August 18, 2005

friends, not mates

There are no mates* in international affairs. This can be seen in the last 35 years of New Zealand's foreign relations with the UK, US and France. And to a certain degree with Australia.

The American ambassador who recently said we should get over our differences of the past and start discussing how we can move on obviously never understood the difference between a friend and a mate. As far as I can tell, you don't have to negotiate a mateship. Mateship is about knowing what the friendship can bear, and what it can't. It is about respecting the individual decisions of another person and keeping your distance if you don't want to be too close. It relies on strongly held common values and not pushing too hard. It is also about making sure you stump up with help when it is needed, and don't lean on each other to get your fair share of help in return. While reciprocity is important, generosity is crucial to a good mate.

The US obviously doesn't understand this. Don't get me wrong, I think there are probably whole states in the US, where mateship is rife and holds entire communities of people together. But it doesn't tend to live in the white house or the pentagon. Insisting on using another's belongings for your own ends has no place in mateship. Even if it helps a bigger person to defend you against other nasty people. Mates turn up when needed and are afforded any help that can be provided with dignity.

There is a part of me (and I suspect a fair few other New Zealanders) which sort of assumes that the rest of the world understands mateship. It is my private theory that the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior was *so* offensive, because it breached the basic tennants of mateship so badly. Where was the reciprocity for the soldiers who fought for France in two world wars, where was the respect of another's opinion (even if only in distancing yourself to the point where you feel comfortable again)? And where was the simple apology and recognition of a bad mistake?

To be fair, the French government was obviously paranoid at the time. The decision was taken by a tiny group of politicians who were prepared to believe uncorroborated intelligence because it fed their existing fear. Not that distant from certain governments now spending vast sums of money in Iraq. I suppose we can be grateful for those (rather large) mercies.

But still, a breathtaking break of the basic rules of mateship. But was it a breach of friendship? Are friendships more resiliant to mismatches of expectations and method.

And can we continue to run our international affairs using mateship as the standard by which we decide who to deal with?

* In case anyone has the erroneous idea that I consider myself an authority on mateship, I'm specifically speaking as an outside observer of a process I find facinating. Any mistakes are entirely my own.

Posted by carla at August 18, 2005 12:14 AM
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