New Zealand and the World: Challenges We Must Meet
New Zealand Institute of International Affairs
Wednesday 19 February, 5.30pm
Rutherford House, Victoria University, Wellington
New Zealand and the World: Challenges We Must Meet
Thank you for the invitation to be with you today to share some thoughts and reflections and then answer any questions you may have.
The topic of this talk is New Zealand and the World: Challenges We Must Meet.
That topic is a big canvas.
As it suggests, it concerns a perspective on global issues and the increasing importance of our foreign relations and how we respond, however at the outset it is appropriate to make a few remarks about the botched micro-meddling restructuring of MFAT.
The misconceived reorganisation of MFAT was worse than just an exercise in incompetence and bungling, it was insulting.
Because looking back on my term as Minister of Foreign Affairs, the staff of MFAT were always fully professional, very experienced and totally committed to serving New Zealand.
Of course, no organisation is immune from change.
And, as Disraeli observed ‘in a progressive organisation change is constant’.
But as the old saying has it – you do not burn your house down to cook a meal!
When we look out on the world we realise what a fortunate country New Zealand is.
In the context of the globe we are a small state.
And certainly, we are in proximity to many small states in the South Pacific.
We are in a world of giants – the US, China, India and Indonesia and many others.
The ultimate challenge of our external relations policy is simple and stark and really the same as any other nation state.
It can be summed up in three words.
National Self Preservation.
When it is all rendered down, it is about ensuring our security and stability in an uncertain world.
And arguably that world is growing more uncertain.
The sources of stress around the world are manifold – and many consider they are growing in intensity.
· Population growth
· Climate change
· Dislocation to the world economy occasioned by the western financial crisis.
And that is by no means an exhaustive list of global challenges.
These sources of stress are not arcane border disputes or fine points of diplomatic protocol.
These are big cross border challenges – and any possibility of a solution lies at a global level.
That is the world we are part of and must relate to.
Frankly, we have no optimism that overall things will suddenly improve.
On the contrary, it would be prudent for New Zealand to anticipate a world of growing social instability such as we are now seeing in states as diverse as Egypt and Ukraine.
The longer this type of upheaval goes on, and the wider it spreads, the greater the risk is that it will morph into a wider global crisis.
So what is to be done?
New Zealand First's approach to international relations is above all to be realistic – and that is the approach we believe will best serve New Zealand well.
What does realism entail?
Let us take a quick survey of our relationships around the world, because the global challenges we face need to be seen in the context of our existing relations with the rest of the world.
First and foremost we must work to strengthen bonds with our trusted allies - Australia and the United States.
That is a starting point for New Zealand.
Australia and New Zealand must continue to act collaboratively across a wide range of issues.
We must also maintain a high level of military cooperation with Australia and that should extend to buying the same defence equipment and high levels of interoperability.
We are particularly concerned that the changes that Australia introduced to its immigration law in 2001 that ended the automatic right of citizenship for New Zealanders, if allowed to fester, has the potential to undermine our long standing relationship.
And just a reminder. In the eight years prior to that change in Australia’s immigration law, New Zealand First constantly warned that our country was being used as a bolt hole for later access to Australia.
Sadly, our warnings were ignored and both the National and Labour party, along with other political parties who similarly would not make a stand against unfocussed immigration policies, must share the responsibility of the current unfairness for our countrymen in Australia.
Prime Minister Key’s efforts to blame the Labour party are disingenuous in the extreme. His party labeled New Zealand First’s policy as racist and is now attempting to blame others for coming back empty handed from his recent visit to Australia.
The situation of the Kiwis in Australia post 2001 is not going away and our Prime Minister’s failure to make any progress is feeble in the extreme.
Bear in mind we will not make any progress on this until we tighten up our immigration laws and Australia believes, as they did for 100 years, that our laws will not unfairly impact upon them.
The South Pacific is a priority and we must work with our neighbour states to improve regional economies and political systems.
