Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ron Smith: Selective Outrage

For some years now there has been a military dictatorship exercising government over the Fijian islands. Over these years we have condemned and criticised this regime and demanded the restoration of democratic rule. We have backed up this moral condemnation by a range of sanctions, which have heavily impinged on the Fijian economy and inhibited the movement of citizens that have any connection with the ruling group.

Over these years there have also been military coups in Thailand, which have resulted in the overthrow of democratically-elected government and its replacement with a government more to the liking of the military-supported ruling cabal, which includes the King. Now we have an escalation of violence by security forces, including the use of snipers to pick off leaders of the protest movement. However, apart from a modest advisory to the effect that Bangkok may not be a desirable holiday destination, we have nothing to say.

Imagine the righteous clamour here if political assassination of the sort that appears to be going on in Thailand was going on Fiji. We should never hear the end of it, as government spokespersons and their media lackeys fell over each other to express their outrage. Why the difference?

Thucydides explained it more than two thousand years ago: ‘The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must’. We are bullying Fiji (and Commodore Bainimarama) because we can. It makes us feel good and it doesn’t cost us anything. On the other hand, taking on a prominent member of ASEAN would entail certain political risks as, more generally, would offering official critical commentary on democratic arrangements (or lack thereof) in others of our international partners.

In the case of Fiji, it isn’t as if all the moral posturing of recent years has actually achieved anything. As is well understood in the more general context, sanctions rarely affect the regime in this sort of case. They can certainly obstruct family relationships in the case of persons connected in some way to the regime and they can, on occasion, obstruct the travel of more senior persons. They can also prevent the entry into New Zealand of the goal-keeper of the national soccer team and cause an international tournament to be replayed. On the other hand, they can’t obstruct rugby games because, well, that’s rugby! More seriously, continuing sanctions can progressively damage the commerce of the country and the livelihoods of ordinary citizens, whilst having only a marginal effect on the ostensible target. The Fijian leadership can detect hypocrisy when they see it.

So we should stop all the moral posturing and adopt a persistent and long term policy of engagement with the present Fijian regime, which would have the object of helping them to build up their infrastructure and economy. As far as political reform is concerned, we would rely largely on ‘soft power’ rather than coercion.

As for Thailand, we will need to continue with the advisories. Civil disturbance is likely to continue (on and off) until the present Thai elite resolves to support free elections and, particularly, resolves to stop overturning governments they don’t like, as well as contriving legal proceedings against leaders they do not favour. At the official level (and, at least, in public) we probably don’t need to tell them what the genesis of their problem is, or how enormously damaging these unsavoury episodes are to their tourist industry and their international reputation.

1 comment:

Brian Arrandale said...

Selective Outrage (Foreign Affairs)

There is a deal more one can add to the New Zealand Government bureaucracy on its established views and policies in regard to “Revolutions” and the removal of Governments, not only in Asia but in Africa.

Before that, one can go back to the Hungarian uprising against its Communistic regime and the military intervention by Russia. The muted response heralded by a diplomatic communiqué couched in language to satisfy both the right wing and left wing elements in this country. Followed by what has become the standard practice of using our advantage of distance, together with adopting the then Western Alliance stand on such issues.

However there is a marked difference between our attitudes to a right wing coup, to that when a left wing revolution takes place. Moral indignation comes quickly to the fore with the Left demanding instant action to save those socialist “Freedom Fighters” in their desire to change to a “People’s Government” one party State.

With this came quite naturally an inborn hostility to the United States and its assumed leadership of the Western World (the same sort of “politics of envy”, which up to the outbreak of World War 11 Britain had endured during “Pax Britannia”.)

The N.Z. policy on the Middle East being a case in point. How many times do we open our major newspapers or view television, or listen to the outrages against innocent Muslims by Israel, while the reason for these reprisals lies unreported, or at best relegated to a minor section of our media. At least the Television does show us graphic pictures of the injuries inflicted by Israel, but very few instances if any, of the suicide/terrorist bombings that prompted these reprisals.

Dr Smith mentions the incident when a goal-keeper of a national soccer team was prevented from playing, while no such obstacles must effect the national religion namely Rugby. Why is this one sided hypocrisy a tool to distort? Perhaps it is part of present day Politics, so evident with our present Government adoption next July of the ETS, which they inform us if not signed, will endanger our exports world wide.

There is nothing wrong with a little hypocrisy now and then, after all without it would we have ever heard of Moliere? What is the problem, is the scale to which is used by governments worldwide.

I have left our foreign policy on Africa until last, muted as it is to a degree which one could rightly describe as a form of super-hypocrisy.