Peter Dunne’s response to the Ministerial Statement on Iraq

Ministerial Statements

Iraq— Deployment of Troops

Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future):

The activities of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) over the last year have brought a new meaning to that longstanding phrase “man’s inhumanity to man”, because we have seen new levels of barbarism, new levels of violence, and a pervasive stretch of campaign unlike any we have seen in the past.

The issue is not whether as humanitarians we should do anything; the issue is what we can do constructively to both assist those who are struggling against that yoke of oppression but also to change the circumstances that gave rise to it in the first place.

So this is not a debate about whether to Iraq or not Iraq; it is about what we can do that will be effective. And when one looks at the history of engagement in the Middle East, over a long period of time—far longer than the 50-odd years referred to earlier—the one constant has been that external intervention has invariably produced failure.

Whether it be from the splitting up of the boundaries under the so-called Balfour Declaration earlier in the 20th century or whether it be the overthrow of the Mosaddeq regime in the 1950s or the attempts by the West after the various Middle East wars to try and reimpose a sense of order, the constant has been failure, and the consequence has been an engrained and increasing sense of disillusionment and bitterness that gives rise to the next form of expression we might regard as extremist and unacceptable, and which we recognise today as ISIL.

We can go on doing what we have done. We can go on repeating the mistakes of the past. We might feel good that we are making a contribution, but we will not be fundamentally changing anything.

The issue the House should be debating is what the most effective form of response is.

We are an isolated democratic country. We in this country believe in the institutions of our State, our courts, our independent legislatures, and our judiciary to deliver certain rights and freedoms to New Zealanders.

Although the form will differ from country to country, those basic tenets remain in all countries, so to deliver basic freedoms and rights and opportunities to the people of Iraq and beyond comes through ensuring that the institutions of their State are capable of living up to the expectations that their public have of them to be able to provide quality health and education services and to be able to provide law and order and good civilisation.

And how can we contribute to that? The historical record makes clear that external intervention over a long period of time has not made a positive contribution in that respect.

When this House debated the intrusion into Kuwait in 1990-91—and I recall the House being recalled early in 1991 for a special debate on that matter—the same points were made. Was New Zealand’s limited military involvement going to make any great difference without any efforts to satisfy some of the more fundamental problems of the region? The answer then was no.

When we debated the intrusion into Iraq that led to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the same questions were raised. They were raised in a peripheral way about Afghanistan, and they are being raised again today.

New Zealand has a proud reputation, earned over many years, and for many reasons the point we were elected to the UN Security Council was for being a beacon of humanitarianism and common sense in the international arena.

People remember the role we played in the Rwandan crisis, for instance, where a similar regime of horrific slaughter was in place, where the world felt powerless to cope with the forces that were at play in Rwanda, but where New Zealand was at the forefront of a sensible outcome for which we are still lauded today.

We should be using our role on the Security Council to, first of all, insist that any action that takes place against ISIL is UN mandated—and this is not—and, second, focus on the areas where the most positive construction can be made: humanitarian aid ensuring that the children who are being maimed, slaughtered, and violated routinely are protected; aid that ensures that the various States of the region, Iraq in particular, have the opportunity and the chance to rebuild their institutions of State to deliver fair and democratic outcomes for the people they serve; and aid that ensures that the experience that countries like us that have a longstanding parliamentary democracy have in issues of good and fair governance is able to be brought to bear to assist the people of that region.

The concern that I have about the deployment of now nearly 150 New Zealand personnel into the area is the escalation effect. They are going as trainers and advisers.

President Kennedy sent a few trainers and advisers into Viet Nam in 1961. That culminated in the deaths and injury of up to 220,000 American troops over the next 15 years and 220-odd New Zealanders similarly suffered in that conflict.

The point is that it is very difficult to control these sorts of incursions to protect just the goal that we had to start with. Inevitably, people in military uniforms will draw attention—terrorists do not distinguish between whether they are advisers or other personnel, and conflicts occur.

We would expect in those situations for people to defend themselves, and suddenly the situation has escalated far beyond what we originally intended. The tragedy then becomes the loss of innocent blood, of young New Zealanders in that situation. It is very easy for these things to move very quickly.

A limited engagement in Afghanistan that this House agreed to many years ago saw us ending up spending more time in that country than our combined input into World Wars I and II. There is no reason to think that the challenges that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) poses will be dealt with quickly, expediently, and that it will be all over in a couple of years.

We are committing New Zealand personnel for what will be a long-term engagement. We have to be prepared to face the consequences of that and the risks to those soldiers. We need to equip them well—and we have had issues in the past about how well equipped our forces have been in such situations—and we need to be prepared for the long haul.

The question I think many New Zealanders are asking is whether we actually know what the game plan is and how the exit strategy is to be developed. We do not want to see what, in effect, becomes an open-ended commitment made. There are, as I have said, many other avenues that we can be pursuing.

I believe that as a country that espouses the democratic tradition the forefront of what we do ought to be about encouraging other countries in a similar way and ensuring that they can benefit from the institutions of democracy and deliver safe and fair environments to the people that they serve.

I recall a representative of the African National Congress telling a meeting at this Parliament shortly after President Mandela came to power in 1994 that when people accused Mandela of being a terrorist they had it wrong because what Mandela and the African National Congress were about was respect for the institutions of the South African State, but they wanted to control them. They wanted to control the Parliament, they wanted to control the courts; they did not want the white minority to continue in the apartheid regime.

It is the same principle here.

Most people value democratic institutions. Most people value representative government and the opportunity to participate. They do not like having things imposed upon them. What our challenge is in this instance is to ensure that the people of Iraq can take control of their own destiny; the people of Iraq have the confidence in the authorities to deal with these violent, despicable people in ISIL; and the people of Iraq know that that is wrong, unacceptable, and unbelievably bad behaviour, and they take charge of responding to it.

They do not react well to the people of the rest of the world telling them what they have to do. I think New Zealand is making a sad mistake. But I just want to say one other very quick thing: those troops who go do go with this Parliament’s blessing for their safety and for the challenges that they face. I hope that they come back safely in due course.

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