Nuggets from the UN and NZ in Global Affairs

June 10, 2014

photo 5Simon Draper – head of MFAT’s United Nations, Human Rights and Commonwealth division, responsible for managing NZ’s engagement at the UN and the Commonwealth, and for directing our UN Security Council seat campaign – spoke to 30 senior Wakatipu High School students at a Catalyst Trust workshop. Until his visit was mistakenly leaked by a staffer the day before, no one else knew he was taking 11 UN Permanent Representatives around New Zealand. Nuggets from his presentation…

  • Why is New Zealand a member of the UN? Because we’re small, we need rules, and the UN is a democracy, so size doesn’t matter.
  • Through the UN, we are injecting New Zealand’s value systems, especially human rights, disarmament, decolonisation and peacekeeping.
  • Why do countries want to deal with us? We can and do act as an honest broker between bigger countries.
  • Draper worries about the UN’s reputation being not as strong as it once was. “But the UN is nothing more than its member states. So when we are critical of the UN, we’re critical of ourselves.” When everyone is ‘equally unhappy’ with the UN, “we will probably have it about right”.
  • In the New Zealand lexicon, ‘compromise’ is a pejorative but it is the essence of being a UN member state. “What’s the alternative? That we enforce our will? We have no gunboats to send…and even if we did, would we?”
  • Why try for the Security Council seat? “There is a Mexican saying, if you’re not at the top table, you might be on the menu.” It is both an opportunity and responsibility.
  • NZ is known for its independence. “And being brave means standing up to your friends as much as standing up to those you don’t like.” And sometimes in the UNSC, “you have to deal with countries that make you uncomfortable and sometimes you act to ensure that even these countries get a hearing”. He also asked why should NZ not be on the UNSC – do we simply abrogate the big decisions to just the big countries? Our voice is as valid as anyone’s.
  • His job is to help convince 192 other countries that it is in their national interest to vote for New Zealand rather than Spain or Turkey for the Security Council seat in October. For a few countries UNSC votes are “a tradable commodity”, but NZ wouldn’t buy votes even if we could. For NZ, it is about exercising soft power. In terms of the UNSC the one thing NZ can guarantee is that, if an issue of importance comes up to your country X, “then we undertake to give you a fair hearing”.
    New Zealand’s Security Council campaign strapline is “fair-minded, practical, constructive”.
  • Showing UN Permanent Representatives “who we are as New Zealanders” is important as it demonstrates NZ’s value system, as it is our values that best indicate likely future action.
  • Visiting Queenstown with 11 UN Permanent Representatives, one of their take-home points was that five or six people were running Mt Nicholas Station – a farm the size of Singapore or Manhattan. “A number of African PRs remarked that “they (Africans) are told they are poor because all they have is agriculture. They come here, 65% of the economy is agriculture, and we are rich. So it is also changing the perspective of their own countries.”
  • Asked about issues that personally cause him most concern, he remarked that the situation in North Korea is one “future generations will not look favourably on this generation’s inability to improve the tragic situation there”. Syria is an absolute tragedy, where the UN can likely help around the edges but in Draper’s view the answer, if there is one, is most likely in the hands of the Syrians themselves.
  • Much real diplomacy is played out in the corridors, not on the speaker’s stage. It’s not dirty dealing, it is simply negotiation. When you buy a house do you go in and offer the maximum you can afford? No, you find out what you can bear and the seller can bear and find a compromise.
  • New Zealand’s annual foreign affairs spend is very small compared to the Government spends on education, health and superannuation. As it should be.
    As a 4th generation New Zealander, proud to represent NZ, a frustration about NZ is “our short time horizon. We think we can fix whatever problem comes along.” In his view we don’t give adequate attention to future thinking. Many governments and corporates do this, in fact it is something we can learn from Māori, who have a much more inter-generational time frame.