Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On Nicky Hager’s new book

September 2nd, 2011

Nicky Hager’s book launch press conference.
Video credit: Anne Russell

In late 2001, I remember interviewing Helen Clark on another subject, but took the opportunity at the close of the interview to suggest she needed to act now to protect Army chief Major General Maurice Dodson – who was then the target of a series of leaks and allegations from within the Defence establishment aimed at undermining him, and stopping him from enacting the Clark government’s defence policies set out in the Defence Beyond 2000 document. Clark’s reply: “I’m well aware of what those sharks in Stout Street are up to.” Dodson, she intimated, would be protected.

Not really, not at all. Dodson, who had been a Vietnam war hero, ended up being sacrificed by Clark, regardless. This, despite the lack of impropriety on his part (as confirmed by an investigation conducted by the armed forces Inspector-general Colonel Bob Bywater-Lutman) and despite later findings by former State Services commissioner Don Hunn that a small number of mainly Army officers had leaked documents to promote Army causes at the expense of the other services, while a competing group within the Army had targeted Dodson, and sought to undermine his credibility. The top ranks of the Defence establishment were a pool of sharks, indeed.

The Dodson case is worth keeping in mind, in the light of Nicky Hager’s latest book Other People’s Wars. If there are fantasies involved here, they are not on Hager’s side of the equation. The real and wilful fantasy is that the defence bureaucracy always passively enacts the defence policies of the government of the day, and would not have tried to subvert the Clark government’s defence stance, if given half the chance to do so.

I’m not going to retrace and re-document here the compelling evidence that Hager has amassed about (a) the blurring of lines between the New Zealand military aid and reconstruction efforts in Bamiyan and the war fighting and intelligence gathering work it has conducted there, in collusion with the Americans and (b) the blurring of lines between the surveillance actions of our frigate in the Gulf, and the US war effort in Iraq.

Suffice to say that, as Hager reminded us on RNZ this morning, the concern about such blurring is a matter of record – and it was clearly expressed in a report by Army Major-General Martyn Dunne, now New Zealand’s High Commissioner in Canberra.

The over-riding value of the book is that it solidly documents a crucial chapter in the history of our foreign policy. (It is entirely apt that it be published on the cusp of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.) At the end of the 1990s, the New Zealand Defence establishment was being yanked, kicking and screaming, out of its Cold War mindset, and from its automatic deference to the defence priorities of our traditional allies in Canberra, London and Washington – to whom the bureaucrats in question had all kinds of interwoven filial ties.

For all of its lip service to those traditional defence ties, the Bolger/Shipley government had been happy to take advantage of the collapse of the Soviet threat and to run down our armed forces – as was exemplified by the highly embarrassing equipment breakdowns that occurred during the NZ deployment in Bosnia. Thus, the incoming Clark government was faced with two huge policy decisions. It had to (a) devise a new policy framework, given that the Cold War was over and (b) find an affordable way of re-equipping the armed forces for this new role.

The answers that Clark came up with? The new rationale for any armed forces deployment would be under the umbrella of clear and explicit UN resolutions and would thus be largely independent of the priorities of our traditional allies. Logically, the re-equipping of our armed forces for this new role would be affordable only if our armed forces became Army-focussed, with the Air Force and Navy in largely support roles. That vision was expressed in the Defence Beyond 2000 document, and Dodson was willing to enact it in the face of fierce opposition from the residue of Cold Warriors within the topmost ranks within Defence, and from its recently retired former leadership.

As Hager points out, Clark had a weak defence Minister in Mark Burton. Overall, it suited her not to confront her opponents in Stout Street, but to sacrifice Dodson and then – throughout the rest of the decade – to fund the Defence chiefs for whatever equipment needs they put on Burton’s table. Up to and including a brand spanking new Defence HQ building, no longer situated in Stout Street.

