“New Zealand’s values” and Foreign Policy



Our esteemed Minister for Foreign Affairs, Muzza McCully, has taken off for an effort to pitch for our inclusion on the UN Security Council.

This is something I support. And, I am sure this will receive support across most political parties, although Colin Craig may be of the view that the Security Council does not actually exist.

In politics, it is not unusual to see a reasonably bipartisan approach to foreign policy. Just look at the Bush/Obama administrations. Essentially, Obama has continued the same aggressive interpretation of executive power favoured by Cheney and Co in pursuing American interests abroad.

You could also say the same, in broad terms, of the National and Labour parties in New Zealand. Our pursuit of free trade agreements being a recent example. Our best moments, though, come where there is a point of difference, with our Nuclear Free policy being an outstanding example. I am also tempted to mention the 1981 Springbok tour, but some politicians can’t even remember their position on that seminal moment…

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Back to the present. Clearly our membership on the Security Council is in our best interests so it is right to see bipartisan support.

Whether we will get there is another matter.

For me, a more interesting question entirely is whether we deserve to be there. What can we add to this body that has ultimate responsibility for global peace and security? Have we, as a small nation, illustrated an ability to lead the international community in a principled and constructive way?

Our advertising says that we do deserve to be there. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) has set up http://www.nzunsc.govt.nz where it states:

“New Zealand’s record at the UN reflects New Zealand’s values. We have a proven record of fairness and a constructive, practical approach. We have shown that we are able to listen and to talk (to all parties), be a bridge-builder between parties that don’t always want to talk to each other, and find solutions that work.”

Read that carefully.


New Zealand’s values.

What are our values? Seriously. I mean, if we are basing our sales pitch on this, then we should be able to articulate those values.

“Fairness” seems to be part of it. Everyone gets a fair go? The ability of anyone, no matter your size, to contribute? Little New Zealand at the edge of the world with our world beaters! We know, as a small country, how to fight as the little guy, as long as the playing field is fair.

Bridge-building? Seeking consensus? Listening? Solution oriented (rather than blaming?)

Do these values resonate with New Zealanders anymore, or are we happy to pursue our own interests at the exclusion of others? Is that the New Zealand we have become now worn down by thirty years of neo-liberalism and the New Zealand we are happy to present to the world?

John Key at the UN General Assembly told the world we are firmly committed to a multilateral rules based approach to international law. Fairness. Yet, when he went to Sri Lanka and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting our actions belied that commitment. Rather than speak of accountability for human rights abuse and allegations of war crimes entirely consistent with upholding a multilateral rules based approach, instead we cut a business deal for Fonterra and set up an All Blacks fan club.

Are these “New Zealand’s values”?

For me, what happened in Sri Lanka was morally untenable, both in terms of the abuse that has occurred and our government’s silence. Those were not my values

Clearly Key, McCully and Groser have narrowed our foreign policy to focus on trade. Our Aid programme has suffered under this approach with almost zero in-country presence. This impacts our “soft power” in international relations speak. I saw this first hand working in South East Asia where I worked with US, EU, and Australian programmes to develop positive capacity building projects. I would have liked to work with my own country, but the option wasn’t there

In contrast to the rhetoric and sales pitch, our recent foreign policy actions indicate that we are no longer an independent, principled voice interested in fairness. We are now only at the table if we can smell the money (or if we agreed to it over a game of golf in Hawaii)

Let me be clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a foreign policy where trade is prioritised. We should be promoting the ability for our enterprises to access foreign markets and take New Zealand products and ideas to the world.

But, our foreign policy should be about more. We can build on our traditions and the skills of our diplomats to where New Zealand is playing a “constructive” and “practical” role in the world beyond a narrow economic focus, especially in the South Pacific and up into Asia.

I sincerely hope we are successful in being elected to the Security Council. I hope it becomes an opportunity to play such a role, but I do not see how this government reflects the values that MFAT’s sales pitch implies.

Or, I could be wrong. Perhaps all we do value now is money. Maybe, our recent foreign policy does represent “New Zealand’s values”. If so, does that make Murray McCully our most valuable New Zealander?


  1. I fail to understand why it’s so important for us to have a seat on the UN Security Council when the permanent members of that council can simply overrule any vote with a veto.

  2. If there are such things as Kiwi values, I don’t see how having Washington’s hand up our bum at the UN would help to advertise them. In any case, I don’t think there is such a beast as a Kiwi value. The values of an ACT supporter at the Opua yacht club are very different to those of an anti-drilling hikoi participant down the road at the marae. The values of a militant who fights against the removal of people’s homes from GI are not the values of a property developer who probably has the mayor’s cellphone on speed dial.

    We really need to sort out who we are before we hold up a beacon for the rest of the world, and the Security Council would not be the best place to do that anyway.

  3. After listening to a New Zealand made Insight documentary on National Radio on this subject I decided that it is better for New Zealand if we don’t get a seat while the present government is in power. It would only damage New Zealand’s reputation.

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