3 April 2014
Being a good international citizen can have its highs and lows. Take the last couple of weeks as an example.
Two weeks ago a selection of international leaders, armies of bureaucrats and diplomats, and hordes of journalists deported to The Hague for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Summit. This is another of these Obama initiatives that show all the trappings of good engagement and process, but which in reality has achieved very little to date. And this last meeting was no exception. Indeed, reporters covering it seemed reduced to comment more about the external surroundings, than the substance, because there was apparently none.
Yet, barely had the doors closed on this nadir when The Hague was in the limelight again when the International Court of Justice ruled 12 to 4 against the validity of Japan’s so-called scientific whaling in the Antarctic. This was a triumph of international action, led by Australia with New Zealand in the van, and a powerful assertion of the strength of international institutions operating at their best. International citizenship suddenly seemed that much more worthwhile.
If the Nuclear Non-Proliferation séance left people wondering, then the International Court decision surely confirmed the significance and importance of New Zealand’s bid later this year for one of the non-permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. New Zealand has always been a strong supporter of the United Nations, from the days of Peter Fraser and his role in its establishment in 1945, through to the work of Sir Leslie Munro as President of the General Assembly in the late 1950s, and the current role of former Prime Minister Helen Clark heading the UN Development Plan. We have also served a couple of terms on the Security Council with distinction, and are generally recognised as a safe and wise pair of hands, even if our size and isolation might suggest otherwise.
Despite the obvious frustrations of the international system, it essentially works, as New Zealand has found on a number of occasions. From the landmark decision against French atmospheric nuclear testing in the 1970s, through to this week’s whaling decision the International Court (on which a prominent New Zealand jurist sits currently) has been a positive for us. So too, was our insistence on staying out of the Iraq conflict until and unless specific action was mandated by the United Nations, and weapons of mass destruction discovered.
So while being left off the background map at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Summit might have made us wonder about the worth of international engagement, the whaling decision and history overall are timely reminders that, frustrations and all, being a good international citizen is worthwhile, and is a role New Zealand should continue to play.