By choosing to use the happy coincidence of the economic boom to buy off the opposition to her policies within Defence rather than confront the culprits, Clark left behind the same festering problem – and has enabled business-as-usual to resume, now that a National government is back in power. Thus, in last year’s Defence White Paper, our links to our traditional allies were once again to the forefront. No need for the surreptitious subversion of the old, quasi-independent Clark-era foreign policy that Hager documents so well, and so absorbingly. The old firm is firmly back in control.

Every New Zealander should read this book. It shows us the workings in current Third World hot spots of the pattern of subservience to Canberra and Washington that the current government is busily resurrecting. And it gives chapter and verse on the brief period (punctuated by the 9/11 attacks) when New Zealand briefly sought to put some distance between it and the neo-colonial tendencies of our traditional allies. Evidently, this was an independence that the radical conservatives within our Defence forces did all they could to subvert.

I suppose we can, in some ways, feel grateful. In other countries when soldiers take it upon themselves to decide that their political masters are being misguided, they take even more drastic action. Hager has shown however, that the same tendencies are not absent from the New Zealand context. Incidentally, and as a piece of solid, instant history researched and written without government grants (and finished quickly enough to still have policy relevance) Other People’s Wars puts our professional historians to shame.

Finally, while the necessary constitutional separation between the armed forces and the executive has been touched upon in the reaction to Hager’s book, the publication has also thrown into relief a quite different constitutional issue with regard to the new Governor-General, Jerry Mateparae.

On only his second day in office, Mateparae has been drawn into explaining and defending practices within the military and intelligence organizations that he used to head. Hardly the neutral, dispassionate role, far from the political hurly burly, that the Queen’s neutral representative is expected to play.

The military are not, and never have been political virgins. What Hager’s book shows is that during the late 1990s and 2000s, the Defence establishment was a hotbed of political intrigue – and in that climate, some people in the field may well have taken a nod and wink from their superiors all too seriously, and acted accordingly.


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    1. 25 Responses to “On Nicky Hager’s new book”

    2. By Kerry on Sep 2, 2011 | Reply

      Gordon, what a great article. LOL at Jerry’s unfortunate requirement to respond as G-G.

      Plz can haz book to read when it slips down the list of Scoop-ers already in line? k thnx bai…

    3. By remo on Sep 2, 2011 | Reply

      I am left to look at what I can see. History has all kinds of real politik action going on under our noses never knowing a thing about it [GLADIO/Tonkin/USSLiberty/Ryazan etc]. Compartmentalization and ‘need to know’ allow bigger picture of global US/NATO [in this case the predominant] interests, military expansion, and acceptability of SECRETIVE and aggressive ‘war of terror’ practices generally undercutting rights of man hidden in the past 10 years of PNACs ‘New Pearl Harbor”. Practices maybe also to flourish among allied states. Wikileaks confirms deep state secret conduits alive and kicking, parallel but unknown and generally ignored by MSM, even AFTER having been identified.
      That secrets are kept should come as no surprise to anyone anymore.

    4. By Elaine on Sep 2, 2011 | Reply

      Excellent!!Are we turning into Fiji where our Head of State is a military man? As for the journalists who seem to think the book is “well, we all new stuff was going on”, then why weren’t they reporting it instead of stories about Happy Feet? That’s not even the point; the point is we were misled, and involved in an immoral, illegal war that the majority of the country did not want to be involved in.

    5. By Joe Blow on Sep 3, 2011 | Reply

      Yip, I’m excited about this book too Gordon. It sounds like it’s painted a very real picture of what’s been going on. I can’t wait to read it…

    6. By Leon Henderson on Sep 3, 2011 | Reply

      remo: Joe Blow is not a bad dude, but he is VERY conservative!

    7. By Willem on Sep 3, 2011 | Reply

      Thanks for an incisive article. It is becoming increasingly clear what a gullible and ineffective team the Clark-Goff combination actually was. Any CEO would know better than to blindly believe what he or she is told.
      It is most fortunate that Hager’s book has been released just before the election; we might otherwise have made the grave mistake of getting one of those nitwits back into office. As PM this time!!!