There is a significant risk some states in this region may fail due to weak institutions, structures and processes.
New Zealand will not be unaffected if some nations of the South Pacific region become ungovernable.
That’s why we should increase our efforts and aid to support democratic institutions in the South Pacific.
We need new initiatives on a number of fronts and we will be much more effective if New Zealand properly resources Radio New Zealand as a source of reliable news and comment in the Pacific.
In essence, Radio New Zealand is the voice of New Zealand in the region and that voice should be heard and it won’t be unless we give it the resources.
We currently are failing to understand that our status in the world could be dramatically enhanced by an earned reputation in the whole region as a force for good.
There is no avoiding the sad fact that our declining economic performance as a leading per capita income economy affects how the rest of the world sees us.
In a former time Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Trade attended international forums with the unstated benefit of coming from one of the world’s great economies.
Diplomats are, after all, human. They see beyond words and appearances. They know when they are talking to a Norway or Singapore. There is the unstated recognition and envy that these people come from economic powerhouses.
That is a form of respect that we should never overlook.
Rather than this constant repetition of ‘punching above our weight’, we should recognise that economically we are punching way below it.
China and India will continue to grow as global economic and military powers. Both are important and growing markets for our key exports.
We often overlook the size and significance of Indonesia – a huge and populous state.
Japan is still a critical player in the Asian region. The challenge here will be to keep an even keel in our political and diplomatic relationship with Japan and China at a time when the China-Japan relationship is under strain by territorial disputes.
China-Japan tensions are real and may have all sorts of unforeseen consequences.
China is now making more strident claims in the South China Sea, and is backing those claims by military postures and diplomatic activities.
Japan has shown in the past an extraordinary ability to respond to national challenges.
Its ability to defend its interests should not be underestimated.
We are now in a multipolar world. And the political, economic and military pre-eminence of the United States is waning.
How a multipolar world will function is still an open question.
What we can say is that however it plays out New Zealand will have to fit in.
In a multipolar world there are varying combinations of political, economic and military strengths – the situation is fundamentally fluid and dynamic.
In this world small states still have rights – but exercising those rights is likely to mean playing a deft hand.
A few words on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
New Zealand First has had long standing concerns with the Trans Pacific Partnership because of the prevailing secrecy that cloaks the TPP meetings.
However well-intentioned the TPP might be in theory, secrecy is anathema in an open, free and democratic society.
The National Government has shamefully capitulated to the TPP veil of secrecy.
New Zealand may stand to benefit from multilateral and regional trade arrangements that will grow our economy and wealth.
But we must be vigilant and not make blind assumptions.
We could easily fall into arrangements that result in serious damage to our economic interests.
Regionalism is an important perspective and New Zealand must play a real role in our region within our capacity.
We must do our fair share.
You may be aware that as Minister of Foreign Affairs, we spearheaded a major push to get more resources for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - both for the Ministry itself and also for the aid programme.
The South Pacific region is the area where we can make a real difference and also perhaps act as an intermediary with the greater world powers as they too look to the South Pacific.
Let us now conclude by saying that in this world, annoyingly, you seldom get something for nothing.
For New Zealand to successfully meet the tasks and challenges just outlined will call for investment in a well-funded foreign service.
At the outset of this talk the restructure at MFAT was mentioned. Everything said today confirms that we must have an effective, professional and well-resourced foreign service to protect New Zealand’s interests.
That means we have to have people with the training, the experience, the judgement and the intellectual capacity to handle very complex and fluid situations – people who can understand events and distinguish signal from noise.
For the Government to put that at risk was folly of the highest order.
One has to wonder just what intellectual processes were playing out in Cabinet for them to think that their judgement was superior to the finest government department that we had.
Although New Zealand may be a small actor on the international scene, we can still play a unique role, earning the respect of other nations, if we are deft, smart and agile with a well-resourced foreign service allowed to get on with the job.
When we are influential after this election, we intend to give foreign affairs a high and immediate priority.
We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again.