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Phil Goff Speech: Iraq crisis: NZ's position

Phil Goff Speech: Iraq crisis: New Zealand's position

Speech to the Diplomatic Club luncheon Duxton Hotel, Wellington

The issue of Iraq so dominates international affairs today that my comments this afternoon would risk irrelevance if I were not to focus on it.

What I would like to do is to outline New Zealand’s position, as set out in our comments yesterday to the United Nations Security Council. I want to explain why we have adopted the stand we have.

And finally, I want to address the question of whether the crisis over Iraq challenges the relevancy of the United Nations.

There are of course many other questions of concern in the world today – North Korea’s own provocative stance on weapons of mass destruction, the on-going campaign against terrorism, sparked by September 11 and brought into the Asia-Pacific region by the Bali Bombing on October 12 last year, instability in the Pacific region, to name a few.

I would be happy to answer questions on these issues, after my initial comments.

The statement delivered by New Zealand’s Ambassador to the UN in New York yesterday is brief enough to read in full to you.

Mr President

Three weeks ago the New Zealand Government’s statement to this Council urged that the diplomatic process be allowed to run its course with respect to the crisis over Iraq. It also urged that Iraq move rapidly to provide the information and co-operation required of it to avert the catastrophe which war would bring to its people.

The New Zealand Government has placed considerable weight on the weapons inspection process as providing a route to the disarmament of Iraq. As long as the weapons inspectors report that they are making genuine progress the New Zealand Government believes that their work should continue.

Since the open debate in this Council on 18 February, the inspectors have reported again. Their reports make it clear that while many questions remain to be answered, real progress is also being made. As Dr Blix has said, the destruction of the Al Samoud 2 missiles is not a matter of breaking toothpicks.

On this basis, the New Zealand Government position remains as it was stated on 19 February. We do not support military action against Iraq without a mandate from the Security Council, and we do not believe that the Council would be justified in giving that mandate at this time. As Dr Blix has stated, the inspection process needs months rather than days.

But now, when the inspection and disarmament process is finally gaining traction, is not, in our view, the time to abandon it in favour of the use of force.

The use of force can be authorised by the Security Council as a last resort to uphold its resolutions. But in view of the recent reports this Council has received from both UNMOVIC and IAEA, this is not a time of last resort.

All members of this Council share the same objective: the disarmament of Iraq. Debate has raged not over the objective, but over the timetable for and means of achieving it. It is distressing to my government that the debate has strained longstanding friendships between nations. That strain will be magnified if the next steps taken to resolve the crisis do not have broad international support.

The New Zealand Government therefore urges the Security Council to continue to support the inspection and disarmament process it currently has in place while it is getting results.

Iraq should not mistake the strong preference of countries like New Zealand for a diplomatic solution for tolerance of its failure to comply in full. This is not time for Iraq to be practising the diplomacy of brinkmanship. Iraq should act immediately to comply in full with all requirements laid down by the Security Council and the weapons inspectors. Only by so doing can it be certain that the catastrophe of war will not be visited on its people.

Thank you, Mr President.

New Zealand strongly supports UN resolution 1441 demanding Iraq disarm in accordance with previous Security Council resolutions going back to 1991. We have long been one of the strongest voices in the UN for elimination of weapons of mass destruction, by all countries.

We believe, however, that the process for enforcing resolution 1441 however must be multilateral, involving a clear UN mandate. We are opposed to unilateral action.

At the end of the day, the United Nations must be able to sanction the use of force, otherwise compliance with its resolutions could not be secured, and it could never achieve the purpose for which it was established.

We are certainly not in the category of those who say force can never be used. In regard to Iraq, without the threat of military force there would not be the degree of compliance with disarmament requirements we have so far seen.

The use of force however is very much a last resort. It should only be contemplated when all other options have failed, or when the threat faced by the country it is directed against is both real and imminent. We judged that to be the case in regard to Afghanistan, after September 11 when the Taleban Government refused to act against Al Queda, after that terrorist organisation very clearly demonstrated the threat it posed to international security and the lives of innocent people targeted by its terrorist attacks.