    8. By Joe Blow on Sep 3, 2011 | Reply

      @ Leon

      Yeah, I like conservatism Leon. For example, I like a conservative NZ Defence Force that operates within the bounds of the mandate given to it by its own government. In fact, I’m not really that interested in the War on Terror at all. I would have liked the war in Afghanistan to have been more about state-building (to be distinguished from nation-building) than war on terror. In fact, I would have liked a UN mandated humanitarian intervention in 1997 when it became clear about what the Taliban had become. I believe that if resources had been properly given to local development by PRTs, instead of on the war on terror agenda and the Iraq War debarcle, that the Afghanistan War would likely have ended long ago as the Taliban would have ceased to have regained credibility or local support.

      Does that make me conservative or radical? I would have thought that interventionism would be more readily defined as radical as it calls for regime change as opposed to hanging on to the status quo like the conservatives do…

      Anyway, I’m off to buy Hager’s book today… going to be less time for blogging for a while I’m guessing… Ciao

    9. By uke on Sep 3, 2011 | Reply

      “…Other People’s Wars puts our professional historians to shame.”

      I think you’re being a bit hard on our historians. The Afghan & Iraq Wars are only barely “history”. If the book puts any group of professionals to shame – from what I have heard, not having read it yet – it’s our professional journalists.

    10. By Leon Henderson on Sep 3, 2011 | Reply

      Joe Blow, so why is not S’audie Arabia and Bahrain being pulverized with bombs by the USA and NATO?

      Also why is Is-rael not being hammered with them as well?

    11. By Leon Henderson on Sep 3, 2011 | Reply

      Joe Blow, these “Government Mandates” that you seem to approve of can be very dangerous: when the Nazi’s got into power they immediately legislated that to be a Communist or Trade-Unionist was a maximum criminal offence.

      Joe Blow, nearly seventy-thousand Prussians/Germans were hunted down and murdered by the Nazi’s: the concentration camps were specifically constructed for the Communists/Trade-Unionists.

    12. By Joe Blow on Sep 3, 2011 | Reply

      @ Leon

      The simple answer is: “because we haven’t got a global government yet…” If there is ever going to be a global government it’s still in nappies at present. Hell it’s still a foetus in the womb…

      I agree there is a hypocritical favouritism by the US towards Saudi Arabia and Israel. You already know why I think the US favours Israel. The House of Saud and the US have had a long relationship, which the US maintains due to the prime crude it gets out of the cosy little relationship. Still that didn’t stop Saudi funding of al-Qaeda and Hamas. It’s a terribly contradictory relationship.

      I’m talking about what I would like to see happen Leon. I would like to see a UN sanctioned humanitarian intervention of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by NATO instead of steadfast US support for Israel, but that would have to get past a US veto vote in the Security Council… Alternatively, I’d like to see the Arab dominated UN Human Rights Council promulgate a resolution that targets both Hamas and Israel. I’d like to see the UN Security Council refer the investigation and prosecution of both Israeli and Hamas leaders for war crimes during the 2008 Gaza War to the prosecutor of the ICC, but the world is not always the way we would like it to be Leon. And even NATO isn’t really tough enough to take on whoever it likes…

      Leon do you have any idea how difficult it is to get the UN Security Council to give the okay on a humanitarian intervention? Libya is the only time it has ever happened…

      Not to mention the risk of NATO getting their arses kicked if they wade into the wrong mess and let’s face it, most people in the West don’t care what happens to the people of Sudan or Zimbabwe and the like, especially if caring meant loved ones coming home in body bags (that’s why we should use an international force of mercenaries).

