The New Zealand Analogy

August 1, 2010 at 6:06 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , )

Aaron Ellis over at Thinking Strategically was particularly distraught at Melanie Phillips’ passionate condemnation of the Cameron government’s policy in regards to Israel. Phillips in her neoconist tone, attacked the Conservative-LibDem government for its forsaking of democracy ideals to the benefit of cheap financial motivations. Phillips is mostly concerned with London’s enabling of an ‘islamist’ government in Ankara, one which has recently caused a number unnecessary spats with Israel.

This blog has been quite keen in pointing out that Turkey’s current approach to Israel has ulterior motivations which are not strictly in its best interest and in that sense one can understand Melanie Phillips criticism of Turkey. The lady at The Spectator however goes too far when advocating a distancing of Britain from Turkey because of Israel.

Ellis’ post makes a fine case in pointing out that:

‘(…) Phillips tries to portray Israeli interests as our interests despite the comparison disintegrating if examined carefully. If we start by asking how we would be affected strategically if Israel did not exist, then the answer is not much. The country does not provide us with resources like oil and gas and we do not depend on it for protection. Our connection to Israel is cultural, historical and religious and to some extent economic – but that is not the same as important strategically‘.


Indeed Phillips’ moral reasoning would be much more fitting for a Church pulpit rather than a political magazine and her criticism of Cameron’s ignorance of foreign policy matters makes the term ‘projection’ come to mind.

Nevertheless there is danger in leaving the rational apology of Israel as a monopoly of the Neoconservative persuasion.

Ellis seems to subscribe the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis of the ‘Israel Lobby‘: Israel’s importance to the west is purely symbolic and its defence by western governments is based more on cultural sympathy rather than hard national interest. Walt and Mearsheimer go as far as to say that for America, the staunch defence of Israel has actually hurt US national interest in so far as it undermined the United States’ power-broking credentials in the Middle East and caused irreparable damage to the Arab-Israeli Peace Process.

Admittedly the other side of the debate on Israel has not been the most articulated but strategy cannot exclusively rely on crude economic cost-benefit ratio analysis. Berlin after the second great war was a pile of rubble and yet the Allied powers were quite adamant in retaining it as a shared capital, going even as far as to risk war over it.

Israel, while an economic powerhouse when proportionately compared to its neighbours, is not indispensable to most European states. Strategically speaking the European capitals capable of projecting power have since long turned towards an ‘Arab policy’ which is much more able to guarantee UN votes, far reaching markets and oil.

The neocons’ obsession with Israel pertains to its regime – a liberal democracy – and its location in the Middle East. For the PNAC progeny, Israel is both a sacred paradise of liberty for the west’s moral imperative to zealously guard and the gateway for the transformation of the Greater Middle East. Israel proves the power of liberal institutionalism in shaping society and intends to purge the Arab world from illiberal traditions through compassionate western social engineering.

Therefore Aaron Ellis is right when claiming that ‘At the core of the [Melanie Phillips’] piece is the belief that Islamism poses a mortal challenge to Britain and that Israel is more important to us than Turkey. This is dubious‘. Yet I contest that it is of zero strategic value and more to the point I sustain that it bears considerable strategic importance, at least to US foreign policy.

Relations between states can assume a wide range of forms and are quite diverse in nature. Strategic allies cannot be recognised by bilateral trade relations – although free trade agreements transmit deep political confidence – nor through simple military cooperation. Throughout the Cold War the US and the SU held large networks of military client-states which were of little or no strategic value, and France and Germany continued statistically great commercial partners in spite of their clashes during the XIX and XX centuries.

It is technology and intelligence sharing that more accurately give away the intentions of a state and its foreign policy. An example in point of fact is that of the significance of New Zealand for the US and the Anglosphere. New Zealand is a successful democracy and economy but a superpower like the US would always have little use for a couple of sheep grazing islands in the antipodes.  How then to explain America’s Britain’s and Canada’s excellent relations with Wellington? Surely Indonesia would hold more strategic and economic value for the aforementioned industrial powers…

New Zealand is part of the Echelon network and enjoys access to the best American military technology. This makes it one of America’s closest allies on the planet. This proximity however is not anchored on strategic location or economic interest but rather on cultural harmony. New Zealand is a liberal democracy, but it is a WASP one as well. The national narrative is highly compatible with that of America.

Strategic value must rely on national interest but it is all the deeper, the closest the cultural relations are between the states in question. Unlike the neocons I will not recur to the ideology or the nature of the regime but more importantly to the nature of the state. Israel is and will remain important to the US not because of its regime but because of its national narrative: that of an anti-British imperialism, religious persecuted minority and immigrant founded nation with a strong Judaeo-Christian messianic discourse.

The strategic value of Israel in my view, lies in being the most culturally compatible state with the US in the Middle East. It is not democratic peace theory which is at stake but national identity – not simply ‘friendship’ as Ellis put it. This factors in strategy when it comes to the durability of strategic bonds. Egypt would be more useful no doubt but also more fickle for who’s to say that a coup in Cairo tomorrow, won’t turn the entire country against Washington? It happened before in Iran where the entire Iranian military establishment was put to use against American interests, where Washington’s intelligence gathering infrastructure against the USSR had to be evacuated and where not even its embassy was spared.

In spite of occasional conflicting interests, diplomatic snubs and mutual espionage, Israeli links to America are likely to remain strong and it is this proximity which makes Israel a suitable base for American operations in the Middle East in decades to come. The same cannot be said of the Arab regimes or the other regional powers.

Unlike Walt and Mearsheimer I reckon the links between Washington and Jerusalem to not be exaggerated. Israel will never integrate the Anglosphere and indeed the US does not provide Israel with all it would like to acquire in terms of technology or intelligence – Jerusalem argued against invading Iraq and was rebuffed, appealed to a US strike on Syria in Al-Kabir and Bush refused, as he did Israel’s request for further bunker piercing weaponry or the transponder codes to overfly US controlled Iraq en route to Iran – but Israel’s appeal to Americans will always be great and perhaps even greater than that of many NATO states, and that is a sound anchor for bilateral relations in such a hostile region as the Middle East.


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