This is going to have to be a brief post ~ I’m under a time crunch to get it written in 17 minutes to pick up my wife’s dry cleaning. I’m actually curious to see if I can be succinct enough to complete the task in my allotted time. Here goes:

My academic advisor, Dr. Rob Ayson, a strategic studies professor at Victoria University, has written an opinion piece in the Dominion Post (28 June) entitled “Kiwis can help keep peace in Shangri-La.” His summation:

“And unlike in the Cold War, when the Americans and Russians co-operated to restrain their competition, there is little evidence of arms control in Asia. There is, for example, no regional agreement on incidents at sea. The Asia-Pacific countries lack the mechanisms to prevent accidents and misunderstandings turning into unwarranted wars. And they are building up weapons systems which can easily be misread as carrying aggressive intentions.

The region needs some real restraint in these areas. Without it the nice words being said in the region this year may prove to be froth on top of an increasingly dangerous strategic competition.

This is where New Zealand can play a role. As well as the Shangri-La Dialogue, we are part of the expanding regional security architecture in Asia, including the East Asia Summit and a new three-yearly defence ministers meeting. As a trusted and principled small power in the region with no axe to grind, New Zealand should be making the pitch for conventional arms control in Asia.”

Ayson sees a role for New Zealand in forming a method to avert potential future conflict in the Asia-Pacific region. The question is, with relatively low “hard” power in the region…can a small power wield enough “soft” and “smart” power to persuade the bigger states to come to an agreement? Lawrence Freedman’s conception of power was, generally, one’s ability to make the world better for oneself. Can New Zealand make the world better for itself, as small as it is (a country of 4 million in a region with India and China)?

It may help to look to the “national security toolbox,” a conception that many have uttered, but I recently heard spelled out by former Secretary of State Madeline Albright in a speech she gave at Yale (“Public Service in the Age of Globalization,” 2007 – link takes you to iTunesU for Yale, podcast is #2 on the list). She says:

“Foreign policy is just trying to get some other country to do what you want. So what are the tools that you have available to do that?

Frankly, they’re not a lot. Most people think that the most powerful country in the world has a lot of tools…there’s diplomacy, bilateral and multilateral;
economic carrots like foreign assistance and debt relief;
economic sticks like embargoes and sanctions;
and there’s the threat of the use of force and use of force;
intelligence and law enforcement; that’s it.”

Applying these tools to New Zealand today, one finds that they really don’t have many of those listed above. Economic carrots and sticks aren’t relevant anywhere other than in dependencies like the Cook Islands because the New Zealand’s economic market is too small to garner an effective response. The threat and use of force is a non-starter too, with such a small defense force. So that leaves diplomacy, intelligence and law enforcement….

And rugby. The upcoming Rugby World Cup has provided an opportunity for the New Zealand (and Australian) government to sanction Fiji’s regime for it’s 2006 coup of a democratically elected government. In fact, PM John Key has said that disallowing members of the Fijian regime (including actual players that happen to be in governmental service) is the “only thing” New Zealand can do to hold Fiji’s “feet to the fire.” This isn’t the only time NZ has levied rugby sanctions – after the 1981 Springbok tour, NZ denied the South African apartheid regime the satisfaction of competing with the All Blacks.

Although one must admit that rugby sanctions are a clever way to wield “smart” and “soft” power, it’s a fair question to ask if they are enough to affect change on meaningful, substantive issues. That’s not to say that NZ would pursue rugby sanctions as a means of hectoring other nations to a multilateral agreement on “rules of the road” at sea in the Asia-Pacific. But can they get anything done? It doesn’t appear that Fiji is any worse off for the travel bans to the Rugby World Cup, and the sanctions likely won’t bring NZ’s objective (free and fair elections earlier than the current 2014 date).

My final thought is a question: can a small country (with no hard power resources in it’s “toolbox”) effectively wield smart and soft power to a requisite level to persuade much larger states to do something that they would not otherwise do? [My gut instinct is no…]

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