On that occasion, as on so many others over the 20th century, New Zealand committed combat forces, this time to Afghanistan, because it saw no option to the use of force in the circumstances.

However in regard to Iraq we do not believe the point has yet been reached where there are no other alternatives.

We believe that options other than military action are still available to achieve disarmament.

Inspections have only been resumed for just over three months and UNMOVIC has only recently reached its full personnel strength.

Albeit under pressure, concessions in regard to surveillance methods and investigation, are still being wrung out of the Iraqis. This includes the use of U2 planes, the destruction of the Al Samoud missiles and the making available of some scientists for interview.

New Zealand has demonstrated its commitment to the UNMOVIC process with the contribution of 13 personnel. We want to see that process continued for as long as it can be effective in helping secure disarmament.

The process could be strengthened by setting benchmarks for Iraqi cooperation and reasonable time limits should be set within which compliance with these benchmarks is required.

If the point comes where it can no longer be progressed because of lack of Iraqi cooperation and force has to be considered, we believe that a further resolution by the UNSC should be moved which can be accepted as authorising the use of force. A further resolution would most clearly provide the authoritative and sound legal basis for direct action.

New Zealand is a small country. As such it recognises the need for the rule of law internationally. Since 1945, it has put great store by the role of the UN as the pre-eminent body empowered to resolve international conflict. It has contributed and continues to contribute to international peacekeeping as in East Timor, Bosnia and the Sinai and to international security operations, such as Operation Enduring Freedom.

It is not acceptable that the procedures of the UN and the rules of international law should be observed only when it suits the purposes of, or has the agreement of, a particular party.

A country, as a citizen, is bound by the law, whether they agree with it or not.

It is ironic that those who have most strongly criticised the US for unilateralism, such as some in the Greens, are now promoting their own form of unilateralism, arguing that if the UN mandates force, we should not support its actions.

A Security Council decision has the force of international law and must be complied with.

In supporting a UN resolution it is however up to each individual country as to what practical form that support takes.

New Zealand has indicated that in the event of conflict authorised by a UN resolution, its support would likely be confined to medical, humanitarian and logistical assistance.

New Zealand’s view of the Saddam Hussein regime is unequivocal.

This is a regime that denies democracy, and is guilty of appalling abuse of human rights. It has a track record of using chemical and biological warfare against its own people, as well as Iran, and committed unprovoked aggression against Kuwait.

The condition of its peace settlement in the early 1990s was for its disarmament.

There are serious and unanswered questions about chemical bombs and biological weapons it was known to possess and has not accounted for. Iraq must meet the requirements of resolution 1441 – or face the ultimate consequences if it continues to fail to do so.

The Iraqi government can prevent war by taking the actions it is legally obliged to.

We believe that Iraqi compliance could be achieved by force of international opinion. Regrettably, the sharp divisions which have emerged over the path to achieving this may have undermined the pressure Iraq would otherwise have felt to do this.

It is unfortunate that timing appears to be driven by the build-up of military forces in the region and the approach of summer more than a dispassionate assessment of whether progress could continue to be made by means other than war.

The reasons why avoidance of war, if at all possible, is desirable are obvious.

War means people being killed, homes and infrastructure destroyed.

The UN estimates 600,000 to 1.4 million refugees will be created, and up to 2 million displaced within Iraq. Tens of thousands of lives could be lost directly or as the consequence of famine, disease or land mines.

Already half of Iraqis cannot meet their basic needs and hundreds of thousands of children suffer from malnutrition. A war extending over months would dramatically worsen their position.

The victims would be ordinary Iraqi people, probably not Saddam Hussein and his clique who would likely escape with hundreds of millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts.

There are also risks that a war could destabilise other Middle Eastern countries and undermine the solidarity of the coalition against terrorism.

A war judged by Middle Eastern and Islamic peoples as unjust risks creating sympathy and support for terrorists who would otherwise be condemned.

A war in Iraq would take attention from the primary threat to international security, which is terrorism, and also from the need to find a lasting solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, another cause which creates sympathy for terrorist action.

