Brave new globalising world, Paul G Buchanan

New Zealand in a Globalising World
ed Ralph Pettman
Victoria University Press, $39.95,
ISBN 0864734956

The globalisation literature peaked at the end of the millennium, before the zero-sum logic of 9/11 subordinated its concerns to the security requirements of the “war on terror”. The paradigm shift in international security from notions of collective defence to co-operative multilateralism that marked the end of the Cold War, followed by the shift to unilateral pre-emption after the assaults on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon (with both turning points precipitated by unconventional collective action on the part of previously submerged groups), polarised discussion about the pros and cons of socio-economic, cultural and political globalisation as an inexorable process. It kindled debate about primordial and pre-modern grievances and the centrifugal and atomising impact of change in the post-Cold War and post-modern era. It brought into stark relief voices previously unheard – that of the subaltern, disenfranchised, indigenous, oppressed and marginalised by the geopolitical logics of the Cold War – along with the turn to unconventional asymmetric warfare as the preferred weapon of the militarily weak. It altered the very nature of international relations. Small countries, particularly small liberal democracies, served as early barometers of this human climate change.

Half a decade after first-generation globalisation studies reached their crescendo, New Zealand foreign policy specialists collectively organised their thoughts on the subject. In this edited conference tribute to a retiring colleague, they opine about New Zealand in a globalising order, its role in the South Pacific and trans-Tasman relations. Narrowing of the analytic focus reflects the perennial concerns of the foreign policy elite, now bracketed by the imperatives of global change. The collection is thus more about core foreign policy concerns in changing times rather than how and why imperatives of a globalising order are addressed by one small island democracy.

One problem of edited conference volumes (besides the copy editing, which here has flaws) is that authors often see them as a means to air their own research interests, rather than address the substantive concerns of the editor. In this case the result is analysis that, although variegated, is often shallow, disjointed and irrelevant to the issues raised by the title of the book. Much of what is presented is descriptive and prescriptive rather than conceptual and theoretical, and largely unrelated to the subject of globalisation. Only two authors address the phenomenon as such (one a postmodern deconstruction that never mentions New Zealand, the other a nice summary of the theoretical schools associated with globalisation and how they might apply to this country). Others raise the subject as backdrop to analyses of diplomatic and security dilemmas confronting New Zealand in this fluid world moment. Some do not address globalisation at all, and some mention New Zealand as if an afterthought. A few do not present full research essays, but instead offer anecdotal commentary and opinion based upon media reports and their previous work, or, if not, bullet points about subjects that have nothing to do with globalisation (eg French nuclear testing in the South Pacific). One summarises a Marsden grant project that, to be fair, has a New Zealand angle that speaks to its evolving global economic relationships. No other issues of political economy are engaged.

Given the amount of technical jargon, the book needed an index and bibliography. Responsibility for that, and for ensuring that contributors focus on the globalisation/New Zealand nexus as the scope of analytic concern progressively narrowed, rests with the editorial team. It is inherent in the business of putting together conference-based volumes that gaps in argument and presentation emerge. If these gaps had been bridged, the book might have bettered our understanding of how, exactly, globalisation has impacted on New Zealand.

Along with the occasional lack of effort, conceptual depth and inattention to globalisation in favour of stock foreign policy issues, there is an absence of minority voices in the forum. There are no female, Maori, Pacific Island, youth, working class, environmental, human rights or other traditionally subordinate group perspectives (all of which are increasingly prominent in global discourse). Contrary voices are absent (which itself is a major point in the globalisation debate). Even relevant topics such as the impact of globalisation on immigration, natural disaster and pandemics and its role in the (re)definition of (New Zealand) external and internal security, or the rising influence of global civil society organisations on national policy-making, are largely ignored. The book presents itself as a New Zealand establishment, Pakeha male perspective on an increasingly coloured, young and female world where traditional notions of rights and entitlements are under unprecedented challenge, but in which privilege adapts and evolves.

Even so, those in need of an introduction to contemporary New Zealand’s international affairs can do worse than read this book. McKinnon’s description of the diplomatic corps is a good primer on who traditionally ran foreign policy in Aotearoa before the 1990s, although his use of public choice theory to analyse diplomatic self-interest is unconvincing. The potential of small nation regional power projection runs implicit throughout the chapters dedicated to the Southwest Pacific, and finds echo in the discussions of how New Zealand should reconcile its diplomatic and security posture with that of its closest neighbour (which has embarked on a diametrically opposed approach to foreign affairs). Alley and Fraenkel offer particularly good insights in their respective chapters, and expertise is evident throughout. There is a good amount of foreign policy esoterica to keep the non-historian satisfied, and enough foreign policy advice to fill a cabinet agenda in an election year.

The informed reader will find that the book updates discussion of core New Zealand foreign policy concerns, but will not offer new insight into how globalisation has affected them. General audiences will find it to be affordable non-fiction with enough pretence to be instructional to those new to the field. Globalisation studies may not take notice of its appearance, but the specialist literature on comparative foreign policy will see it as a useful addition.


Paul G Buchanan’s latest book, With Distance Comes Perspective, was published in 2005.


Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Non-fiction, Politics & Law, Review
Search the archive
Search by category