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Phil Goff - Multilateralism in NZ foreign policy

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade

19 April 2005

Speech Notes

Multilateralism in NZ foreign policy

Delivered at 5.30pm to
The United Nations Association of New Zealand,
and the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs,
Rutherford House, Victoria University, Wellington

My topic this evening is the place of multilateralism in New Zealand's foreign policy, in the context of our wider foreign and trade policies, and the government's priorities for the coming year.

I would like both to outline my views, and invite your feedback. I acknowledge the depth of experience in this room, both in influencing the development of policy and implementing it, over many years.

Over the five and a half years I have held the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio we have seen far reaching changes in the global environment. The terrorist attacks of September 2001 in the United States have shaped the security outlook and policy responses in the opening decade of the twenty-first century.

International terrorism has come to determine security and foreign policy perspectives, not only in the United States, but around the world. It impacted on our own region with the Bali bombing in 2002.

The following year saw the relevance and authority of the United Nations seriously challenged in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

At the geo-strategic level, the pattern of relations between the major powers is changing constantly. All countries are having to adjust to the realities of US primacy, the rapidly growing influence of China, and the expansion and nascent global political role of the European Union.

Definition of our foreign policy goals requires first a clear assessment of the strategic environment.

Relations among the major powers are reasonably stable. This offers hope that where there are regional tensions – the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan Straits, the Middle East – these can be managed without resort to force.

The momentum for political cooperation and economic integration is accelerating in Europe, in the Americas and in Asia. We expect this to improve both security and prosperity in those regions.

The international economy is performing well, despite the uncertainty of fluctuating oil prices.

We see a trend of gradual global trade liberalisation. We hope that the major players will see enough benefits from a successful Doha Development Round to be ready to make the necessary trade-offs.

These are all positive or benign developments, but there are also risks and unresolved problems to acknowledge and address.

There is a heightened sense of global vulnerability to resource depletion, environmental degradation and forces such as climate change – problems that require international responses.

Economic development has lifted large numbers of people out of absolute poverty, but the persistence of poverty and related human suffering also demands concerted international action. There is growing recognition of the fact that failing to make headway on eliminating poverty threatens the security of us all.

The Pacific is our immediate neighbourhood, so it is in New Zealand’s interests that people there should be well educated, healthy, able to earn a living, and to enjoy the benefits of living in well-governed, functioning societies.

We are deeply concerned by poverty indicators in the Pacific, in terms of income, education, and access to water and health services. Longer-term issues for the region with serious implications include population growth, problems of land ownership and the threat of HIV/Aids.

Terrorism remains a very serious threat to international peace and security. While we do not have a direct sense of threat here in New Zealand, countries of vital importance to New Zealand are at risk, as are New Zealanders who travel and live in other parts of the world.

Another serious threat to global stability is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, with the fear that such weapons could find their way into the hands of terrorists.

Foreign policy is about the vision, the values and the interests we pursue in the world – the creation of a peaceful, stable, just and prosperous world.

There are five broadly stated results that the government looks to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and its offshore network to produce. They are:
- Reduced risks to New Zealand from global and regional insecurity;
- New Zealand’s international connections facilitating sustainable economic growth through increased trade, foreign investment and knowledge transfer;
- A rules-based international system that supports our security and prosperity goals and promotes our values;
- Elimination of poverty through development partnerships; and
- Protection of the rights of New Zealanders abroad.

The following are among our priorities:

Through our relationship with Australia we seek to extend trans-Tasman economic integration; to strengthen our cooperation on stability and development in the Pacific, and on regional security initiatives.

Through our engagement in the Pacific we seek to promote sustainable development and practical regional cooperation, including through the Pacific Plan; to work with our Pacific neighbours on resource protection, and to work towards greater regional economic integration through the implementation of the PICTA and PACER agreements.

Of relevance here are comments on Pacific regionalism by Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa in his Pacific Cooperation Foundation lecture last month. He described a “quickening regional spirit” and a “transformational agenda” of initiatives to help the Pacific to rationalise its services, infrastructure and training facilities.

