WikiLeaks proves brutal US diplomacy

ALL SMILES: Hilary Clinton and John Key.
ALL SMILES: Hilary Clinton and John Key.

Diplomacy is a brutal and two-faced business. Public diplomatic statements are bland and fatuous, but in private the talk is fierce. WikiLeaks' latest hoard of leaked emails from the American intelligence think-tank Stratfor usually mentions New Zealand in terms of contempt.

"When it comes to geopolitical importance," Stratfor analyst Chris Farnham wrote to colleague William Hobart in September last year, "it doesn't get much f---ing lower than New Zealand." Hobart had a similar view. "What possible strategic use is that little part of the world to f---ing anyone??!!" he wrote to Farnham.

The emails give a good idea of how American and Australian political insiders, working for a company once called "the shadow CIA", view New Zealand. Stratfor sells intelligence to government agencies and big corporations, and has close ties with the US government and military.

The emails also provide a brutal contrast to the official version of how the United States and Australia regard New Zealand.

The Sunday Star-Times has gained access to the emails through an investigative partnership with WikiLeaks.

When Hillary Clinton visited New Zealand in 2010, much was made of the Wellington Declaration, a joint statement supposedly marking a new era of peace between the two countries following their feud over nuclear ships."The relationship is at its strongest and most powerful in 25 years," Clinton said in Wellington. Prime Minister John Key agreed.

Clinton lavishly praised New Zealand and its work around the globe in all areas. "New Zealand more than punches above its weight in almost every sector," she said. The new declaration would provide a framework "to work together to solve issues practically", Clinton said. She wanted to see more military training exercises between the two countries.

But Stratfor's vice-president of analysis, Peter Zeihan, a regular political pundit on major US television shows, found little significance in the visit at all. In an email on November 3, 2010, he says that despite the nuclear stand-off, "The kiwis are still an ally whenever it really matters – and a fun one at that!

"[B]ut they're just not occupying a piece of real estate of any particular importance – so while it is a neighborly thing to stop by since she's in the neighborhood, i don't see clinton's visit laying the groundwork for anything more meaningful.

"[Washington] DC and Wellington have been pleased as punch with bilateral relations for 20 years, there's no pressing need on either side to change things."

Stratfor, based in Austin, Texas, has analysts all around the world, and has excellent contacts in Washington. Its vice-president of intelligence, Fred Burton, is the former deputy chief of the counter-terrorism division of the US State Department's diplomatic security service.

Stratfor sells intelligence to the New Zealand Defence Force and Air New Zealand. It says it gets its information from public sources, but its critics say it also gets secret information from its extensive government contacts. Among the five million Stratfor emails WikiLeaks issued last week, for instance, is one saying that US prosecutors had drawn up secret charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The email by Fred Burton says: "We have a sealed indictment on Assange", and warns other Stratfor analysts not to publish the information.

Assange is waiting for a British Supreme Court verdict in his battle to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over allegations of sexual assault. Assange is worried that Sweden will allow his extradition to the US over WikiLeaks's publication of leaked US classified military and diplomatic reports.

A number of Stratfor emails centre on Clinton's visit to New Zealand, part of a much wider tour of the Pacific and Australia. The analysts had a lively debate about its purpose and significance. Analyst Zhixing Zhang said in an email on November 3 that Clinton's visit to New Zealand was "basically to show US understanding of NZ's nuclear stance which seems to be an essential policy to demonstrate their independence.

"I'm not sure whether it will change NZ's perspective toward US, as despite nuclear row and downgraded relations (on surface level), it is still like a US ally. It is more from US part, hoping to remove the row, which later may step toward military cooperation or re-list it as formal US ally."

Zeihan, however, disagrees with this. "NZ has known since 91 what it needs to change to get back in the fold – the US isn't going to change its strategic doctrine for a small state that – to be blunt – is not strategically significant," he emailed.

Analyst Matt Gertken then wrote to Zeihan that "if what you're saying is true, then there's no reason for the US and NZ not to agree to more formal alliance. It won't change anything, but it looks better and the reason for NZ scrapping it in the first place has passed."

Zeihan replies: "trust me, for the kiwis the nuclear issue is nonnegotiable – until the US changes its naval nuke policies for its own reasons, NZ will remain an informal [rather than formal] ally, and both sides are fine with that."

