Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Keeping Balance in a Two-Step Dance: Brook Barrington Outlines New Zealand's Aspirations for Its Two-Year Role on the Security Council

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Keeping Balance in a Two-Step Dance: Brook Barrington Outlines New Zealand's Aspirations for Its Two-Year Role on the Security Council

Article excerpt

Late last year New Zealand won a two-year term on the UN Security Council. Its success in achieving election against strong competition stemmed from the priority that the government placed on its candidacy, the well-organised campaign that secured the votes of 75 per cent of the organisation's members and the reputation which New Zealand has long enjoyed as an engaged and constructive and creative participant in international affairs. In New York New Zealand aims to make a positive difference to the work of council, both in its approach to issues and its methods. It hopes to further enhance its international standing.


My focus is on New Zealand's current experience on the United Nations Security Council, and what we are seeking to achieve over the two years of our tenure. Let me begin, however, by positioning this topic in the context of New Zealand's broader international interests, and the role that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade plays in advancing these.

At its most fundamental, the ministry acts in the world to make New Zealanders safer and more prosperous. This is done directly--for example, through our consular work supporting distressed New Zealanders overseas or by the negotiation of trade and security arrangements. It is also done indirectly--for example, by upholding rules-based institutions and by our development assistance efforts.

In an age characterised by Skype or Face Time and the commodification of international travel, it might be questioned why making New Zealanders safer and more prosperous requires a foreign service with a global presence.

A basic answer is that formal relations between states, in times of ease but especially in times of tension, benefit from having mutually recognised and respected transmission mechanisms (embassies), rules (the Vienna Convention), norms (governments do not lie to governments) and representatives who can authoritatively represent the state, negotiate on its behalf and commit the state to formal undertakings (ambassadors and high commissioners).

A more textured answer is that our national interests are best advanced if our negotiating partners trust us, and trust is founded in relationships, and relationships require familiarity (if not always mutual understanding), and familiarity requires a continuity of presence and a constancy of behaviour. I should add that having people who understand the culture of the receiving state, who can identify even the smallest fragment of shared interest and who can leverage such fragments into something bigger is also useful--and these are not things easily or enduringly achieved by sporadic contact from a distance.

Taking these two answers together, it might be said that diplomacy is the application of intelligence and tact to the conduct of official relations between governments (as said by Satow). Or you might prefer Napoleon, who said that diplomacy is the police in grand costume. Either way it is a personal art as much as it is a professional science, and as such best conducted face to face.

If you talk to any foreign service officer, from any jurisdiction, it will not take long before they start talking about the importance of relationships. Indeed, I have just done so myself. But I do want to be clear: relationships are a means to an end, they are not ends in themselves. The quality of a collegial diplomatic relationship, or a relationship between states (as if states can be anthropomorphised in this way), might be personally gratifying but they will only be professionally meaningful if they help us to advance the direct and indirect interests of New Zealand.

Active role

And those interests are wide-ranging, and have been wide-ranging for most of our modern history. Migration, empire, war, peace, trade, values, anxiety, technology--all of these things and more have seen New Zealand play an active role in regional and international affairs which belies our small population and our relative isolation. …

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