The United Nations at 70: Brian Lynch Reports on a Seminar Held in Wellington Late Last Year to Commemorate the World Body's Significant Anniversary

By Lynch, Brian | New Zealand International Review, March-April 2016 | Go to article overview

The United Nations at 70: Brian Lynch Reports on a Seminar Held in Wellington Late Last Year to Commemorate the World Body's Significant Anniversary


Lynch, Brian, New Zealand International Review


A seminar to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations was held in Wellington on 20 November 2015. It was jointly hosted by the NZIIA's National Office, the NZIIA's Wellington branch and the UN Association of New Zealand (UNANZ). The half-day event attracted an audience of 140, including a pleasing number of young persons. Valuable sponsorship support was provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Ministry of Defence, the New Zealand Defence Force and Victoria University of Wellington.

It was to be expected for this anniversary occasion that a substantial element of reflection and review would be involved. The first three of the programmes four sessions provided a retrospective account of key aspects of New Zealand's experience over the past seven decades in the multilateral environment, flowing on from its fledging days as a founding member 'present at the creation' in 1945 at the San Francisco Conference. The look backwards did not centre only on the way issues have been handled at the UN head office in New York, where for 70 years political and security themes, threats to peace and often actual hostilities have dominated the agenda. It also took some notice of New Zealand's involvement, frequently very 'hands-on', with the economic, social and trade work of the family of specialised agencies located in cities such as Geneva and Vienna.

The seminar's fourth session provided a shift of emphasis. It introduced a 'where to from here' dimension from media and independent observer standpoints, and included a presentation with the enigmatic title 'Will there be a 100th anniversary?' In this final session it was fitting that the concluding address was given by the director of the Canberra-based United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), which was also a co-sponsor of the seminar.

The NZIIA and UNANZ have hosted many functions with a multilateral or specifically UN focus. There has been no precedent for the wealth of New Zealand experience and active engagement offered by the speakers and panellists assembled for this event. They included six previous New Zealand permanent representatives to the United Nations, in New York or Geneva, and others who had worked in New Zealand missions in those centres. They were joined by a former New Zealand member of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, by several longstanding members of the UNANZ, and a journalist.

Notable feature

While it was appropriate that the primary focus of the event was on the United Nations and its agencies, there was another notable feature of the occasion. It was taken as an opportunity to acknowledge the distinguished contributions of three special men: Tom Larkin, Merwyn (Merv) Norrish and Malcom Templeton. Together they had formed part of the early generation of New Zealand diplomats. Their entire working lives had been dedicated, at increasingly senior levels, to the formulation and execution of an independent New Zealand foreign policy through formidably challenging years, not least in UN contexts.

Following a welcome from Sir Douglas Kidd, the NZIIA's national president, the opening session of the seminar was chaired by UNANZ President Graham Hassall. In introductory remarks he presented the idea of 'three UNs'. One being the United Nations of member countries and their representatives, the second being the United Nations of the international civil servants who work for the organisation rather than at it and a third being the world of civil society, which had grown immensely to represent community voices and participation with the United Nations. One such organisation in the New Zealand context is the UNANZ, which exists to promote the United Nations values to evaluate the effectiveness of its work and to explore perspectives concerning its future direction.

The theme of the first session was 'New Zealand and the United Nations, the on-going dynamic and why it matters'. …

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