understand the powers ‘ realism, and develop an intellectual response that isn’t just state-to-state Agitprop.

We might hope in time that the DPRK might find security and prosperity as a distinct member of the Asia/Pacific family of nations. The DPRK and the RoK and its allies are trying to beat history – but in different ways. In Pyong-yang are dealing with an irredentist postcolonial warcraft state. New Zealand cannot trivialise this.

New Zealanders have undertaken sustained dialogues with Socialist and postcolonial revolutionary states from the 1930s. We do not fall off our perch because a state is communist or revolutionary.

Our II Labour Govt Prime Minister Walter Nash flew to Moscow in 1960 to attempt some summitry of his own. Nash came from Kidderminster and was devoted to Tolstoy and Ruskin. If Mr Peters went to Pyong-yang in Nash’s tradition of a “peace gig”, then that would be lacking in Reason, Imagination and Invention.

Mr Peters however is not a Labour Deputy Prime Minister. As a Maori politician of Nga Puhi affiliation, he professes admiration of the great Ngati Porou statesman Sir Apirana Ngata (1874-1950).

In the Address in Reply debate of July 1939, Ngata spelled out the terms on which Maori would fight in a coming war against Germany. To sum it up he said – We will not trust our young men with you, he said, if you try to be the League of Nations Peace and Light British Empire. If you are an empire serious about your power, even the empire that once broke the Treaty of Waitangi, we will fight for you.

If Mr Peters agonistically negotiates and contends for peace all round and stands by South Korea (RoK), then he would observe the moral realism of Sir Apirana. As it is, he condemned the last missile launch.

The UK sustains a post in Pyong-yang. Advice would be appreciated. Australia and the DPRK have been in and out of missions in each others’ capitals since Gough Whitlam’s time, to the extent that whether they exchange representatives or pull the plug is a geopolitical barometer.

Any value in our talking with the DPRK is dependent on our own staunchness and reliability towards our own allies. The quality of our dialogues with our partners comes first, then we might be able to engage with others, as a relevant small nation, and not as an anomaly, breaking the ranks.

My concluding recommendations are:-

1/ we keep it simple and do what we know to be the right thing. We cannot hide.

2/ we do not screech and preach at friends and non-friends.

3/ we must regard our limited capabilities in diplomacy, strategy and defence as floors not ceilings.

4/ while developing multilateral relationships, we stick with our friends and develop the quality of our conversations with them

5/ we develop the intellectual edge to pursue a modest statecraft for ourselves aimed to make us secure, relevant and resilient, and integral to Asia/Pacific associations

6/ we find it in ourselves to explain who we are and what we are about in the world, and why we think the way we do

7/ we finally explain to our own public what we are doing

If we do not the Land of the Long White Cloud could lose Reason and Imagination and Inventiveness to become a large Pitcairn. The Mutiny on the “Bounty” was after all a revolt against Order, Law and Enlightenment Science.

We would risk becoming a luminescent fog bank of scat and kitsch, losing even our own bearings – the Kiwi too timid to switch on the lasers.

[1] A limitrope is a bridgehead territory that affords access. From a Russian perspective, strategy has to be designed about straits and limitropes and such choke points. Korea is perceived to be a limitrope.

Bernard Francis Cadogan was educated at Otago University (New Zealand), as well as Cambridge and Oxford Universities (UK). He graduated with a D.Phil in the British Empire, and is now a member of the Keble Senior Common Room fellowship at Oxford. He served governments of the following New Zealand Prime Ministers as a special political advisor: Jim Bolger (1990-97), Dame Jennifer Shipley (1997-99), Helen Clark (1999-2008) between 2003-5, Sir John Key (2008-16) and Sir William English (2016-17). He was a Brexit Advisor to Bill English as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance (2015-16), and Foreign Affairs Advisor (2016-17) to the Prime Minister. He served as Advisor to the Leader of the Opposition from 1999-2003, and Advisor to Mr English from 2005-2008. He founded the New Zealand Constitutional Review which sat between 2011-18 as a Crown-Maori dialogue. Ongoing since 2011, he has been a New Zealand Treasury Consultant. He is Foreign Affairs and Diplomatic Advisor to King Tuheitia, the seventh King of the Maori Kiingitanga. Mr Cadogan is currently working on a Parliamentary design and Democracy reinforcement for a review of NZ Parliamentary Democracy commissioned by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Trevor Mallard, and he has advised King Tuheitia on 21st Century Constitutional developments for the Maori Kingship. JPR Status: published speech.