Too much intellectual curiosity – Not enough Fox News.
WHAT WILL YOU EXPECT from a course dedicated to “Strategic Studies”? A reasonable expectation, surely, of a university course devoted to the study of global strategic issues is that it would be ideologically neutral. After all, the struggle for global advantage: economically, militarily and diplomatically; is supported by a wide variety of international players. Breaking down the conduct of nation states by looking at it through a single ideological lens (however fabricated) could hardly be described as good scholarship. It would run the risk of training students who are singularly ill-equipped to identify and interpret the strategic issues at stake on the international scene. That can hardly be the goal of a course called “Strategic Studies” – can it?
Which is not to say that powerful nations, the United States in particular, haven’t in the past actively rewarded, rather than discouraged, a lack of intellectual curiosity, professional competence, and basic human empathy. The administration of George W. Bush, for example, was notoriously suspicious of fluent Arabic speakers. They feared that these people were “going native,” that is, showing too much understanding of the nation that the United States was planning, in blatant disregard of international law, to invade. The UK government has also distinguished itself by requiring its advisers to provide false grounds for joining the United States in its illegal invasion of Iraq.
If by “strategic studies” is meant the training of students to see international events from a unique and completely biased point of view; and to conscientiously provide their employers with documents based on falsified data and outright lies; then intellectual curiosity, professional competence and fundamental human empathy could, indeed, prove detrimental to rapid progress in their chosen career.
Having read his Writing publication titled “Russian Aggression Reveals a Gap in New Zealand’s Diplomatic Toolbox”, it is very difficult to avoid the suspicion that Professor Robert Ayson subscribes to something surprisingly close to the above definition of strategic studies. Perhaps it will come as no surprise that the professor’s view of New Zealand’s foreign relations puts the United States of America at the center of the big picture.
Interestingly, the post begins with what amounts to a huge sigh of relief that the dangerously heterodox Winston Peters is no longer this country’s foreign secretary.
The good professor is quick to reassure his readers: “Labour stopped outsourcing foreign policy to New Zealand First after the 2020 election. Peters’ quest to advance free trade talks with Russia and its Eurasian economic partners, which was enshrined in the 2017 coalition agreement, is now a thing of the past.
The idea that New Zealand could derive considerable benefit from splitting its export eggs into several baskets clearly does not fit Professor Ayson’s definition of strategic studies. Also excluded, presumably, is the idea that the Russian Federation is a strategic player deserving of a more rigorous level of analysis than the howls of Fox News.
Clearly, much of the brand of strategic studies favored at the University of Victoria relies on presenting the best calculated measures to disrupt and punish the activities of a chilling troupe of international bogeymen, including the largest and the baddest is, of course, Russia – as she did. been, intermittently, since the end of the 19th century.
Judging by his enthusiasm for the concept, Professor Ayson seems convinced that the most useful contribution New Zealand can make to baffle the Russian bogeyman is to join the United States and its other sycophants – sorry , “allies” – to impose “autonomous” (i.e. not authorized by the UN Security Council) economic and diplomatic sanctions.
At other universities, professors of strategic studies might encourage their students to calculate how closely these unilaterally imposed sanctions approximate actual acts of war. In these other universities, professors of strategic studies could even invite their classes to reflect on the consequences of the economic sanctions imposed on Japan in 1940 – more particularly the “embargo” on the export of oil and scrap metal. To what extent were these strategic gestures aimed at producing a strategic response? Have US “autonomous sanctions” made Pearl Harbor unavoidable? Was that their goal?
Admittedly, reading the professor’s message, it is difficult to get rid of the image of him leaping with excitement at the prospect of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Not only would an invasion allow the Ardern government to join “a largely Western chorus of condemnation” and announce (probably reluctantly) New Zealand’s own stand-alone sanctions against the Russian Federation, but it would also justify “the ‘bogeyman school’ of strategic studies.
That the current Foreign Secretary may be a less than fanatical convert to the Bogeyman School is clearly of concern to Professor Ayson: other governments (in this case China).
She might! In the eyes of some strategic scholars (though probably not Vic’s), the ‘Five Eyes’ penchant for weighing their weight is a direct line from the blatant English-speaking imperialism that turned millions of Chinese citizens into opium addicts. – reaping super profits for the same British drug cartel that took over Hong Kong.
No more! Professor Ayson is certain: “Anything left of that sentiment is unlikely to prevent New Zealand from joining a Five Eyes declaration condemning a Russian invasion. Such an act of military aggression by one sovereign state against another fits well with the group’s traditional intelligence and security agenda.
Did Professor Ayson formally demand an equivalent statement of condemnation when three of the Five Eyes Powers engaged in an act of military aggression against the sovereign state of Iraq in 2003? Or was he one of the depressing numbers of New Zealand strategists who seemed to view waging a war of aggression (for which politicians were executed at Nuremberg) as a “good fit” for the “traditional agenda”? intelligence and security” of this country. Fortunately for New Zealand’s excellent international reputation, our Prime Minister, Helen Clark, did not.
It is always possible, of course, that there is at least one student attending Professor Ayson’s classes with enough savvy to ask why the United States does not grant President Vladimir Putin the same right to defend the sphere of influence of his nation which he claims for himself. . For nearly 200 years, the “Monroe Doctrine” has warned the entire Western Hemisphere of all powers with plans to project power within it. That same brave student might also ask his teacher why the sauce for the American goose is not also the sauce for the Russian gander? It would certainly be interesting to hear Professor Ayson’s perspective on the most likely US response should Russian troops take up positions alongside their Mexican allies along the Rio Grande.
One shudders to think of the grade an essay advancing these ideas and questions might receive from the director of the School of Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. One suspects, at the very least, that a barrage of academic critics would rake the position of its author.
Too much intellectual curiosity – not enough Fox News.