MH17: New Zealand’s Foreign Policy in Review

The MH17 tragedy has shot New Zealand’s foreign policy into the spotlight.


The Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 catastrophe took the life of British-born Kiwi Robert Ayley who was flying to New Zealand from Amsterdam. Also among the fatalities was a New Zealand woman living in Australia with her Dutch husband.

The Boeing 777 is believed to have been hit by a surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 passengers and crew, when it flew over pro-Russian territory in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials have accused the rebel militias – who they blame for the taking down of the aircraft – of tinkering with evidence and maneuvering bodies. Kiev officials have still not been given access to the crash site and have claimed rebels were preventing local emergency service personnel from gathering evidence.

Both Russia and the rebels have denied any involvement in the attack.

New Zealand’s response

At his first press conference since a pre-election break in Hawaii, Prime Minister John Key said he is “deeply concerned” by the lack of access to the MH17 crash site.

Mr. Key said the Government called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to show leadership “He now needs to stand up and tell the rebels to back off to ensure that there’s access [to the crash site] and a full corridor of access, so that all information can be gathered”

Over the past few days Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the Russian ambassador in Wellington was to see the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to hear New Zealand’s opposition to the shoot-down. Also, a New Zealand diplomat in Moscow will go to Ukraine with the possibility of seeing the crash site.

McCully has emphasised the importance of establishing a prompt and credible independent investigation. He believes that there is a mounting body of evidence that the aircraft was deliberately shot down using sophisticated ground-to-air missiles.

“If this is the case, then clearly a conflict that has largely been confined to the east of the Ukraine has dramatically escalated to claim casualties from around the globe,” Foreign Minister McCully said.

MH371 3NZ and Russia relations

In March of this year, after the annexation of Crimea into Russian territory, New Zealand removed the Trade Negotiations Minister out of Moscow. After three years of negotiation the free trade agreement was suspended indefinitely. But Prime Minister John Key was still hopeful the negotiations would continue.

However, with two Kiwis and 28 Australians now obliterated in pro-Russian territory in Ukraine, Key has stated that a free trade deal with Russia is the “furthest thing from our mind”

A free trade agreement would present handsome economic opportunities for New Zealand but it is now an almost impossible policy to pursue in light of the MH17 tragedy. The international community and the New Zealand public are increasingly aware that Putin’s regime is aggressive, corrupt and unsavory in nature.

The National led government ought to forget about a free trade deal and show support for the likes of the U.K. and its E.U. allies in their efforts to tighten sanctions unless Moscow changes its position on the MH17 incident.

Notably though, Keys government has responded in a special sitting of the United Nations Security Council – which Russia is a member of the permanent five – to call for a full investigation into the crash of flight MH17.

Although New Zealand will continue to support its allies in condemning Russian aggression in Ukraine and in denouncing the MH17 shoot-down, by what appears to be pro-Russian separatists, they are also exploring avenues within the United Nations to promote New Zealand’s own unique foreign policy agenda.

New Zealand targets United Nations for Foreign Policy leverage

It is unmistakable that the Key government sees a seat on the United Nations Security Council as New Zealand’s best opportunity to influence global affairs. Apart from alliances with our traditional and contemporary allies, this is a unique way for New Zealand to promote its political ideals of democracy, pluralism and individual rights.

The UN Security Council is made up of five permanent members and 10 non-permanent members elected for two-year terms. New Zealand is competing against Turkey and Spain for a non-permanent member seat which will be voted on this October.

Speaking to the United Nations last year John Key warned that passivity over events like the humanitarian crisis in Syria had damaged the UN’s reputation. Key said the UN was in desperate need of reform – which is the centerpiece of  NZ’s bid for a Security Council seat.

Key criticised the practice whereby countries with extreme self-interest in humanitarian crises are allowed to veto efforts of rescue. This remark was indirectly made toward Russia.

“This organisation would not also have been a powerless bystander to the Syrian tragedy for over two years if the lack of agreement among the Security Council’s permanent members had not shielded the Assad regime – thereby re-confirming the fears of New Zealand and others who had opposed the veto at the original San Francisco conference in 1945,” Key said.

The Prime Minister also pointed out that the permanent Security Council members should be stripped of their right of veto over acts of genocide or war crimes.

These are prescient comments in light of the Ukrainian crisis whereby a member of the permanent five– privy to veto powers – has committed an international crime of aggression and appears to have armed groups who, just days ago, shot down a commercial airline killing 300 of the worlds citizens.

There was, of course, a peaceful option for Mr. Putin following the revolution in Ukraine. He could have offered ethnic Russians and pro-Russian citizens of Ukraine full citizenship within Russia instead of redrawing the Ukrainian border with his army. This way the conflict would’ve been avoided and flight MH17 would have flown over Ukraine safely.

In 1948, with the memory of the second world war fresh in people’s minds, the United Nations was established so that a crime like the mass-murder of the Jews could not be repeated. Today the United Nations is a flourishing and expanding organisation – a so called honorable institution – the only thing it doesn’t do is the thing they founded it for: the prevention of mass murder.

New Zealand’s Security Council bid is aiming to reverse that equation.

Russia 3

Satirical Toons by Mark Winter, an award-winning New Zealand cartoonist, designer and film maker and his pen name, Chicane, signifies a deceptive bend. He is currently living in London.  Mark is always available to take commissions for artwork, caricature, cartoons or illustration projects. If you would like to discuss this further please get in touch on Twitter (@ChicanePictures) or at  




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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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