Clark: NZ and Peaceful Conflict Resolution
7.45pm Wednesday 28 November 2007 (Cairo)
6.45am Thursday 29 November 2007 (New Zealand)
Rt Hon Helen Clark
Suzanne Mubarak International Peace Movement
Cairo International Convention Centre
“New Zealand and Peaceful Conflict Resolution”
Wednesday 28 November 2007
My thanks go to Mrs Suzanne Mubarak and the Suzanne Mubarak Women’s International Peace Movement for this opportunity to address you today on New Zealand’s approach to peaceful conflict resolution.
I know that this movement which Mrs Mubarak has founded, focuses on the peaceful resolution of conflict and on the role of women in that work. It is a role backed by the UN Security Council in its resolution 1325. It is a role which New Zealand, the first nation in the world where women gained the right to vote, in 1893, fully supports.
I am the Prime Minister of a small country in a part of the world which has not seen armed conflict between nations for many years.
But that does not mean that we are disengaged from the problems of others. On the contrary, New Zealand is active as a contributor to peacekeeping and peace support missions around the globe. That includes in our region, where breakdown of order has led to requests for outside help.
We are also, by law, a nuclear free nation, and we work closely with others, including Egypt, on striving to build a nuclear free world
By any standards, New Zealand is a young country. Our first inhabitants arrived only around a thousand years ago – a stark contrast with the ancient civilisations of Egypt.
Our modern nation has its origin in the treaty signed between the British and Maori tribes in 1840. We moved from colony to dominion status in the British Empire in 1907, although in reality we had governed ourselves without interference from London for decades before that.
In the nineteenth century, our nation’s development, with largely British settlers encountering indigenous Maori, had its chapters of war and conflict.
We continue to this day to pursue peaceful reconciliation of those issues, and to negotiate settlements of the grievances which arose from those times.
From the time of the South African war on this continent in the late nineteenth century, New Zealand was involved in many external conflicts.
Travellers to our country will find one piece of architecture repeated throughout our towns and cities - the war memorial, with its names of those who fought and died in the First and Second World Wars.
The scale of those conflicts had a devastating effect on our young country.
In 1914 New Zealand men volunteered for service in the First World War in very large numbers. At a time when New Zealand’s population was only one million, over 100,000 people served in the armed forces overseas. Some started the war camped here, near Cairo, before being transported to the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. More than 18,000 New Zealanders were killed in World War One. In total, around sixty per cent of those deployed were killed or wounded in the battles which raged from Turkey and Palestine to Western Europe.
The Second World War saw New Zealanders back in the Middle East after the Battle of Crete for the series of campaigns fought in North Africa. Here we suffered 10,000 casualties, including 3000 dead. Five years ago I came to Egypt for the 60th anniversary of the battle of El Alamein, where many hundreds of New Zealanders are commemorated in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. For New Zealanders, those commemorations are a sombre and moving experience. I am conscious too that the minefields left behind cause tragedy in Egypt to this day.
The final act of World War Two was the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. No-one who visits the peace museums there could go away unaffected.
Then, in subsequent decades, the Pacific Ocean became a site for nuclear testing by great powers – from the continent of Australia to the small atolls of the Pacific – up to as recently as the 1990s. We in New Zealand have our own nuclear test veterans in the Royal New Zealand Navy sailors who were ordered to stand on deck as nuclear bombs were tested at Christmas Island.
Our experience as a Pacific nation, with weapons of mass destruction tested in our neighbourhood, and our concern that nuclear war might devastate our planet, led us in the 1980s to legislate our nuclear free status – and that has become a defining symbol of our national identity.
Post-war, New Zealand became a founding member of the United Nations. We have remained one its staunchest upholders of dialogue, collective order and security, and of the international rule of law as embodied in the UN, its institutions, and instruments.
We became an increasingly active and outspoken proponent of international disarmament, particularly nuclear disarmament.
We have maintained a substantial contribution to international security efforts, with particular and longstanding contributions to peacekeeping in the Middle East, and in our own region where internal conflicts in East Timor, the Solomon Islands, and Bougainville Province in Papua New Guinea have had devastating effects on communities and on development.
Despite its shortcomings, the UN must remain the cornerstone of international co-operation in the interests of peace and security, the rule of law, and sustainable development. The UN has shown its ability, albeit slowly and hesitantly, to adapt to changed needs and circumstances.
There are many ways in which New Zealand would like to see the UN change for the better. But there is no alternative to working through its structures and processes to reach broad international agreement on directions for the future. The UN can only be effective if it is seen to be the instrument of all its members - it must fairly reflect the diversity of the international community of nations, while upholding universal human values.
The UN Security Council remains the key decision-making body on matters of international security, but it too can only be as effective as its members and processes allow it to be. It has done some many valuable and constructive things, particularly through the exercise of moral and legal pressure, including through the imposition of sanctions, and through peacekeeping mandates.
Yet it is a matter of particular sadness for this region and for us all that a settlement between Israel and many of its neighbours and the Palestinians, has remained so elusive.
New Zealand remains committed to doing everything it can to make the UN’s machinery work. We take our international security obligations very seriously. We are seeking election to the Security Council for 2015 – 2016. I should note that New Zealand has always opposed the veto given to the five permanent members of the Security Council, and we oppose its extension to new permanent members as well.
As I noted earlier, the unacceptable risk to global security posed by nuclear weapons has been a major driver of New Zealand’s disarmament policy. The experience of nuclear weapons, the Cold War arms build-up, the threat of proliferation, and concern about the environmental damage caused by nuclear testing – as seen in our own region of the world - has ensured that nuclear disarmament remains at the centre of our foreign policy. We dream of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.
