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NZ Greens support diplomatic, not military, action on ISIS

I have listened closely to the Prime Minister’s statement this morning and to this debate over New Zealand’s engagement towards the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In my contribution I want to focus on the broader aspect of the ISIL situation, namely the international action there and New Zealand’s policy on that. We note the Government’s decision not to send SAS troops to Iraq and we support that, but in answering questions after his speech, the Prime Minister said his Government supported the coalition’s military action against ISIL and that is the elephant in the Chamber.

So this House must address the question of the legal validity and the political merit or not of military action against ISIL. Should there be an international armed force against ISIL and should New Zealand support it? Our answer, with respect, is no. Let me convey our reasoning. We have asked ourselves five questions and they are these. Does ISIL comprise a threat to peace and security that warrants responsive action of some kind by the international community? If so, should that response include military action? If so, is New Zealand obliged to join that military action? If not, should it decide to do so on a discretionary basis? If not, what other action might New Zealand take that is substantive and constructive?

The Greens agree that ISIL poses a threat to peace and security. This is established in Security Council resolution 2170 of 15 August adopted under Article 39. It is based on a judgment that ISIL is a terrorist organisation, which on 2 July declared itself to be the Islamic State with universal jurisdiction for all Muslims everywhere.

Nothing in my personal experience persuades me that military action is the politically wise response. It requires diplomatic negotiation towards a durable political settlement, supported by humanitarian aid. We should not support any military action against ISIS.

It has said that: “The legality of all Emirates, groups, States, and organisations becomes null by the expansion of the Caliph’s authority.” The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has also launched genocidal campaigns against the Yezidi and Kurdish peoples. Its preferred method of political contestation is the beheading of journalists in the desert. These actions warrant prosecution by the International Criminal Court and a response under the responsibility to protect doctrine. So an appropriate response by the international community is required. Should that response include military action? Resolution 2170 called upon UN member States to take all measures necessary and appropriate, in accordance with international law, against ISIL. The resolution was adopted unanimously under chapter 7, but Russia stated that the resolution did not constitute authority for military action.

In situations of crisis, Security Council resolutions contain what is diplomatically termed constructive ambiguity, which enables those preferring military action to claim authorisation and those opposing it to deny such authorisation. Of course, military action has in fact been undertaken by eight Western and four Arab States. The United States, leading the military coalition, is claiming Iraq’s formal request for collective self-defence under article 51, which is an inherent right that does not require council authorisation anyway. That self-defence claim, however, covers Iraq but not Syria, which has not made such a request. So with Syria, is the coalition claiming resolution 2170 or the responsibility to protect doctrine as a justification? The coalition owes a formal explanation to the world as to the legal basis of their actions. Is New Zealand obliged to join any military action, even if it were legally valid?

The short answer is no. Under the charter we have an obligation to respect binding decisions of the council and not work against them, but without any formal agreements concluded under article 43, we are not obliged to participate in any military actions, even those authorised by the council. That requires a separate and sovereign decision on our own part. Should New Zealand, then, participate in such military action? That is a political judgment and our answer is no. The use of force by New Zealand can be justified in three ways. The first is narrow nationalism: to defend our country, our own territory, and nothing else. The second is broad nationalism: to defend our national security by deploying overseas to avert a domestic threat back home. The third is internationalism: to participate in collective force, to maintain peace and security even if the threat to ourselves down here is distant. In supporting the coalition action, the Prime Minister is advancing a justification based on the second and third of these. He is, effectively, saying that Islamic radicalisation, including some Kiwis returned from jihad, poses an unacceptable threat of violence here, and that to avert that we must assist in stopping and eradicating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) over there.

But this broad nationalism is mixed with a call to support allies. There is not a word about UN authorisation. The Greens’ view is different again. We apply the political criteria for the use of force under the responsibility to protect doctrine endorsed by the UN General Assembly. These questions have to be answered: is the causal threshold for action against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) met? If so, is the intention of the coalition states right? If so, are we are at the stage where the last resort of military action has genuinely arrived? If so, are air strikes proportional to the threat posed by ISIL? If so, is there a reasonable prospect of success in halting the suffering inflicted by ISIL or are the consequences of military action there likely to be worse than inaction? A genuine application of these criteria makes it clear to us that the use of force against ISIL is not justifiable. Reasonable people may differ over these questions. I acknowledge that those arguing against military action must advance credible alternative strategies to eliminate the threat of ISIL, but that applies to all forms of terrorism. We look to the 2006 UN global counter-terrorism strategy, which says look first to the causes of the problem and work on them.

So equally, where is the reasoning process by which the coalition States have come to the conclusions they have? Where is the debate in the Security Council that explores these issues transparently? I have scrutinised the council debate behind Resolutions 2170 and 2178, adopted within the last 3 months. The debate does not reflect this degree of transparency. Where is the written opinion from our own Attorney-General , tabled before this House, affirming the legality of such military action? Where is the accompanying paper tabled by the Prime Minister setting out the political case, essentially meeting the above criteria I mention? There will be a Cabinet paper. Why not release the Cabinet paper so that members of the legislature can explore and debate the considerations entertained?

I am no stranger to crises. I worked as a Kiwi diplomat on the Thai-Cambodia border in the early 1980s. I took parliamentarian missions into Haiti and Burundi during the height of their domestic crises. I have visited Gaza and the West Bank and have witnessed house demolitions. I have travelled in the Syrian eastern desert as the clouds of war of 2003 were forming. I have experienced riots in Jordan during the days of 9/11 , and I have visited the refugee camps recently on the Jordan border with Syria. I know how emotion and rationality wage war in the human psyche when we are under severe strain, both individually and collectively. Nothing in my personal experience persuades me that military action is the politically wise response. It requires diplomatic negotiation towards a durable political settlement, supported by humanitarian aid. We should not support any military action against ISIS.

11/06/2014 – 16:37

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