Zhang had sent an extensive email to analysts earlier that day, saying one reason Clinton was here was to remove an obstacle in its relations with New Zealand over the nuclear ban 25 years ago. China's influence in the South Pacific might force the US to re-evaluate its role in the region and its relations with close friends like New Zealand. Her visit to New Zealand would include the Wellington Declaration, which would be a step towards enhanced relations.

"Though full defense cooperation is not expected soon, the declaration would mark the row over nuclear weapons, and removes the barrier for higher level military and political exchange between the two nations," she wrote.

Farnham, an Australian-based analyst for Stratfor, offers his own analysis of the New Zealand ban on nuclear ships.

"The NZ ANZUS issue was very much a product of the times and also a realisation that it didn't need the US's commitment but being a US base made them somewhat of a target," he emailed later on the same day.

"No one/USSR is going to attack NZ unless the US is basing strategic weapons there. Add that to the anti-nuclear lobby in the 80s was very strong in our region, the #1 anti-nuke band, Midnight Oil's lead singer [Peter Garrett] is now a member of cabinet in the govt. and the wishes of the electorate and it made good sense to tell the US to GTFO [get the f--- out] and lose ANZUS.

"NZ is only under threat if Australia is under threat and we are never going to trash ANZUS so NZ can freeride off Australia and appease the domestic audience."

THE ANALYSTS discuss whether the United States' recent offer to engage in dialogue with Fijian dictator Frank Bainimarama would undermine the more hardline approach to Fiji taken by New Zealand, Australia and the Commonwealth. Farnham wrote that "not only Australia but NZ and CHOG [Commonwealth heads of government] have all been taking a hard line with Fiji, the US just completely undermined that."

However, later in the day Farnham wondered how much the American approach to Fiji "really does annoy Aust/NZ/Comwlth when it really comes down to it. They lose a little prestige for now but this may actually work in their favour.

"The whole Cmwlth was placing pressure on Fiji, nothing happened other than Australian judicial and intelligence assets being kicked out of the country and ended up pushing Fiji in to China's sphere.

"If the Cmwlth tried to rein Suva back in with offers they'd just be played off against China's spending power. With the US now on the scene there is a real chance that Wash. can do what Australia and friends couldn't.

"They'll never get Bananarama out so they'll have to settle for getting him away from China. Make the best out of a bad situation and only the US could do that."

Zhang, while describing the Clinton visit as part of a wider American effort to counter the growing influence of China in the South Pacific, says China's military presence in the area was "quite moderate".

"This is the bit that I don't understand, why does anyone want to counter Australian and New Zealand dominance of Polynesia/anything east of the Australian/NZ coast? It doesn't have population, its resources are tiny ... and its position is not very strategic in nature. Australia and NZ are the jewel of Australasia, the islands are hardly anything at all and all you'd take Australia for is resources and to deny other nations from using it as an FOB [forward operating base]/surveillance point with which to push up from the south. "And even then all you have to do is hold Indonesia/Melanesia and you've blocked that route anyway. I just don't get why anyone gives a shit about Polynesia."

On September 23 last year two analysts have a vigorous discussion about the forthcoming visit to New Zealand of Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu.

"When it comes to geopol importance it doesn't get much f---ing lower than NZ," Farnham wrote to Hobart. "I mean they barely have an airforce and they aren't even an ANZUS Treaty member." Hobart is scornful about the New Zealand free trade agreement with China and the two countries' security relationship. "Now, why is a trade relationship between China and NZ geopolitically important? The obvious answer is that it is not important to anyone else other than NZ. Of course you can say `hey, but Chinese ships pass by this area, that's a security issue', but 1. you can say that about the whole world and 2, what possible strategic use is that little part of the world to f---ing anyone??!!"

Hobart also says: "I mean, who would really give a shit, other than NZ if that FTA died? Militarily, NZ has shit all. But rhetoricilly [sic] they have expressed willingness to expand military cooperation." This, however, had no signficance "in the real world". Hobart is dismissive of New Zealand's military. "The only part of maritime access that NZ controls is that of the Tasman (and even then they can do f--- all to protect sealanes) and their own ports."

Sunday Star Times