The Briefing Papers: NZ’s time on the Security Council

Written By: - Date published: 10:45 am, January 3rd, 2017 - 9 comments
Categories: International, war - Tags: , ,

The Briefing Papers assesses NZ’s time at the UN Security Council, which came to an end on 31 December. Here are extracts from pieces by commentators Grant Duncan and Paul Buchanan:

Failing to make a difference? New Zealand on the UN Security Council
Grant Duncan

Now that New Zealand’s two years on the Security Council are nearly up, what can we say about the role it has played? Has our seat at the table with the major world powers made any difference? What do we have to feel proud of?

In its one-month turn as president of the Security Council in September 2016, New Zealand, to its credit, put Syria on the table for debate. While New Zealand couldn’t be blamed for the failure to stop the slaughter of civilians, the unpleasant fact is that New Zealand was at the head of the table, feeling “deeply disappointed”, as the “horror” unfolded. Tragically, no resolution to stem or cease the aerial bombardment was agreed to on 8 October, thanks to Russia vetoing a proposal from France and Spain, and the majority of members voting against Russia’s counter-proposal. New Zealand voted in favour of the former and against the latter.

As I write this, a viable ceasefire looks unlikely in Aleppo and the civilian population of Mosul is in peril. Islamic State remains an effective force in Syria and, for the time being, in Iraq. The humanitarian disaster continues in Yemen, and there’s no pathway to peace in Palestine/Israel. The last two years have been grim – and the New Zealand team at the UN are not looking like the All Blacks of world peace.

…But New Zealand did not put itself up for membership of the Security Council only for the sake of looking good and making new friends. According to Mr van Bohemen, New Zealand went in wishing to make a difference. It’s true that New Zealand was up against much bigger forces, and is not to blame for the tragedies that unfolded on the world stage in 2015 and 2016. So I wouldn’t say that New Zealand was spineless. Then again, we were at the top table; we failed to make a difference. That’s now a page in our history.

Tilting at Windmills? New Zealand’s tenure on the UN Security Council 2015-16
Paul G. Buchanan

There were some good moments when New Zealand held the UNSC Chair. A highlight was resolution 2231 (2015) which unanimously endorsed the Iran nuclear accord. Also in July 2015 New Zealand managed to secure support for resolutions on Cyprus, Iraq, Somalia, and non-proliferation . In September 2016 resolutions followed on peace and security, nuclear non-proliferation, terrorism, Liberia and on judicial appointments to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia . New Zealand pushed hard for humanitarian relief in Syria and for the millions of people displaced by that conflict, something that helped ease the way for the principals involved to agree to periodic ceasefires, humanitarian corridors and UN refugee re-settlement projects in countries such as Jordan.

The record is mixed regarding the issues that New Zealand brought as priorities to its tenure on the UNSC. It did not advance the cause of P5 or veto reform. It did not advance viable solutions to the Syrian and Israel-Palestine stalemates. It did lend support to further sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear testing, ongoing UN chemical weapons inspections in Syria and measures improving international cooperation against nuclear proliferation and terrorism, including in the field of airline security.

While New Zealand tried to make a difference while on the UNSC, its moment in the sun left little in the way of durable policy legacies or international impact. Resolutions do not always translate into concrete action and many of those passed during the time New Zealand was on the Council suffered that fate. In fact, viewed from afar, other than serving as an excellent school for diplomatic staff attached to the New Zealand UN mission, New Zealand’s presence on the UNSC was more that of an eager participant than that of a diplomatic leader. New Zealand played no worse and in most instances an equal or better role than the other members of its 2015-2016 temporary member cohort of Angola, Malaysia, Spain and Venezuela.

Ultimately, although New Zealand very much tried to play the role of honest broker and independent voice of small states while on the UNSC, it found itself in the position of an old man on horseback fruitlessly thrusting his lance at immovable features of the extant institutional terrain.

Well worth reading the full pieces on The Briefing Papers.

9 comments on “The Briefing Papers: NZ’s time on the Security Council”

  1. My report card on New Zealand’s time on the Security Council:

    New Zealand is a nation well respected around the world and has had some good results on the Security Council, including sponsoring a resolution on Israel/Palestine that passed 14-0. However its performance around Syria, its failure to condemn Saudi Arabia’s military strikes in Yemen which have amounted to war crimes in many cases, and the refugee crisis have let it down.

  2. Ad 2

    The lobbying capital New Zealand’s MFAT spent gaining that prestigious slot was hyperinflated on the decades of international relations work that Labour governments excelled at. Just like his domestic agenda, Prime Minister Key managed to spend none of it.

    He stood on the shoulders of New Zealand’s giants in international relations, all of whom lets face it were Labour Prime Ministers.

    There’s no doubt New Zealand should be able to represent small nations well. Except the Pacific Forum is an unproductive mess and Key made an unprincipled hash of it from day one.

    There’s also no doubt we are renowned for our negotiating skill, going all the way back to the Muroroa frigate, CER, GATT, and beyond to the very formation of the United Nations. All of which was instigated by Labour Prime Ministers.

    But instead this government spent all our available MFAT resource on the fruitless TPPA. Key and Mapp allowed that negotiating series to blow completely out of control by allowing more and more partners, during which their negotiating leverage completely dissolved. And now have the gall to blame the U.S. for its failure. It is John Key’s failure most of all.

    Sure, they got behind Helen Clark’s attempt at the top job at the United Nations. She lost to a better candidate, it pains me to say. From over a decade ago, I can still recall being at a public meeting when Helen Clark took the phone call when she was asked to take hundreds more refugees from a boat off the Australian coast. Which she did.

    That stuff called leadership in the world. Key and Mapp may have met it, but they never had it.

    Grant Duncan’s Briefing Paper is exceeding kind to this government. This government has stood for nothing of substance. And on the global stage, they delivered.

    [lprent: I suspect you meant McCully rather than Mapp? The latter has never had a foreign affairs or trade portfolio that I can recall. ]

  3. Red 3

    Unfortunately Ad comment Lost all credibility in second paragraph

  4. GregJ 4

    Seems a little unwise to publish a briefing paper assessing NZ’s role before that role was actually finished! Clearly they’ve missed out on the most significant act during NZ’s tenure the passing of UNSC Resolution 2334 (and the role on NZ in it’s drafting and ultimate passing).

    • Yes, the papers were commissioned with the understanding that there was a month to run on a 2 year term. Deadline was Dec 2.

      The omission of 2334 does not invalidate either argument because it clearly was drafted knowing that the US would not veto it and being fully aware that it will have little practical consequence unless other parties follow up with concrete (punitive) measures in the event the settlements continue.

  5. Colonial Viper 5

    As I write this, a viable ceasefire looks unlikely in Aleppo

    No ceasefire required. Peace has been restored in Eastern Aleppo, it has been liberated for a couple of weeks now after the Syrian Arab Army res-established control throughout the area, and rebel fighters were allowed to leave with their weapons.

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