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Is New Zealand risking ‘reputational damage’ by joining anti-Houthi coalition in Red Sea?

New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said the Houthis’ attacks against commercial and naval shipping were “illegal, unacceptable and profoundly destabilising”, arguing that the defence deployment was a continuation of his country’s “long history of defending freedom of navigation both in the Middle East and closer to home”.

Describing the dispatch of the defence force as an apparent “U-turn”, Robert Patman, professor of international relations at the University of Otago, said the move strengthened the impression among the international community that New Zealand had “retreated from an independent, principled foreign policy to one that is in closer alignment with the US”.

“[This] risks real reputational damage in diplomatic terms,” Patman said, adding that the deployment “does not sit comfortably” with Wellington’s previous diplomacy towards the Gaza conflict, when it twice backed United Nations General Assembly resolutions in calling for an immediate humanitarian truce and ceasefire.

“Any further tilt to the US could complicate New Zealand’s relations with its biggest export market, namely, China,” Patman added.


US-led coalition strikes Iran-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen

Geoffrey Miller, a New Zealand geopolitical analyst at the Democracy Project, said that while the New Zealand defence team was small, the country was offering something even more valuable to the anti-Houthi coalition: “Its good reputation and good name that it has built up over decades.”

He added: “It is the symbolism that matters.”

Pointing to the government’s “rather cynical and clever” communications strategy for the deployment, Miller said that Prime Minister Luxon and Foreign Minister Winston Peters “both muddied the waters” by putting the