Politics | Royal NZ Navy

Rimpac goes against ‘every core value we have as Māori’, activist says

In 2020 anti-war groups urged NZ government to withdraw from Rimpac, interview with Teanau Tuiono.

Next week the Royal NZ Navy will participate in a US-led military exercise in Hawai’i that opponents have condemned to due to objection from Kānaka Māoli and fears of environmental devastation.

Although called the Rim of the Pacific (Rimpac), the military exercise includes nations with no geographical proximity to the Pacific - Brunei, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, United Kingdom and Israel.

Recently, there has also been an outcry over Israel’s participation from peace advocates, activists and other groups urging New Zealand’s withdrawal and condemning the participation as complicity in genocide.

“New Zealand as a signatory to the Genocide Convention is obligated to prevent genocide and should not be collaborating militarily with a genocidal regime,” according to Dr Arama Rata (Ngāti Maniapoto, Taranaki, and Ngāruahine), an organiser of Mātika mō Paratīnia, a group of Māori in solidarity with an international movement for Palestinian liberation.

Former government’s participation and resistance

In 2020 Te Ao Māori News interviewed the defence minister of the time and former soldier Ron Mark, who concluded participation in Rimpac was important. We also talked to the spokesperson for Cancel Rimpac Coalition, Teanau Tuiono, who had four major issues with Rimpac participation.

Mark said Rimpac placed New Zealand beside strategic partners including Five Eyes, the Five Power Defence Arrangements and “friends in NATO”, with the aim of developing people-to-people relations and operational abilities to ensure compatibility, interoperability, efficiency and effectiveness.

Tuiono said his first concern was the rivalry between China and America. The military exercise was led by the US, which ‘disinvited China’ in 2018.

Tuiono disagreed with Mark’s comments on the importance of practice and preparedness. He argued the ‘disinvitation’ showed it was about politics and he urged that New Zealand should remain independent.

Yesterday Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said the government was still exploring joining Aukus Pillar 2 despite warnings it would breach the Rarotongan Treaty and would contribute to global tensions because the security pact aimed to contain China.

The NZ Herald reported warnings from China’s ambassador to New Zealand, Wang Xiaolong, who said it would seem as though New Zealand was “taking sides” as US diplomats had said the purpose of Aukus was to preserve US primacy, which positions the US as the dominant global power.

But Rata said Aukus was “a complete betrayal of the Pacific, which would ramp up militarism and nuclear colonialism, and bring us closer to an unprovoked war on China, with our moana as the sacrifice zone”.

Other Tuiono concerns then were the Covid-19 pandemic, the implications on the environment and sea life and the implications on Hawai’ian whanaunga and indigenous Kānaka Maoli whose environment, oceans and marine life would be affected.

Tuiono said New Zealand should listen to Pacific relations who didn’t support Rimpac using their ocean.

Environmental destruction and sex trafficking

Environmental groups in Hawai’i have long raised concerns about the military exercises.

Hawai’i Public Radio reported environmental dangers to marine mammals from active sonar and explosions, impacts including permanent loss of hearing, internal injuries and death.

The US Navy said it had a commitment to the environment and was trained in reducing harm.

Nevertheless there is a long history of environmental pollution in Hawai’i at the hands of the military.

This includes the dumping of 63,000 pounds of toxic nitrate compounds into the ocean, the release of hydrogen cyanide, mustard bombs, radioactive waste, as well as the release of bombs, missiles and torpedos.

In 2021 the US Navy announced a petroleum leak that contaminated Halawa well, which accounted for a fifth of Honolulu’s drinking water. The catastrophe was described as a “crisis of astronomical proportions” by a US lawmaker. Residents experienced symptoms of headaches, nausea, vomiting, rashes and skin peeling and was later taken to court in Honolulu where victims claimed health issues such as seizures, asthma, eczema and vestibular dysfunction.

“Military exercises have resulted in ecocide, completely destroying environments, and leaving many islands and atolls uninhabitable,” Rata said.

She also said the presence of military personnel was accompanied by sexual violence against native women and girls.

Kathryn Xian from the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery said during Rimpac ‘out-of-town pimps and sex traffickers’ travel to Hawai’i.

In 2014, the US Pacific Fleet Public Affairs Office said it was mindful of the ‘scourge of human trafficking and sexual slavery’ but it continued.

In 2018, the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women held an anti-trafficking campaign called “She is All Women” during Rimpac to raise awareness.

The benefits of Rimpac for New Zealand

Defence Minister Judith Collins has also supported Rimpac due to interoperability but Rata argued the government liked to frame interoperability as “beneficial to our security interests”.

“In reality, we risk only being able to operate as an extension of the US military, in service of their priorities, at the expense of our own security interests, undermining our sovereignty.

“We must seek to disentangle ourselves militarily from the US and Israel, who have appalling track records with regards to illegal foreign intervention and violations of international humanitarian law.”

The person-to-person relations that Ron Mark discussed align with the US, which promoted Rimpac as promoting trust and prosperity, which Rata said she found laughable.

The US and New Zealand’s recent governments have said it was significant for the security of the region.

“It’s clear when you look at the experiences of our relations in Hawai’i, Kanaky, Marshall Islands, and elsewhere that the greatest security threat we face as indigenous Pacific peoples is the presence of foreign militaries, coupled with the threat of climate change. These military exercises are a threat to our safety and our moana,” she said.

Pacific interests

Both Tuiono and Rata urged the government to listen and support Kānaka Maoli who opposed the exercises.

Rata argued the involvement in Rimpac was against Māori values and the interests of the Pacific.

“Rimpac reinforces colonialism in our moana and goes against every core value we hold as Māori: kaitiakitanga, whanaungatanga, mana motuhake. Māori is not something we as Māori should want to have anything to do with.”

Instead, Rata says New Zealand should centre Pacific regional priorities such as climate change, nuclear nonproliferation and demilitarisation.

“Māori have always engaged in ‘international relations’ with indigenous peoples across Te Moana nui a Kiwa and beyond, underpinned by our own tikanga, but the Crown has consistently abrogated its duties under Te Tiriti o Waitangi and United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples by preventing Māori from expressing rangatiratanga internationally, and failing to consider the impacts of Crown decisions on Indigenous peoples.”