      Battle of Mogadishu

      Syria could test limits of Western intervention

      Nothing short of nukes will work

      You need something like a War on Terror to get people tolerating people coming home in body bags… It’s a pitty but true…

    13. By Willem on Sep 4, 2011 | Reply

      I’m pleased that this book has been released so close to the election. Hager’s books always are (by coincidence of course).
      The book is a timely reminder of how inapt, gullible and ineffective the duo Clark-Goff really was.
      I’m horrified to think that we might bring one back into government; as PM no less.

    14. By Joe Blow on Sep 4, 2011 | Reply

      @ Leon

      I already wrote a response to the one above but it didn’t come up maybe because it had some links.

      In answer to your new post. I’m not an expert on German law but there have been developments such as the European Convention of Human Rights and Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, not to mention the Universal Declaration of Human Rights since WWII.

      In fact now that the UK courts are more or less under the EU umbrella, the only two democracies with unwritten constitutions or fully binding human rights instruments are Israel and New Zealand… what does that say about us?

    15. By Joe Blow on Sep 4, 2011 | Reply

      P.S. I could be absent for a while. Got a book to read…. Try not to get yourself in too much trouble while I’m gone…

    16. By Joe Blow on Sep 4, 2011 | Reply

      Correction: should read “the only two democracies with unwritten constitutions AND WITHOUT fully binding human rights instruments are Israel and New Zealand”

    17. By Leon Henderson on Sep 4, 2011 | Reply

      You are a good dude, Joe Blow.

    18. By Leon Henderson on Sep 4, 2011 | Reply

      Ronald MacDonald Hubbard appears to have perished in a vehicle-prang: possibly in a VW!!!

    19. By Leon Henderson on Sep 4, 2011 | Reply

      Joe Blow, you advise me to “Keep Out Of Trouble”, but this is the same as telling a fish to stay out of the water!!!

    20. By Leon Henderson on Sep 4, 2011 | Reply

      Tuned into a radio station that has got Catholic Priests talking with each other on it: they are talking about the history of the Middle-East,Jesus Christ, Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate (etc Etc).

      It is awesomely Freaky!!!

    21. By Leon Henderson on Sep 5, 2011 | Reply

      Should not have said that about Ronald McDonald Hubbard (actually should not call him “Ronald McDonald Hubbard” also) because as “Bomber” Bradbury (a Werewolf dude) says, R.M.H (dammit should’nt have done that, but have always been a congenitally atrocious bastard)was probably a silly old capitalist who got done-over by much more slimy capitalists.

      Damn them all!!!

    22. By richarquis on Sep 5, 2011 | Reply

      The direction this thread is taking reminds me of Red 2’s last moments in Star Wars:

      “Stay on target! Sta on target!”

    23. By Leon Henderson on Sep 8, 2011 | Reply

      Joe Blow am back (well sort of, have been crook) and been reading Werewolf again and beginning on this page.

      Joe Blow how can you call a place like Is-rael a so-called “Democracy”? When it has been rotten-corrupt from the outset and was “founded” by gangs of murdering Terrorists such as the Askenazi Stern Gang who butchered the Palestinians, and a tiny group of Ashkenazi (so-called “European”) Jews have always lorded it over everyone else and have even treated the Sephardic Jews, and now even the minority Ashekenazi, almost as hideously and rottonly as they do the Palestinians. The Jewish population right now are violently protesting against the vicious treatment that the evil, rotten-corrupt thugs who hold them hostage, are doing to them also!

      Joe Blow, Is-rael has ALWAYS been rotten with corruption at the top, and has never been anything even remotely resembling a “democracy”.

      The Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Eight Families have always been the absolute dictators of that place, as they are of the United States, European Union, and the entire “American Empire”.

      Who is next on their evil Hit-List Joe Blow? Syria? Venezuela?

      Doubt if they have got the guts to take on Iran, because of the size of the Iranian population and Iran is surrounded with huge mountain-ranges. Thank God!