It is for these reasons that common sense dictates that all alternative avenues of achieving Iraqi disarmament should be exhausted before war is considered.

Our recent and our past history provides more than enough evidence that New Zealand has long been prepared to meet its responsibilities to international security and justice, even at the cost of sacrifice of the lives of its own people.

In the event of a conflict in Iraq, New Zealand will have a role to play.

That role however will focus first on emergency relief to save lives.

In the aftermath of any conflict, New Zealand will have a role to play in areas such as mine clearance and peacekeeping, where we have a strong track record, and on reconstruction and development assistance.

While time is running out, there is still the opportunity to prevent war.

Iraq can do so, by complying with its obligations.

The United States can do so by staying within the multilateral framework and allowing time for current efforts to achieve disarmament without loss of innocent lives.

One of the wider implications stemming from the crisis over Iraq is how a failure to achieve consensus will reflect on the credibility and relevance of the United Nations.

The UN is in one sense in a no-win situation.

Its detractors will argue its irrelevance if a second resolution is passed. It will also be seen as irrelevant if the resolution fails.

In the former case, it will be seen as evidence that the world’s only superpower was simply using the UN as a vehicle for its own agenda, achieving its will by the influence it can bring to bear on individual members of the Security Council. In the latter case if military action goes ahead without a second resolution being put, or with the defeat of such a resolution, patently the UN will be seen as having failed to constrain the world’s most powerful member within rules and decisions made multilaterally.

Parallels will inevitably be drawn with the League of Nations in its 1930’s which failed to prevent the rise of fascism, curb aggression of major powers and to prevent world war two.

That analogy has limited value. Unlike the League of Nations which did not have two of the three most powerful countries in the world as members, the UN encompasses every country of the world.

Its value as a credible international body for resolving conflict in fact is reflected in the decision by the United States to take the issue of Iraq to it and the overwhelming desire by countries like the United Kingdom and Australia to have the Security Council’s endorsement for the taking of military action.

This in turn reflects the popular mood in the latter two countries where opinion polls show far less support for action without a UN mandate than with it.

The UN has of course failed on many occasions to resolve issues in dispute and to avoid conflict over the 57 years of its existence.

It has been written off many times for not being able to achieve what was beyond its power.

As Shashi Tharoor, UN Undersecretary for Communications and Public Information, aptly put it “the United Nations, at its best is a mirror of the world. It reflects our divisions and disagreements, as well as our hopes and convictions.”

The UN has been buried many times by its critics, but it has survived.

It has survived because the world needs a multilateral forum and needs a framework of international rules, to create order and assist security.

The UN will certainly also have a role to play in any post – conflict scenario in Iraq.

Ironically this was the case in Kosovo, where NATO bombing of Serbia was carried out without even reference to the Security Council.

When arrangements had to be made to administer Kosovo after the war, it fell upon the Security Council to give international legitimacy to administrative arrangements and to bring in the necessary international support and resources.

Whatever difficulty the UN has had in trying to manage divided international opinion over the use of force against Iraq, it will be found to be essential to the ensuing peace.

The general observation should also be made that the United Nations performs a wide range of functions and its relevance does not stand or fall on one issue alone.

In its recent efforts to address threats to international peace and security, the UN has had major success in its intervention in East Timor.

It continues to play a vital peacekeeping role there, as well as in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

It plays a critical role in the wider areas of development, human rights and refugees.

In all of these areas, however, the UN can only be as effective as its members allow it to be.

We cannot blame it for what its members fail to give it the authority to do.

During the Cold War, the Security Council was rarely able to be credible or effective.

It has faced new challenges since the end of the Cold War, with greater relevance. But it can do little to impose its authority in the absence of a consensus.

In conclusion I have outlined today the views of New Zealand as a small but independent country on the crisis in Iraq.

I have indicated too that while once more the constraints on the effectiveness of the United Nations are highlighted by a crisis over which there is no international consensus, New Zealand remains committed to finding multilateral solutions to problems and the United Nations as the body through which to do so.

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