Heather Roy's done it again - why we shouldn't follow her back to the future

Heather Roy reckons our nuclear-free policy is stopping a free-trade deal with the US. Someone needs to tell her that the '80s are over, Reagan isn't president anymore and Iowa doesn't give a toss

ACT's Heather Roy's had a tough year, being treated roughly by her own party and leader, and I can't help but feel some sympathy for her. Yet there was politlcal naivety in the way she tried to advance her leadership ambitions, and she doesn't seem to have learnt from that.

She wrote a guest column in Friday's NBR (offline) calling for the repeal of New Zealand's nuclear-free legislation, arguing that asking America to either "confirm or deny" is bad form because, "friends trust each other".

The stance is hardly surprising; repeal is after all ACT policy. It's just a reminder how stale ACT's thinking has become and how few arguments there are left in favour of changing that law. As I've written before, history really has cleaned the table of this issue, and is now sweeping up any crumbs still left.

Roy spends most of her column working out the metaphors of the US-NZ relationship, in terms of friendships, marriages and partnerships. So far, so shallow.

She starts by questioning whether our relationship with the US really has improved, but then concedes that America has stuck with us on issues that mattered to it, such as the Antarctica-focused Operation Deep Freeze, regardless of our nuclear stance and that we're still serving mission with US troops all over the world.

Her big point is this:

Those who think that a bilateral FTA is a possibility under current circumstances are wrong. We are behaving like fair weather friends at best and the Americans rightly view us as such.

Pharmac, agricultural subsidies and our nuclear policies have historically been the three big impediments to an FTA, and they're still "as relevant today as they ever were".

Which raises the obvious question, why she thinks a change to one of those things will make any difference whatsoever. It won't. If she thinks New Zealand changing our nuclear-free legislation means diddly-squat to an Iowa farmer or any of the other US voting blocs that will need to be placated before we get an FTA, she's been visiting with the fairies.

The link between our nukes policy and free-trade just doesn't exist at the moment. It did in the past, and it's (vaguely) possible it will again in the future, but right now it's just not significant.

But if Roy wants to try to create some connection, I'm curious whether that means she also wants us to ditch Pharmac, and what makes her think the US is about to abandon decades of farming subsidies.

Or does the "fair weather friend" tag not apply to super powers? Is the ACT MP asking us to sacrifice our legislation as a sign of friendship, without any quid pro quo? If so, that would add the sin of dumb negotiating to that of hypocrisy.

The idea of us rolling over to placate a larger power is a relic of previous generations; we have more pride as a country than that. 

What's more it undermines Roy's own argument about us becoming trusted friends. Trust goes both ways and friendship requires equality, not subservience.

I'm also wondering why she's taking on "those" support a bilateral deal. Who's talking about a bilateral these days? anyway No-one. We have put all our chips down on the multi-party Trans Pacific Partnership talks, in part exactly because in the mix of multi-national issues the nuclear-free issue becomes less important and, of course, because it's considered more likely to bear fruit (although I have questions about that).

What's most telling about Roy's piece, however, is what's not in it. There's no talk of Obama's own nuclear-free convictions, of our invitation to the nuclear security talks in March and how politically useful we are to the US exactly because we have credibility on this issue.

There's no talk either of the Wikileaks cables being released, and the nonsense that makes of talking about the US as a friend that we should trust and not expect anything of. The world of diplomacy has been exposed as much bitchier than that. The US describes the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan as crooks and idiots, yet still gives them billions in aid and development money. Let's get real.

Finally, while she goes on about an FTA with the US, she makes no mention of the one we already have with China or the one we're now negotiating with Russia. Are they of no import to her?

Because if we had been in America's hip pocket in recent years, as she wants us to be, there's no way we would have won those deals. Our international independence has opened all sorts of doors. But Roy doesn't seem to want to place any value on that. Or, at least, she's happy to cast that aside for a US deal.

Again, quite aside from all the nationalistic arguments about independence and maturity, that 's just bad strategy and bad negotiating.

Our relationship with the US has passed through the desert and we are now re-connecting, not as serfs but as "partners". It is something we should thank that past few governments for, and recognise that the sort of world Roy is negotiating just doesn't exist anymore.

She ends her column advocating that we go "back to the future". Me, I'd rather not go back at all, but rather stay on this confident new path that we've forged out of conviction and independent thought.