Thirdly, we have to position New Zealand securely in the changing architecture of Asia. Through our key relationships across the region – Japan, China, Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, India – and our membership of regional bodies, we are demonstrating that New Zealand has a contribution to make to the region’s new frameworks for trade and economic cooperation and for political dialogue.

We are moving ahead in redefining our relationships with the leading nations of Asia through substantive engagement on political and security issues, and strengthening our trade and economic linkages.

We are making good progress on removing barriers to trade – finalising FTAs with Singapore and Thailand, negotiating an agreement with China, and agreeing with Malaysia last month to initiate negotiations, as well as the wider decision to start talks on an ASEAN/New Zealand and Australia Closer Economic Partnership.

Fourthly, we have to have the sort of relationships with the world’s great powers and centres of influence that ensure our voice is heard on issues of importance to New Zealand; so that our credentials as a stable democracy are valued, and we are welcomed as a constructive global citizen prepared to play a role (as in Afghanistan) beyond our immediate sphere of interest.

This aspect of our diplomacy includes New Zealand’s relationship with the United States. New Zealand not only has important interests at stake in its relations with the US but we also share many common values and work closely together in many areas. We should not let well-known differences such as on our nuclear-free policy obscure this. Our diplomacy also encompasses our relationship building with the European Union, now enlarged from 15 to 25 members. And Russia too remains a potentially significant political and economic force.

Finally, New Zealand has to be an active player in multilateral organisations. In the WTO we are working hard for a successful outcome from the Doha Development round. There are things that we can achieve only through a multilateral agreement rather than bilaterally, such as the removal of export subsidies on agricultural produce.

The United Nations and its specialised agencies are vital for security and development and for promoting respect for human rights in all parts of the world. The revitalisation of the UN, which Kofi Annan has called for in his recent report “In larger freedom”, is a critically important element of this.

Multilateralism is a central pillar in New Zealand’s foreign policy, for what it allows us to achieve collectively. Through our multilateral diplomacy we seek security, prosperity and the preservation of freedom, for ourselves and others.

Effective multilateralism matters for hard-edged reasons of self-interest. As a smaller player on the international stage, our economic and physical security depends on a properly functioning system of collective security, the international rule of law and dispute settlement.

We have responded to globalisation by promoting multilateral mechanisms to maximise the benefits and curb the negative aspects of this dynamic. And we seek, through multilateral means, to protect our environment and resource base so they can sustainably support future generations.

We aim in our multilateral engagement to nurture democracy and promote adherence to universal standards of human rights. Since 9/11, New Zealand has joined other countries in constructing new international protections against terrorism. We have looked for ways to address the non-proliferation and elimination of weapons of mass destruction. We have been active too in efforts to close down people smuggling, drugs trafficking and illicit trade in arms.

In many of these areas of activity, we have choices about how to build and use our influence. In some cases we will choose direct bilateral channels for dialogue or for development assistance. In other situations we might see a regional structure as best fitted for the task. Multilateral responses complement and reinforce our bilateral and regional diplomacy.

A former New Zealand Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Michael Powles, drew the following analogy: “countries, like people, form and display their identities partly through their relationships with others and through the company they keep”.

In the UN, we express our Asia-Pacific identity through our close cooperation with Pacific countries, with Australia and increasingly with our Asian neighbours. Although we have differences with the US on some issues addressed in multilateral forums, on others we seek the same results, and support each other's efforts.

New Zealand's multilateral values and principles have evolved through our history – going right back to our experience of the League of Nations – as an expression of our national values of fair and just treatment of others; respect for cultural identity; care for the environment; commitment to the rule of law and to peaceful means of resolving conflict.

Our democratic values and our pragmatic approach to problem-solving frequently lead us to working with groups of like-minded countries, often including the Nordics, Switzerland, Mexico. According to the issue, the group we work with will vary. In pulling together coalitions of interest on particular subjects, we typically aim for cross regional composition and a mix of developed and developing countries. For example, in the disarmament field, the New Agenda Coalition is a crosscutting grouping that brings together New Zealand, Brazil, Egypt, South Africa, Mexico, Ireland and Sweden.