New Zealand promotes nuclear disarmament internationally through a range of forums, most notably those of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as well as through the United Nations General Assembly and the Conference on Disarmament.
In all these forums we are pleased to work closely with Egypt through our common membership of the New Agenda Coalition. Together, New Zealand, Egypt and other partners in the New Agenda will work for the best possible outcome in the current Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review cycle, which will culminate in the Treaty’s Review Conference in 2010.
This year, New Zealand was pleased to promote an initiative at the UN General Assembly calling for action to lower the operational readiness of nuclear weapons.
Maintaining nuclear weapons at a high-level of alert obviously increases the risk of them being used. So, lowering that operational readiness is a concrete step which can be taken to reduce the risks of nuclear war. While the nuclear weapon states were generally not supportive of our resolution, the overwhelmingly positive vote for it sends a clear message to those states about the expectations of the vast majority of countries.
Obviously nuclear proliferation remains a major concern and a threat to the Middle East. New Zealand is a supporter of the proposal for a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. We share the widespread concern about Israel’s nuclear programme and Iran’s nuclear activities. We call upon Israel to join the NPT and to place all its nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. We also call on Iran to comply fully with the requirements of the UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Our strong preference is to seek a diplomatic solution to the problem with Iran, fearing that any attack on Iran would only make matters worse.
We are also strong supporters of efforts to eliminate other weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons. We are actively involved in the system of controls on conventional weapons, both through export controls and multilateral initiatives.
We have worked hard on the successful launching this year of a dedicated international process which will address the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions. We will be hosting a conference on that in New Zealand in February. We have again seen for ourselves the impact of cluster munitions in our work in the de-mining programme in Lebanon in recent months. Large numbers of cluster munitions were dropped there by Israel in the last few days of the conflict there last year, and they are especially deadly in the aftermath of conflict when civilians seek to return home.
New Zealand’s involvement in the UN Mine Action Service in Lebanon this year is just the most recent chapter in a history of New Zealand involvement in peacekeeping and related activities which spans over a half century, and which has brought us to the Middle East time and time again.
Our oldest peacekeeping operation in the region has been with the UN Truce Supervision Organisation in Israel, Syria, and Lebanon, where we have long provided staff officers. At the time of the Lebanon war last year, UNTSO was under the command of a New Zealander.
We have also contributed to the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai since it was set up to support the peace settlement between Egypt and Israel. In recent times the Force has had to adapt to the changed circumstances following the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. I look forward to learning more about this at first hand when I visit the MFO for a second time on Friday.
Post-Conflict Stabilisation and Nation-Building
Our largest international peacekeeping contributions currently are in Afghanistan, and nearer to home in East Timor and the Solomon Islands.
In Afghanistan, we lead a peace building team in Bamyan province. Our small base looks out over the valley to where the world-famous, giant Buddha statues once stood before they were destroyed by the Taleban. Our presence in Bamyan sees us patrolling and working with the local authorities, local people and NGOs. We also assist with the training and mentoring of local police, and with both local and national development, including in the area of human rights.
The situation in Afghanistan is clear proof that military action alone cannot solve a complex security problem. The political, security, economic and social aspects of peacebuilding must be integrated into a comprehensive approach, in which the Afghan Government takes the lead with the support of the international community. And there must be a path of civil engagement which seeks to draw Afghanistan’s many peoples and factions into a political dialogue about the future.
In East Timor New Zealand is one of the main contributors to the UN-sponsored international mission, working with the Timorese government to restore lasting stability and peace. We have both military personnel and police deployed there, and we are pleased to be working alongside the police contingent supplied by Egypt.
In the Solomon Islands in the Western Pacific we are part of a regional assistance mission sponsored by the Pacific Islands Forum. We have helped provide the basic security which was needed for the Solomon Islands to rebuild its shattered economy and society after serious ethnic strife had lead to anarchy by 2003.
I should say that women play an active part in our peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions. They are to be found among defence personnel and police in our missions to Afghanistan, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.
Overall New Zealand places great emphasis on dialogue as a means to increasing understanding and reducing tensions and the propensity for conflict.
We are a small western nation located in the Asia Pacific where few others come from a similar background of culture and belief systems.
So we work hard to be a good neighbour through membership of the Pacific Islands Forum, our dialogue relationship with ASEAN, and our participation in both APEC and the East Asia Summit.
We are a strong supporter in our own region of interfaith dialogue as a means of engaging people of diverse faiths in recognizing our common humanity. We hosted a major meeting of the Asia Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue in May this year.
As well, we have taken a close interest in the United Nations’ Alliance of Civilisations initiative. We have also hosted the world’s first regional symposium on how to take it forward – focusing on initiatives for education, youth, and media. We have persuaded our fellow members of the East Asia Summit that we should jointly pursue initiatives in this area.
Of critical importance to this region, the Alliance of Civilisations report to the UN late last year underlined the significance of achieving a just and lasting settlement of the Israel-Palestine issue. This long-festering dispute remains a source of great concern for all of us who wish to see better relations between civilizations.
It is positive that the United States and Quartet-sponsored meeting in Annapolis has opened the door to negotiations for a full settlement. And it is important for the Middle East, and for the future of peaceful conflict resolution that it should do so.
This peace process will have the strong support of New Zealand. And as an Honorary Co-chair of the International Women’s Commission for a Just and Sustainable Peace between Israel and Palestine, I do hope that women’s voices will be heard in these negotiations.
Women have both a general and a special role to play in the peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine issue and other conflicts.
I know that the Suzanne Mubarak Women’s International Peace Movement will also want to see the maximum possible participation of women in this process.