    24. By Joe Blow on Sep 10, 2011 | Reply

      @ Leon

      Israel is a democracy. In fact, it has a system of proportional representation with a 2% threshold, which would make its system more democratic than New Zealand’s. Arab Israeli citizens are allowed to vote and Arabic Knesset members have served in office since the First Knesset.

      It’s far more democratic than Syria and Egypt’s political systems not to mention Gaddafi’s regime. You’re bending your version of “Israel” beyond the bounds of reality. It’s persecution of the Palestinians is deplorable but it is persecution perpetrated by a DEMOCRACY.

      It’s not just the population of Iran that is the problem. It is the fact that Iran could block another 40 per cent of global oil exports, on top of its own 7% of oil exports, just by sinking tankers coming from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf states along its coast on the Gulf with its anti-ship missiles. Iran is here to stay.

      Syria is little different. Syria has four times Libya’s population and serious armed forces. Gaddaffi fearing a military coup purposfully kept the Libyan military weak. The Syrian Baath Party is as centralised and intolerant of dissent as the old Communist parties of Eastern Europe. Moreover, it is controlled internally by a sectarian minority, the Alawis, who fear that they would suffer terrible vengeance if they ever lost power. You would need to see the Syrian rebels get the upper hand in some areas of the country, like the Libyan protestors did in Bengazi, in order for NATO to consider air support. I suspect that the Syrian regime will remain unless the protestors there get more organised and actually pose a realistic threat to the regime.

      But this information is all in the links to Gwynne Dyer’s articles I posted above Leon. You need to read more widely! Gwynne Dyer would be a good start…

    25. By Robert Miles on Sep 13, 2011 | Reply

      Gordon you and Nicky Hager assume the Army centric approach for the NZ military was wiser, more humane and more effective.In reality since Korea our useful contribution to the West has always been the Navy and Air Force. Even in Vietnam a few frigates and bombers would have had more impact with congress and the state department.
      Even if the NZ and Aus army had a clear idea of how pockets of the Afghanis could be helped, the Anzac contribution would be a shovel of sand in the desert and meaningless after a few years.
      Hager essentially shows the Orions, Seasprites and frigates are effectively operating almost as part of the USN and USAF, which at least shows they can be of some political or even military use.
      Hagars basic assumption is that the intention of the effort is to reconstruct Afganistan. It never was. The aim was to eliminate Osma Bin Laden and do as much damage as possible to the terrorists and the forces that support them. The aim was in part damage and elimination with maximum prejudice,just like Vietnam and Appocalypse now.
      Having achieved these objectives we should withdraw the Anzac forces from the Near East and Middle East for the 2011-2021 decade and watch developments.

    26. By Joe Blow on Sep 14, 2011 | Reply

      @ Robert

      Yeah, I get you’re point, but I think Hager is right that there were in fact two wars being fought in Afghanistan. One under Operation Enduring Freedom and the other under the UN mandate given to the ISAF, which was ” to assist the Afghan Interim Authority in the maintenance of security in Kabul and its
      surrounding areas, so that the Afghan Interim Authority as well as the personnel of
      the United Nations can operate in a secure environment” (UN Resolution 1386 – this mandate was later extended to the rest of Afghanistan under Resolution 1510 in 2003). This mandate was not to find and kill terrorists or help blow up suspected terrorists. Yet this state building part of the war was neglected by the US military as it started rerouting resources to invade Iraq. Our initial contribution to this part of the war was specialist cargo loaders of military aircraft. Yet, instead of helping maintain security in Kabul, they ended up loading explosives on helicopters to blow up terrorists under the banner of Operation Enduring Freedom.

      Maybe New Zealand’s contribution could have been more spectacular if our military had put more effort into the state building side of the war instead of pretending that our frigates were involved in Afghanistan when instead they were busy escorting war ships to Iraq and our aircraft handlers were really secretly shipping bombs instead of helping to maintain security…

      Maybe instead of withdrawing our troups we should finish the part of the war that was meant to create security and build an Afghan state…

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