Iraq: Moving on in a New Situation: Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Phil Goff Comments on the Government's Approach to the Problem of Iraq

By Goff, Phil | New Zealand International Review, July-August 2003 | Go to article overview

Iraq: Moving on in a New Situation: Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Phil Goff Comments on the Government's Approach to the Problem of Iraq


Goff, Phil, New Zealand International Review


There have been important developments in New Zealand's foreign relations over the last year. We continue to be very active in the campaign against terrorism. We are working hard with others to move the Doha Round negotiations forward, and we are looking to advance our interests in an enlarged European Union. Our relations with Asia also continue to grow strongly, but require sustained commitment to keep the momentum going. Prime Minister Helen Clark will host a major conference in late November to consider ways to bring new energy to our ties with Asia.

These are all worthy subjects in their own right, but here I will focus on Iraq. Specifically, and to the extent we can see at this point, what is the likely course of events in the immediate period ahead and what role can I foresee for New Zealand?

The government has made plain its position on Iraq on all occasions. We were not persuaded the point had been reached that force could be justified as a last resort. In our view, the weapons inspection process still had some way to go. Nor could we agree with military action unsupported by a specific United Nations mandate. And, especially in the absence of clear and immediate danger, we were concerned by the precedent setting of pre-emptive military action to effect regime change. This was a principled position founded in the conviction that world order is best secured through peaceful, multilateral action.

We also, however, had specific concerns. They included the importance of maintaining Iraq's coherence as a state within its current borders, stability in the wider Middle East region, the future of the West's relations with the Islamic world, and the risk of increased global terrorism including in our Asia-Pacific region.

Profound influence

Answers remain outstanding to at least some of these concerns. But I believe the changes now underway in Iraq will profoundly influence politics and relationships within the region, and our own dealings with that part of the world.

We should all, however, acknowledge with great relief and satisfaction that the conflict was short. Anticipated refugee flows did not take place. There were inevitably, and tragically, civilian and coalition losses. All will welcome the fact that Saddam's apparatus of terror has gone. The death, destruction and abuses inflicted by this dictator on Iraqi people through self-initiated wars and civil repression has at last been stopped.

It is now time to look forward. The strategic stakes in Iraq are too important not to. The major tasks facing Iraq today may be grouped into three broad areas--humanitarian assistance, reconstruction, and civil and political governance. As set out in the 4th Geneva Convention and the Hague regulations, responsibility for public order and safety and the civilian population's well-being falls on the coalition nations as the occupying power. That is now the principal role of their military forces.

With summer fast approaching many aspects of the humanitarian situation are acute. Sixty per cent of the population depend on being given food. The hospitals are neither adequately supplied nor staffed to cope. To help deal with these urgent needs, the government announced on 17 April a cash grant of $3.3 million for relief work. We subsequently made available a further $1 million to the Red Cross.

Distinguished record

More recently I announced the government's decision to make up to fifteen Defence Force personnel available to the United Nations Mine Action Service. Our armed forces have earned a distinguished record in this field. Mine clearance work will be vital to ensuring civilian safety and helping to restore normal life in parts of Iraq.

The most urgent reconstruction task has been the restoration of electricity to power the water treatment and sanitation plants. To generate the electricity, it has been necessary to put oil wells back into production. …

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