Could a non-aligned New Zealand work?
With the recent announcement of AUKUS – a trilateral security agreement between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia – Sino-American relations have reached a new low.
Although there have long been prognoses of the emergence of a Cold War, the speed of the deterioration of Sino-US relations has been somewhat shocking.
Despite the absence of many of the ingredients of the initial Cold War – particularly with regard to the distribution of power and the role of ideology – as well as the continued presence of significant commercial interdependence, it is clear that perceptions of mutual threat have emerged and that the United States is creating a nascent anti-China bloc.
Australia, evident in its recent AKUS and Quad memberships, has clearly chosen its path: to align with the United States (to the detriment of its relations with China).
But, New Zealand, however, has tried to steer clear of mounting tensions (much to Australia’s dismay).
Since signing a free trade agreement with China in 2008, New Zealand has pursued what can be called an “asymmetric hedging” strategy in which New Zealand has maintained alignment with the US security apparatus – by virtue of its membership in Five Eyes and ANZUS – while simultaneously deepening economic ties with China.
A hedging strategy is popular with smaller powers residing in regional contexts with two or more powers, as it allows them to avoid the trade-offs inherent in choosing a side.
New Zealand has certainly benefited from a stable safety crutch (in the United States) while being able to increase its trade ties with China.
Until recently, New Zealand’s geopolitical environment was highly conducive to coverage. China and the United States were not direct competitors and although China’s rise to power caused problems in its neighborhood (for example, the South China Sea dispute and the border dispute with the India), New Zealand was far enough away that it did not pose a major security dilemma.
Even following numerous diplomatic incidents in 2021 between China and the United States (and many of its allies), the goal of maintaining common ground between China and the United States remains the putative strategy of the United States. New Zealand. The first official speech by New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta was summed up as outlining the strategy of “China for trade, US for defense and the Pacific at the center”.
The problem for New Zealand is that the heightened tension between China and the United States is reducing the leeway for coverage. In other words, as Sino-US relations continue to deteriorate towards something akin to a Cold War, New Zealand’s potential to maintain its common ground will be significantly eroded.
If New Zealand is forced to choose sides, most pundits would envision New Zealand following in Australia’s footsteps and aligning itself firmly with the US anti-China bloc. This is for good reason, as the prospect of New Zealand turning its back on its oldest friends and following in the footsteps of China’s rise to power – especially given China’s growing totalitarianism. and its international warmongering – seems totally out of the question.
But there is another option New Zealand might consider should a Cold War erupt between China and the United States: non-alignment. The non-alignment was conceived by five leaders of relatively smaller powers at the start of the Cold War: Tito (Yugoslavia), Nehru (India), Sukarno (Indonesia), Nkrumah (Ghana) and Nasser (Egypt).
While this group of five represents an eclectic set of states, their common desire was to avoid the zero-sum competition of the Cold War and try to forge positive relations with the United States and the Soviet Union.
Thus, non-alignment is a more modest than asymmetrical form of hedge because although the smaller power still tries to forge positive relationships with both parties, it gives up any effort to formalize the relationship to the same extent (in especially by avoiding any safety alignment).
During the original Cold War, Yugoslavia and India had great success with non-alignment (the other founding countries succumbed to internal conflicts). Yugoslavia, due to the fact that Tito was in power during most of the Cold War, became an illustration of successful non-alignment, as it was able to remain independent from Soviet control while reaping the benefits of to have relations with the most prosperous capitalist countries of the west.
Non-alignment could be attractive to New Zealand, especially since avoiding getting caught up in the growing zero-sum tension in Sino-US relations appears to be a major focus of the Ardern government at the moment.
New Zealand has certain advantages, which Yugoslavia (or the others) did not have, which make non-alignment attractive. First, New Zealand is very small and extremely low threat. Second, New Zealand is geographically isolated.
Moreover, although increasingly belligerent, China did not undertake the kind of expansionism, material or ideological, that the Soviet Union did. Yugoslavia, for example, not only suffered from serious ideological constraints from Moscow, it was nearly invaded by Stalin in 1951 (in part because of his insistence on pursuing an unaligned path).
New Zealand is not currently threatened with a similar attack from China.
One of the successes of Tito’s non-alignment strategy was that he was able to spread the idea and then solidify relations with those countries by making country-to-country friendships. The creation of an institutionalized group – officially the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) – helped give the non-aligned an international voice and spread the threats of the Cold War, making the prospect of non-alignment less risky. for small powers.
Being completely isolated during a hypothetical Cold War is certainly not an attractive scenario, so New Zealand would have to find other, smaller powers to join them in choosing non-alignment. Some Southeast Asian countries – Malaysia and Indonesia come to mind – and South Pacific countries – Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu are currently members of NAM – might find the idea of an attractive new form of non-alignment, especially since many of them countries have already used hedging strategies to manage China’s rise.
The only area of concern about choosing a non-alignment path is New Zealand’s vulnerability to non-traditional security challenges, especially cyber attacks (this threat did not exist during the original Cold War) . At this point, it’s clear that New Zealand depends on technological support from the United States (and its other great allies) to protect itself from the cyber power that China can wield. Building national capacity is an essential aspect of effective coverage.
Non-alignment is clearly not a silver bullet for New Zealand to deal with the worsening situation between China and the United States. But it is a strategy that should be seriously considered as an option, as getting drawn into the great power politics of a potential Cold War should be seen as highly undesirable in Wellington.
New Zealand has long been proud of its independent foreign policy and maintaining this determination to move forward, despite looming challenges, remains the optimal foreign policy on the table.
– Asia Media Center