Public discussion on US-NZ military relationship, with Nicky Hager and Adi Leason

Audio recordings:
Nicky Hager talks about US-NZ relations, giving context for the two points of view on the issue: the anti-militarism of the majority of the NZ public versus the pro-war stance of the powers that be + Q&A:

Adi Leason spins a yarn about infiltrating the Waihopai spy base, doing $1m damage, and being brought to trial + Q&A:

Occasioned by the first US troops to train in New Zealand since Lange quipped upon uranium, 19 Tory St hosted another of their public discussions. While Nicky Hager gave the background on US-NZ military relations, Adrian Leason shared his story about puncturing the dome that covered the Waihopai spy base. With a crowd of fifty, only standing room remained.

Nicky began with a discussion of Other People’s Wars, his 2011 book on how New Zealand got involved in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Next he sketched an image of the eighty to ninety percent of New Zealanders, across the whole political spectrum, who were opposed to the Iraq war, who are skeptical of the United States military and who support the nuclear free policy. This group holds influence due to their sheer scale. He mentioned the role of World War One and Two in creating an antipathy towards war in New Zealand and that this solidified around the Vietnam War.

In contrast to this group he placed the officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) and the Defense Force. These few officials maintained influence by their positions. These people wished to participate in all of the US led wars. A history of this influence, from the first troops offered to the British in 1880, led through the post WWII defense of the former colonies in Singapore and Malaysia, through the Air Force’s placements in the Philippine, was offered. The motives for these people were unclear even to those involved. He suggested that it was not trade or anything tangible that led to this preference for military alliances. Instead he suggested it was a type of sentimentality for alliances with the larger English speaking countries. The latest alliance, the Wellington Declaration (2010), was seen as a statement of the US’s defeat in relation to New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy. And while the declaration signals closer relations in the future, he suggested that that which the Declaration proposed has already been happening since the war of terror began. “Business as usual,” he suggested, echoing a US Marine interviewed at Waiouru for TV3 news a month ago (see link in Resources below).

Nicky then detailed the three steps that the small group of MFAT and Defense officials used against a public who overwhelmingly disagree with them. These three steps are (1) secrecy of planning in the management of international relations, (2) aggressive public relations work and (3) the making of ANZAC day into a sacred day that no longer commemorates the sacrifices of WWII dead and veterans, but glorifies all of the wars since.

He concluded by suggesting that the US Marines were the particular unit that has led the invasions of the most countries in the history of the world. He reported on work from Other People’s Wars that showed New Zealand SAS forces requesting to not work with the Marines. Finally he suggested that it was a good thing that, in contrast to Australia, the NZ military feels it must frame it’s wartime actions in terms of ensuring peace, rather than glorifying kill counts.

Questions focused on the psychology of the officials in MFAT and the Defense Force, on the need for a standing army in New Zealand, and the role of China and the rise of the East. Nicky reiterated that the main tangible rewards that the government gets from these alliances is access to the US military’s bag of tricks, which are only really of value if you’ve already decided that a military alliance is essential. Next he suggested that the best approach for a small, isolated country like New Zealand is to be independent. He suggested that while it might be nice to have no military whatsoever, any place such as Costa Rica, that had this, generally had a militarized police force. When asked if it was stupid of New Zealand to focus on an alliance with the US when they are opposing China, who are so important as an importer of NZ goods, he agreed. New Zealand would only make enemies, he suggested, by forming alliances and being considered the enemy of our allies enemies.

Adrian’s story began with discussion of little voices in his head that told him what to do. He gave various names to these voices, like God or conscience. He explained how there comes a time when one has to respond to these voices. He remembered seeing a Reuters photograph in the Dominion Post of an Iraqi girl whose legs had been blown away by a US bomb. Seeing his own daughter running through his garden reminded him of the same photo. The little voices started to speak up.

Adrian then gave an account of his anti-war activism. He recalled how he was inspired by a woman named Moana who attacked a B52 bomber with a hammer and how his family protested the beginnings of the war on terror in front of the US embassy in Thailand and how the protest attracted national attention.
His story turned to the Ploughshares Aotearoa conspiracy to disrupt the operation of the Waihopai spy base near Blenheim. He discussed how all legal and activist approached had been taken up, but that the base continued to operate. The images of the invasion of Iraq led to his crisis of conscience and he and two others decided that they had to act. He described the comical, biblical and technical aspects of their successful infiltration of the highly protected base and their subsequent deflation of the plastic dome that covered the satellite.

When asked about his trial for damaging property he discussed being arrested, giving detail about the five day fast in Blenheim prison that he and the two others undertook, before mentioning the prayer bus set up outside of the US Embassy in Wellington. He emphasized the power of personal relationships built up through the case with people who would generally be considered to be opposed to his views. Finally he spoke about their defense based on their belief in the legality of the action that they were undertaking.
The evening concluded with a discussion on appropriate actions to widen the scope of Thursday’s visit of the Marines to Parliament so that the dead and wounded of the more recent wars would not be forgotten. But that is a story for another time, for after Thursday, for the twenty-five who stayed the entire four hours.

Press release
On Sunday June 10th at 6pm, 19 Tory St, a community gallery just off Courtenay Place, will host a public discussion on the first significant number of US military to train in New Zealand since 1984. The two speakers scheduled for the event include Nicky Hager (Other People’s Wars; The Hollow Men) and Adrian Leason (Waihopai Domebuster and Ploughshares Aotearoa).

Four days after the talk the Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, will host one hundred United States Marines at Parliament. These Marines (fifty officers, fifty band members) are presently in New Zealand performing ceremonies commemorating 70 years since US soldiers were based in Kapiti during WWII.

This visit represents the first significant US military presence in New Zealand since former Prime Minister David Lange barred nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships from entering New Zealand waters.

Wellington-based collective Concerned Citizens believes that the present celebrations are not simply about remembering an off-beat anniversary. They see the present moment as a significant symbol in the realignment of New Zealand foreign policy towards increased ties with an aggressive military power. The move is not a total shock, with the framework set out in the Wellington Declaration signed in late 2010, presaging the present events.

“It’s fair to say your average New Zealander does not support the actions of the US military, particularly when you look at what they’ve been up to over the past ten years,” according to Richard Bartlett of Concerned Citizens. “It is very worrying to see our government so eager to establish closer ties with an aggressive and unaccountable world power, without apparent consideration for the wishes of the people of New Zealand.”

Several questions arise from the military visit:

  • At the end of a decade of failed wars, why is the NZ government forming stronger military ties to the US?
  • Does the present visit foretell of NZ signing up to future US-led wars?
  • What is the US’s new Pacific Plan about? How does China fit into this?

The public discussion aims to address these questions and to bring attention to the present events.There will also be a chance for discussion around peace celebrations aimed to coincide with the reception at Parliament on June 14th.

“The US military hasn’t trained here since Lange’s quip on uranium,” says fellow Concerned Citizen Murdoch Stephens. “Well, we have a new phrase for Mr Key: this time death is on your breath.”

Nicky Hager, author of Other People’s Wars (the definitive account of NZ Defence Force PR and the Afghan/Iraq wars).
Adrian Leason, a peace activist arrested for deflating one of the Waihopai spy base’s domes.

Other Actions
After the discussion there will be a chance to discuss co-ordinated actions regarding the US Marines visit to Wellington.


One Response to “Public discussion on US-NZ military relationship, with Nicky Hager and Adi Leason”
  1. Rob Guthrie says:

    Thank you for recording this! I’m just listening now.

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