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New Zealand: a new leader in world affairs with UN seat?

By winning a non-permanent Security Council seat New Zealand has the chance to shape UN reform


New Zealand will now spend 2015 and 2016 nestled amongst the biggest power brokers of world politics thanks to their United Nations Security Council seat victory.

The victory was an emphatic one too, with New Zealand winning 145 out of 193 votes on the first ballot, with Spain second on 121 votes and Turkey on 109. After a third ballot Spain won the second seat with 132 votes to Turkey’s 60.

Prime Minister John Key responded to the news by emphasising the positive role small states can play on the world stage:

“We believe that New Zealand can make a positive difference to world affairs and provide a unique and independent voice at the world’s top table. Our win proves small countries have a role to play at the UN, and we are determined to represent the perspective of small states at the Security Council,” Mr Key said.

The PM acknowledged the massive effort put in by a wide range of people over the last decade bidding to gain the seat, dating back to former Prime Minister Helen Clark, who had kicked off the process back in 2004.

“When I first became Prime Minister back in 2008 it was one of the things that she raised with me that she actively urged me to carry on with,” John Key said. Key also had so e kind words for Foreign Minister Murray McCully, who has emerged as the key figure in New Zealand’s campaign.

“He’s literally been to all 190 countries that could have voted in this particular campaign.”

McCully looked relieved after the result but reassured the international community of the responsibility encompassed in winning a Security Council seat.

“We are very focused now on making a good fist of this. The membership has just given us a resounding vote of confidence and we have got to make sure we live up to it,” McCully said.

This responsibility is particularly important in representing other small countries that may feel disenfranchised within the context of the global institution. McCully believes New Zealand can make a difference in this regard and in finding solutions to contemporary global threats ranging from ISIS in the Middle East to Ebola in West Africa.

“We obviously have some strong views about the trouble spots of the world and particularly the inability of the UN security council to find a way of dealing with most of them,” Mr McCully said.

John Key also shares some of McCully’s frustrations over the UN Security Council. Key has criticised the way the council operates with the veto of its five permanent members and has voiced disagreements over the fact that decisions can be taken in a region of the world without the requirement to consult the affected countries.

“We are going to be charged with trying to make sure the Security Council is able to be relevant on a topic that requires Security Council attention when so many times in the last few years it has been simply paralysed – particularly by the use of the veto,” Key said.

The UN continues to neglect crimes against humanity

New Zealand was last on the council 20 years ago when many states applauded its efforts to demand greater international action during the genocide in Rwanda – one of several preventable genocides committed right under the nose of the UN.

General Romeo Dallaire, who had been serving as Force Commander of UNAMIR (the United Nations peacekeeping force in charge of Rwanda), had attempted to stop the genocide after finding out the exact date of the planned massacres of the Tutsis. At the time, he called upon the UN to double the peacekeeping force from 250 to 500 to have a fighting chance to stop the genocide. The reports eventually landed on the desk of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who ignored the severity of the situation.

It would seem that every five years or so the world seems to suffer another “never again” moment. Now it looks as if it’s the turn of the Christians, Yasidis and Kurds in Iraq and Syria. A realist and logical approach in preventing genocide would be to place security forces between the the aggressors and the victims – the beheaders and the about to be beheaded. But tragically, beyond ad-hoc peacekeeping forces the UN does not have a permanent military power ready to be deployed at a drop of a hat to respond effectively to such crimes against humanity.

However, beyond this lack of capacity to address war crimes head-on, the main problem may actually lie in the Security Council itself. Council members have blocked various rescue efforts on account of self-serving interests, displaying incredibly cynical reasons on countless occasions since the inception of the UN in 1945 following the horrors of World War II. Some of the strongest thinkers on UN reform have suggested including India and either Brazil or South Africa to the council and then requiring two vetos to be able to block resolutions. But an extension of the Security Council to these states remains a pipe dream for the time being.

Many critics of the UN also believe that it focuses too much attention and resources on a host of growing peripheral issues – such as income inequality and climate change- while immediate action to prevent genocide is often swept under the rug as a matter of course.

It seems obvious that New Zealand’s current government understands these problems and is able to lend leadership in addressing such global issues. John Key has signalled on various occasions that he believes that passivity over events like the humanitarian crisis in Syria is damaging the UN’s reputation. But despite such outspoken rhetoric, it will be tough going for New Zealand to get to convince the UN on the need to reform itself in order to better prevent and respond to humanitarian crises and acts of genocide.

However, the fact that New Zealand emphatically won the non-permanent member seat while campaigning on a reform basis may be a sign that UN’s conventional wisdom has moved an inch in the direction of reform, away from stale debates and hopefully closer toward common sense.



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About the author

Cameron is a Freelance Columnist who works for a non-profit surgical company in the heart of London. A recent political science graduate, Cameron has a strong writing background in all things political, economic and foreign affairs. His writing style is a blend of the cold hard facts with a dash of opinion and personality. Cameron writes weekly political columns for the New Zealand Times and is intending to broaden his writing repertoire to include topics such as travel, sport and food & drink.

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