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May 21, 2007 | by  | in Features |
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America’s Economic Empire: A Lesson on Rhetoric

It has now been twenty years since New Zealand became officially nuclear free. The passing of the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act not only enshrined this policy in law, but also engraved it upon our national psyche.


The nuclear free issue saw New Zealand stand out against a backdrop of a dragging Cold War and a series of environmentally degrading nuclear tests in our own backyard. Every New Zealander knows the rest of the story. The United States took great exception to New Zealand’s nuclear free policy, but the David versus Goliath imagery only added more fuel to New Zealand’s fire and before long, our little country decided it would not take orders from anybody anymore. As a result, the United States immediately ended all special ties with New Zealand, replacing forty years of unabashed public displays of affection for something that resembles the awkward few seconds when you realise your ex-girlfriend is walking straight at you.

Twenty years on, it seems little has changed. Despite a mutual exchange of pleasantries, New Zealand is yet to have a free trade deal be sent its merry way. Similarly, the United States is yet to receive full military backing for its international, um, endeavours. So there’s no denying it – things just ain’t the way they once were for these two lovebirds.

Is it possible that the old flame can be rekindled? Can New Zealand and America progress past the issues of yesteryear? Salient speaks with Deputy United States Ambassador David Keegan on American foreign policy, the nuclear issue, the promising future for a free trade deal, and why New Zealand and the United States are more similar than people might think.

It’s been 20 years since New Zealand adopted its nuclear free policy. This issue represents some major differences between our two countries. What are the similarities and differences you see between our two countries?

[During] the Prime Minister’s recent visit to Washington, she met with the Secretary of State, the Trade Representative, with our new Secretary of Defence, and our President, and talked about issues that both our governments and both our peoples are concerned about.

So we are pretty similar aren’t we?

That is one of the things that has struck me. Whether it’s listening to Phil Goff [Trade Minister] or listening to the Prime Minister … We really do think alike sometimes.

Right wing think tank the Heritage Foundation lists countries that have free market economic policies. The US is ranked fourth and NZ is ranked fifth. Do you think it’s surprising that so many New Zealanders don’t realise that we have fairly far right policies operating in NZ?

Quite frankly if you look at what NZ did on economic policy and government structure during the 1980s and 1990s, it’s really quite a startling record.

In the foreign affairs rhetoric of President George W. Bush, it seems that free trade pops up a lot. What similarities do you see between that and the rhetoric that existed in the 1960s with anti communist rhetoric, which was used to justify American foreign policy of the time?

One of the striking things of it is that if we reduce the trade barriers around the world, that gives people in all sorts of different places an opportunity to do what they do best and sell it to people that benefit by having it

That is saying that true freedom is commercial freedom.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt in World War II talked about the Four Freedoms, and one was ‘freedom from want’ – giving people the opportunity to make a living so they can sustain themselves. That’s one kind of very essential freedom.

Free trade is kind of like ‘freedom from want.’ For most Kiwis, the criterion for free trade seems quite bewildering because we tend to think it’s about our nuclear policy. Do you think that’s truly the case?

Okay, I think what you’re asking about is a free trade agreement. If you go back to the [Bush and Clark meeting], they talked about that and it was striking to me that the President invited Susan Schwab – our special trade representative – to be part of those meetings. I think that indicated that this discussion was something of importance to us as well, and she recognised the importance of the negotiations that were going on between the Administration and the Congress about extending what we call Trade Promotion Authority, which gives the US Government the authority to negotiate and sign free trade agreements …. A free trade agreement really is about the trade issues and the economic issues.

So it’s got nothing to do with ideological differences?

No, I don’t think it’s about the nuclear issue. There are a lot of things we’re doing together, and I think as far as a FTA goes, if we do get more Trade Promotion Authority, I think we could see movement to that kind of agreement.

Do you think the reason why we don’t have an FTA right now is simply because NZ does not have an economic unit that is worthwhile to America?

No. If you look at New Zealand’s economic profile – recognising NZ as a small place – when people in the US look at NZ they think of it as a place that has been very successful and on the leading edge of an industry that we care very much about – which is entertainment. They look at it as a place that is very successful in an industry that is one of our largest – which is agriculture. But the trade representative’s office is a tiny place and it’s a question of “how many free trade agreements are they going to be able to negotiate?” It’s a very crowded agenda.

There is a perception in NZ that we’d basically have to curry favour with the US or else you guys will pull the plug. Do you think that’s a real fear that we should be concerned about?

[Over] the last couple of years, the level of cooperation between our two sides has been better than it’s ever been. And I don’t think that this is a passing phase.

There’s been a lot of bad press about America with the war in Iraq and most countries are not happy with the state of that conflict. But in history, America has done some great things for the world, and the Marshall Plan of the 1940s is an example of that. But in recent times its public image has taken a real downturn. What’s your opinion on that?

Things tend to look different 10-20 years later, and we have to work through what we’ve got. In the 1930s a lot of people were unhappy with what the US was doing in economic policy, and there were a lot of people wondering when the US was going to step up and get involved against fascism in Europe and Asia. So these things go in cycles.

There’s no denying that in terms of achievements, the United States is an incredible country. But when it comes to Iraq, the rest of the world looks and thinks, ‘why is this great country that has done such great things in the past bothering to do this?

’I would caution you about the term ‘the rest of the world’. There are a number of countries that we are working with in Iraq, and there are also governments and peoples who have disagreed with us.

I am interested in the moral reasoning behind Iraq because there are other countries that have atrocious human rights. Why doesn’t America get involved with those countries as well?

Really I think the United States has been a very constructive advocate for human rights in a lot of places. The moral reasoning behind what we’ve done is reasonably clear. Can we solve every problem everywhere? Not even Mount Everest can do that.

I think with present media reports, it’s just so hard for us to believe the rhetoric anymore.I’ve given you my answer on that about three times now. So what else can we talk about?After the 2003 breakout of war in Iraq, Helen Clark said ‘if Al Gore was President there wouldn’t be a War in Iraq.’ How do you think that was seen in the US?

I’m not really particularly focussed on that statement.

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  1. Christine says:

    Truth is, America simply can’t win. They are criticised heavily, (and told to go home) for going into theworld’s most difficult and dangerous places with the intention of give human rights to the local people, who are being murdered en masse. But then, once a civil war breaks out in a remote African country, there are photos of the locals looking to the sky waiting for the Americans to arrive and save them. They are damned, no matter what they do. The world would have been a very different place without them in World War 2, and that is probably so in the Middle East as well. Yes, they appear to favour Israel, and yes, sometimes they could do things differently. But, everyone looks to them to hold up some kind of new world order. And everyone expects them to do it alone. And then criticises when they goof up. Their young men are being killed in Iraq. Ours – thankfully – are not. We need to think about that before we give them too hard a time here.

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