Why This Time is Different: The North Korea Crisis and New Zealand’s Interests

Author: Steff, R.
Published in National Security Journal, 09 April 2020

a solution where either feels their interests are not taken into account will be a peace in name only, and portend the emergence of more dangerous and conflictual world order.

Admittedly, it is not hard to think of critiques to the proposal outlined above, and it does come with risks. The first is reputational. In short, the reputation New Zealand currently has for being a neutral and relatively independent foreign policy player has benefits; a well-meaning diplomatic effort – but one that leaves New Zealand looking incompetent and misguided could harm this brand. It would therefore be remiss of New Zealand to put itself forward if it did not have relevant expertise in its foreign policy core, something it should consider actively developing. One could also make the case that other regional issues, like the South China Seas, are deserving of broker engagement. Ultimately, though, New Zealand has to weigh up the fact that it has limited means – enacting a much broader pro-active foreign policy posture in the region would require a redirection of foreign policy resources (and thus influence) from elsewhere. Furthermore, while word constraints do not allow space here to provide a deep discussion, the territorial disputes in the South China Seas involve many actors as well as an emerging superpower (China) that has, it would appear, essentially secured its position in the Seas. Any agreement to resolve the disputes there will be on China’s terms. In contrast, as this article notes, a range of factors seem to be improving the long-term prospects on the Korean peninsula, while New Zealand already has a potential angle into the North Korean standoff owing to Winston Peter’s 2007 trip.

Ultimately, it is essential to recognise that rapprochement is often a long-term and iterative process.76 Those claiming the Trump administration’s efforts are ‘failing’ are missing the point that it was never likely that Pyongyang would rapidly give up its nuclear arsenal and normalise its relations with the outside world without strong and convincing evidence that the regime would not be threatened if it did so. What would assuage Pyongyang’s concerns? Likely, it would be a peace treaty with the US, discussion over the disposition of forces on the peninsula and an agreement on reunification with South Korea (or, barring that, some other kind of agreement with the South). While this is a tall order, and it could take a decades-long effort to get there, it is a goal New Zealand should do its utmost to support.