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Phil Goff: Making A Difference Through The UN

Hon Phil Goff: Making A Difference Through The UN

Making a difference through the UN

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you here today to the National Model United Nations Conference.

I am pleased to see such a good turn out from schools around the country and from members of our diplomatic community and public service.

We are all here because of a common interest in international affairs and the role of the United Nations.

When the United Nations was first established in 1945, there were 46 members. New Zealand was one of the original members that met in San Francisco in the wake of World War II to discuss how to avoid repeating the disaster of two catastrophic world wars in less than 25 years.

Since that time membership of the Organisation has grown and today stands at 191.

Last year two new members were welcomed into the fold of the United Nations, Timor-Leste and Switzerland, the first one of the poorest, the other one of the richest countries in the world. Each has recognised the value of full membership of the organisation despite their vastly different backgrounds and heritage.

For some of you, this is your first exposure to how the United Nations works. Over the next three days you will be representing different countries from around the globe. When you step into the shoes of another nationality, you will learn what motivates delegates to take the stand they do on certain issues - and you will also see what the United Nations offers to its member states.

You will of course start to come to your own conclusions about the Organisation.

New Zealand has had an impact within the United Nations disproportionate to our size. Our readiness to think independently and to stand up for what is right has won us respect. As a new generation of New Zealanders, I hope you continue our proud tradition of active involvement in this organisation.

Since 1945, when we joined the United Nations, New Zealand has played an active role in its development, serving in all of its main organisations.

Today the United Nations is the main way in which we work in with and relate to the rest of the world.

As a small nation we can achieve results in the UN that would not be possible if we could only deal with countries on an individual basis.

Regardless of size, every country has a voice in the UN. Every country has the right to be heard, and every country has a single vote.

For example, the Pacific nation of Nauru with 12,000 people has one vote, as does India, with over 1 billion citizens. This helps to equalise the strength of the big and powerful on the one hand and the small and less substantial on the other.

This is displayed vividly when elections to UN bodies take place. Large and powerful countries often lose out to their smaller opponents.

Small countries also expand their influence by forming alliances with like-minded countries.

New Zealand, for example, works with Australia and Canada in an informal grouping called CANZ to advance common aims, such as United Nations reform.

And in the disarmament arena, we helped form the New Agenda grouping of seven states, to campaign for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Together with our new agenda partners, we have worked to encourage the nuclear weapon states to make an unequivocal undertaking to eliminate their arsenals.

We also work closely with our Pacific neighbours. The Pacific block represents a fair number of seats in the UN - 12 in total. We work closely with the Pacific on issues that are important to our region - in particular oceans management and climate change.

As a small country we rely on collective action to address security situations that could affect international peace.

New Zealand currently has troops deployed to UN peacekeeping missions in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Closer to home, our peacekeepers also played a key role in rebuilding East Timor. Without the involvement of the international community, East Timor threatened to be a major humanitarian disaster on our doorstep.

Also in our neighbourhood, New Zealand with Australia along with Pacific Island Countries, will provide assistance to keep the peace in the Solomon Islands. We anticipate the UN and the international donor community will also have an important role to play.

New Zealand is also playing an increasingly important role in UN negotiations.

Many nations recognise that New Zealand has the ability to look beyond its own narrower interests and work for the greater good. Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan when he visited New Zealand, told me that he considered New Zealand "a model international citizen". As a small country not presenting a threat to others we can help mediate and help bring about pragmatic solutions to difficult problems.

This role is becoming more important in a negotiating environment where the world is split between the developed and the undeveloped, the rich and the poor.

We are not always successful, but for a country of our size and resources, we have achieved good results.

New Zealand will continue to regard the United Nations as an important organisation. The UN helps us do those things we simply cannot do by ourselves.

But we cannot easily forget events that place under question the capability and credibility of the United Nations Organisation.

Many people look at what they see as the failure of the United Nations to act in certain situations such as Iraq and get frustrated by what they see as inaction.

I have some sympathy for these frustrations, but as an international body the UN can only act where it is empowered to do so by its members.

The United Nations is based on the principle of collective decision-making.

The process of forming consensus in a body of 191 members is long, often difficult and reliant on the will of its members.

Over the next three days you will learn first hand how challenging it can be.

The United Nations system needs to stay relevant and outcome focussed.

It constantly needs to update itself for new generations and to respond today to the challenges and expectations of the 21st Century.

We have to continue to work to make the world a safe, stable and a better place.

It will in due course fall to you as a new generation to pick up this challenge.

You will have new as well as some of the same problems to confront, and you will have new and powerful ways to deal with them, such as use of new information and communication technology.

Individuals can make a difference, and each of you should strive to meet that challenge.

The United Nations was born out of the horror of the Second World War.

Its goal was to end violence and to achieve a peaceful world.

I hope that you will use your idealism, energy and commitment to build tolerance and to achieve what has continued to elude my generation, a peaceful, harmonious and fair world.

I wish you an enjoyable and successful conference.


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