Comment permalink

Arron Banks (front) and Andy Wigmore (rear, left), who ran the Leave.Eu pro-Brexit referendum...
Arron Banks (front) and Andy Wigmore (rear, left), who ran the Leave.Eu pro-Brexit referendum campaign, have been hired by New Zealand First in the lead-up to the September election. PHOTO: REUTERS
When great powers fail, New Zealand and other small states must organise to protect their interests,  Robert G. Patman writes.

News that the "bad boys of Brexit" have been hired by New Zealand First to work on the party’s social media strategy is simultaneously amusing and ominous.

Famous for the Leave.EU campaign in the United Kingdom, the duo of Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore are unabashed far-right populists. Their hiring is another sign New Zealand is not immune to forces that now shape politics around the world.

Their recruitment underlines the biggest foreign policy challenge this country is facing: the near breakdown of the international rules-based order.

Such an order is the foundation on which New Zealand’s diplomacy and economic prosperity rest. The Covid-19 crisis has confirmed it is in deep trouble but, paradoxically, has also created an opening to reinvigorate it.

The end of an era?

Since the end of World War 2, New Zealand has firmly supported the rules-based system of international relations embodied in institutions such as the United Nations and the principle of multilateralism.

The global pandemic, however, has highlighted the absence of an effective international crisis management system.

The UN Security Council has been largely marginalised and the World Health Organisation significantly weakened by the withdrawal of Donald Trump’s America.

To be sure, the rules-based international order was under assault before Covid-19 — challenged by the authoritarian style of Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China, and the rise of national populists such as Boris Johnson in the UK and Trump in the United States.

In 2016, the Putin regime strongly backed the Leave campaign in the British EU referendum and Trump’s successful bid for the White House.

As some observers have concluded, Covid-19 reinforces those developments, reinvigorating nationalism at the expense of globalisation and internationalism.

According to this view, a post-Covid world will be characterised by de-globalisation, protectionism and the renewal of great power rivalry involving the US, China and Russia — at the expense of the middle or smaller powers such as New Zealand.

The great powers are outnumbered

There are three reasons to be sceptical about this, however. Globalisation is a structural change, powered by revolutionary developments in communication technology since the early 1980s. This interconnectedness shows no sign of being reversed.

Indeed, Covid-19 has accelerated connectivity and the digital revolution in many states.

Related to this, the claim that two or three great powers will run the world in the 21st century is self-serving and wholly unrealistic.

Today, all states are confronted by security, economic, environmental and health challenges that do not respect territorial borders and cannot be resolved unilaterally by great powers.

Covid-19 has only highlighted this. Instead of rallying the world against the virus, the US and China were reduced to squabbling with each other over a problem neither can control.

Finally, the mixed responses by countries to the pandemic clearly indicate the contours of the international transition we are living through.

Some of the highest death rates are found in states with populist governments such as the US, UK and Brazil.

These governments seemed initially indifferent to WHO warnings, disputed the advice of public health experts, and emphasised national exceptionalism in chaotic and slow responses to the threat of the virus.

In contrast, nations that have performed well in keeping deaths relatively low — including South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Singapore and New Zealand — acted early on WHO advice, heeded scientific and healthcare expertise, and were prepared to learn from each other.

So, while the rules-based order on which New Zealand and the vast majority of states depend is under fire, the threat should not be exaggerated.

The alternative of a world "where the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must" is only acceptable to those few states that consider themselves great powers.

Towards a better world order

What can be done, then, to strengthen the multilateral system so the world can deal more effectively with the likes of a global pandemic or climate change?

It’s clear our traditional allies, the US and the UK, currently led by populist governments, can no longer be relied upon to provide leadership in a multilateral setting.

So New Zealand must be prepared to work with other like-minded states to build a new global political grouping dedicated to advancing the rules-based order.

New Zealand could even help lead such a movement, given its global reputation for decisive and compassionate leadership after the Christchurch terrorist atrocity and during the pandemic.

By rejecting the politics of populism and isolationism, New Zealand can embrace a new form of bottom-up multilateralism that does not depend on great powers setting the agenda.

Much needs to be done. Constraining or abolishing the veto power of the five permament members of the UN Security Council and reforming the global economic system are among the reforms urgently needed to reduce global insecurity and inequality.

Foreign policy was rarely an election issue in the past, but Covid-19 makes this contest different. Voters need options to decide how New Zealand can best protect its core values and interests in a world where these are directly threatened.

- Robert G. Patman is a professor of international relations at the University of Otago.



View all

What to do? They're far right populists visiting a country full of nationalist anti globalists.

Patman is so far-left that he would consider anyone expressing views contradictory to Marx, as far-right.
The countries that have the lowest cases of Covid globally, were those that acted despite what the WHO and China were saying at the time.
I doubt there is any country that has NOT had it's confidence in China shaken by this pandemic. The misinformation, threats and disruption to global supply lines from China has exposed globalisation as a farce because it was truly China focused not globally focused.
The best thing that will come out of this pandemic will be realignment of trade to a truly global focus. Any country that has China as its largest trading partner now realises their vulnerability to Marxist ideology in practice.
The sooner each country secures their strategic manufacturing and supply lines whilst supporting global trade, the better.
To much of the developing world has been held back by our starry eyed vision of China as an economic miracle, whilst in fact it drained wealth from everyone that has interacted with it, apart from the elite multinational companies and their political allies.
NZs contribution to this change will be to diversify our markets.

Thanks for par1. It is textbook example of right wing spin. You suggest the author is 'other' due to ideology, of which there is no evidence within the body of the article with which you vehemently disagree.

Don't Fret, Hill is 'Sarie Marais' to us.

Patman is a globalist. What he fails to acknowledge is the COVID 19 pandemic is the result of globalism. The breakdown of borders allowed the virus to spread quickly. Additionally, he fails to recognize that the geographic location of South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Singapore and New Zealand allowed them to seal their borders quickly. All but Germany are island nations. If the US and China were islands they would have been able to shut their borders and kept the virus out. New Zealand has 300,000 children living in poverty and Patman wants New Zealand to build a new global world order? Yes, let's continue to ignore these children so New Zealand can pretend to be something its not! New Zealand dogged a bullet with COVID 19. It wasn't anything the government was luck! The nation is living hand to mouth on an economy propped up by government handouts. The nation's economy is balanced on the head of a pin & people like Patman know it. New Zealand is barely part of the 1st world. Focus on fixing the problems here before you volunteer to fix the world. The COVID 19 issues in the US are from the people who desire to be free not because of anything Trump did. Yanks arent sheepeople.

New Zealand needs to get its own house in order. An inquiry into overseas influence on the 2017 Election would be a good starting point.

Please suggest evidential terms of reference. This is new.

It has been widely reported that Winson Peters met the Russian Ambassador 6 times in the lead up to the 2017 election. Also reported that New Zealand discussed at a US congressional hearing into Chinese influence on the 2017 election. Both National and Labour under investigation by the SFO related to donations associated to China and the last election.

The UN has faced massive corruption allegations (Iraq-Kofi Annan's son) and sexual abuse (Haiti & DRC) which their own reports admit. The UN is an organisation run and behold by many dictators/technocrats. That needs to change and we should not be supporting them with our taxes.

Best comments I have seen in ODT for a long time. ODT, you used to give email notification of new comments so a real online conversation could take place in response to your articles. A great shame you stopped it. A Facebook page is not the same - far more trivial and lightweight, I have REALLY learned something from these comments - a wide range of different views, also related issues eg Peters and Putin. Thanks, Eyes Wide Open. I agree with you. Too much PRC influence, even POWER here in NZ. Strategically utter folly!

View all