Interestingly, several of those countries with whom we most often find ourselves on common ground today were identified right back in 1945. Peter Fraser’s report to Cabinet on his attendance at the San Francisco conference noted that among the other smaller powers, New Zealand worked most closely with Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece, Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Cuba. He commented: “Our policies did not coincide in every detail, but in many important respects, we shared a mutual understanding, sympathy and enthusiasm”.

As we approach the 60th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, it is timely to reassess the role of multilateralism in New Zealand’s foreign policy, and whether the principles Peter Fraser took to the San Francisco conference still stand.

I believe his pragmatic vision of the purpose of the United Nations is as relevant today as it was then. “Our sole aim", he said, "is to see the setting up of a world organisation that will really work, and that will be the background for an orderly progress towards security, prosperity and happiness for all the people of all nations”.

While progress has been made, we are yet to achieve those goals and a world organisation that works as well as we would ideally like. It is to the reform of the UN and the Secretary-General’s reform initiative report that I now turn.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan calls all member states to action, to go beyond a narrow focus on the now well-documented weaknesses of the UN system, and to be prepared to make the most far-reaching reforms in the history of the organisation. He has taken the title of his report from those timeless words of the Charter, “to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”.

I have welcomed the report as bold and imaginative. I strongly endorse the linkages Kofi Annan makes between security and development, and the fundamental importance of human rights in achieving all these, as he puts it, “to perfect the triangle of development, freedom and peace”.

The report tackles some of the most serious threats and challenges of our time on both the security and development fronts. These include wars and conflicts, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, development challenges and serious environmental threats such as climate change.

In the past these problems have tended to be seen in isolation, and solutions have been devised and delivered in silos. But increasingly issues of security, development, human rights and the environment are seen as parts of a larger whole. Sustained progress in one particular area will not be made without progress being made in the others.

We now recognize the world as becoming ever more interconnected and interdependent. Accordingly our responses to the challenges outlined in the report must be collective responses.

New Zealand has a serious commitment to assisting our partner countries to meet the Millennium Development Goals – halving global poverty, and achieving historic advances in education, gender, and health indicators. "In larger freedom" delivers a clear reminder of the urgency of the task ahead.

We welcome the report’s reminder that while developing countries have responsibilities to set sound national development frameworks and govern well, the developed world for its part has responsibility to improve volumes and quality of development aid, and to coordinate and simplify the delivery of assistance.

In three other parts to his report – Freedom from Fear, Freedom to Live in Dignity and Strengthening the United Nations – the Secretary-General calls for new structures and renewed efforts to resolve old problems.

They include:
- Stronger support for countries at risk of or emerging from conflict, through establishment of a Peace Building Commission;
- More effective human rights machinery through setting up a Human Rights Council;
- Recognition of the concept of Responsibility to Protect, which in defined circumstances can justify an intervention on humanitarian grounds;
- Progress on a comprehensive convention on terrorism;
- Renewed effort on both disarmament and non-proliferation; and
- An expanded Security Council so it is more representative of today’s UN membership and geo-strategic changes.

I agree that all these should be priorities for action. Usefully, the Secretary-General has also reaffirmed the Charter principles as set out in Article 11 constraining the use of force. New Zealand is strongly committed to these as they stand.

I’d like to elaborate on a few of the Secretary-General's proposals.

We support the Peace Building Commission. Countries at risk of economic collapse and anarchy need support; from their immediate neighbours but also from the international community. There is currently no one body in the UN ready and able to respond quickly.

On the Responsibility to Protect, the shameful memory of the genocide in Rwanda still haunts the world. It was an indictment of the UN’s member states that it proved impossible to respond in time to prevent that terrible tragedy. Of course this is a matter of political will, but good structures and processes can help us to achieve better and quicker responses.

The Human Rights Council is one of the most interesting recommendations. It is also one of the least well developed. We agree with the goal of having a more focused, smaller body ready to react rapidly to signs of large-scale human rights abuses. There is, however, a lot of debate ahead to find a way to make this work.

This is in some ways the Secretary-General’s most radical recommendation, as it would create a new organ, possibly at the same level as the Security Council.

Peter Fraser would have applauded this. He argued at San Francisco for an amendment to strengthen the Charter in a way that would give more prominence to Member States’ responsibility to promote human rights.

Without a doubt, the most contentious area of all will be the proposed Security Council expansion, from 15 to 24. There is unanimous agreement on the need for expansion but there are deep differences over how this will be done.

We have long believed that change in the Security Council is needed to achieve greater democratisation and more equitable representation from all regions. We have said that electoral opportunities should be improved for under-represented regions such as the Asia-Pacific; and that if expansion were agreed in principle, New Zealand could accept overall enlargement to a workable number of around 24 members. We support the inclusion of Japan in any expansion of the Council.

However New Zealand continues to oppose the veto, and we would not support extending veto power to any new permanent member.

The UN membership remains divided on Security Council reform. I doubt that we could expect a resolution of this issue until close to the Leaders' Summit in September. It is a real concern that it could distract effort from the other far-reaching reform proposals.

The Secretary-General notes in the introduction to his report that he has limited himself to items on which he believes action is both vital and achievable in the coming months. “These are reforms that are within reach – reforms that are actionable if we can garner the necessary political will”.

We agree. New Zealand will be working as energetically as we were in San Francisco 60 years ago to help get the results we need, for the United Nations to have force and authority in the 21st Century.

There is no doubt that the place of multilateralism in today's world is under scrutiny. And there have been some sad failures in the UN system that have disappointed us all.

The period ahead, as Kofi Annan has said, will be a defining moment in the history of the United Nations.

His reform initiative and the Leaders' Summit in September, when decisions will be taken on this initiative, are at the centre of our foreign policy focus this year. At the same time, the normal business of our multilateral diplomacy goes on. In closing, I would like to flag those areas that are particular priorities for New Zealand, and areas where emerging issues and new developments will demand our attention.

Partnerships with the multilateral development system enable New Zealand to contribute directly towards global poverty elimination, humanitarian responses, and the protection and promotion of human rights beyond our immediate region.

We will also continue to be active on a wide range of other multilateral issues. They include:
- The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), oceans and fisheries management;
- The Antarctic Treaty system;
- Conservation of whales;
- Promotion of human rights;
- Disarmament, particularly negotiations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and
- Pacific regional efforts to establish liability in the event of an accident involving the transport of radioactive materials.

Looking ahead, we anticipate the need to respond multilaterally to increasing pressure on the marine environment due to excess fishing capacity; illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; destructive fishing practices and land based pollution.

There may be a need for a full review of UNCLOS, which is increasingly under strain, to accommodate measures aimed to protect security or the environment, but which are inconsistent with the principles of freedom of navigation.

A complex negotiating environment will evolve around management of climate change. It is far from clear what global response can replace the first Kyoto Protocol period, but it is clear that New Zealand’s economic and wider interests stand to be directly affected.

There are also fundamental questions being asked about the adequacy of the existing treaty system to control proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The last few years have shown that this is insufficiently robust to constrain those states determined to develop their own nuclear programmes.

Collective action is essential to tackle effectively poverty, abuse of human rights and complex threats to security that civil society expects governments to address.

Back in September 2003 the Secretary-General said we had come to a fork in the road, possibly no less decisive than 1945 itself when the Untied Nations was founded. This is what initiated the current reform exercise.

Kofi Annan has said, “the world needs an effective mechanism through which to seek common solutions to common problems. That is what the United Nations was created for”. He then warned, “let’s not imagine that, if we fail to make good use of it, we will find any more effective instrument”.

That is certainly what New Zealand believes. And that is why New Zealand's contribution to work on revitalising the United Nations is a key item on our foreign policy agenda in 2005.


All Phil Goff’s media releases and speeches are posted at

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