The Nation: Patrick Gower interviews Helen Clark
On The Nation: Patrick Gower interviews Helen
Youtube clips from the show are available here.
Helen Clark says she can win the vote to become the next UN Secretary General but “the road to it is not straightforward”
Has not met with the leaders of the Security Council veto powers, but has met with their foreign ministers
Declines to comment on what might happen if Russia vetoes her bid
Says PM John Key has done a “fantastic” job at advocacy
“It’s a Kiwi campaign, so when the Government decides it’s going to back a candidacy, it’s all a bit— everyone’s in behind it, and that, of course, is indispensable”
Says she’s not thinking about what will happen if she loses. “Only ever work on plan A, so plan A is we’re putting a lot of effort into this campaign, and it ain’t over yet.”
Gower: Helen Clark, thank you so much for joining us. And
the question on everybody in New Zealand’s mind is this
– can you win? Can you really do
Helen Clark: Well, you can, but, of course, it’s a very windy path with a lot of hidden corners in it. It’s big geopolitics. It’s also about what style of secretary general the member states are looking for, and there’s a wide range of views on both of those key factors.
Yeah, to take it away from sort of diplomatic language, can Auntie Helen do this thing?
Well, Auntie Helen can do the job for sure.
Can Auntie Helen win it, though?
Well, you can, but the road to it is not straightforward. It depends on many, many factors, including whatever’s going on in the world at the time.
Yeah, and you picked up on a word before – style. You’ve obviously got your style that is well known to us. Are you saying there that the world or the countries that are going to vote are not ready for a strong leader like yourself? That they’re looking more for something from the diplomatic side?
From the outset when the campaign was launched by John Key in Wellington and I came back to back in New York on that, we said we’ll face a lot of challenges. The UN’s got to step up. That means looking for the best person for the job, and we defined that as somebody with leadership skills to lift this organisation. We thought it is long past time to move past the lower-key diplomatic profile to someone who’s got the Rolodex of the leaders, knows the issues, has done this work for so many years and is ready to hit the road running.
Yeah, so if you don’t win, if it doesn’t get that kind of leader, will the world have the best person in the job? If you don’t win, will it be the best person?
Well, the member states will make a decision, and they’ll live with the decision whatever it is. But there—
So it won’t be, will it, on that?
Well, there’s different ways of doing this job. You can have the organisation tick on as it has for a long time or you can bring a different style of leadership to it based on years of experience in working on peace and security development and in all the other parts of the UN mandate, frankly. So I think I offer a distinct product. The issue is whether the time is right for that product, whether the time is right for someone from our part of the world. Those are the issues.
Well, I want to look, then, at your tactics from here. Seventh out of nine candidates on those straw polls – how does that actually make you feel personally, before we get to your tactics, being so far back? Because New Zealanders expected you to do better. The feeling is in New Zealand that you would be doing better. How do you feel personally being so far back in the pack?
I don’t think there’s anything personal about this. I have a huge following in the General Assembly. In all the public presentations, whether it was the Al Jazeera debate or the hearing at the General Assembly, I was rated incredibly highly by the member state body. What we have is a lot of factors at work. We have a group of candidates which are quite tightly bunched. Some have seven votes; some have six votes; one had five votes. So it’s not really a question of whether you’re fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth. It’s a question of – can you still be in the mix when the final decisions are made?
And what you’re talking about there is when the vetoes are used in a couple of weeks’ time. When the vetoes are first used in a couple of weeks’ time, is that your tactic, to hold then, obviously, and see who gets knocked out?
Basically keep standing, because there’s been a solid core of support for me through these straw polls. And among those who are not at this point voting to encourage, there’s also support. It’s just for one reason or another, it hasn’t been expressed. So I repeat – there’s nothing personal about this. I think I have a lot of respect through the whole body of the member states, but there’s a lot of factors at play.
And one factor is Russia. It has a veto. It is Eastern Europe’s turn. What happens if Russia just steadfastly vetoes Helen Clark all the way? How can you get past that?
Well, there’s five permanent members. Each of them has a veto power, so I wouldn’t want to comment on any one of them, except to say that I have worked with all of them during my life. If we go back to 2003 and the invasion of Iraq, actually New Zealand took the side of France and others in saying there’s not a case for this war and the Security Council hasn’t approved an intervention. If we go back to 2001, New Zealand was one of the first countries to step up with special forces in Afghanistan after the harm done to the United States. So I’ve worked with all of them.
But what about if Russia just stops you, Helen Clark, if Russia just says, ‘We don’t want—’?
There are five permanent members. Any permanent member, any combination of permanent members can stop any candidate.
Now, on that as well, I mean, how many sort of discussions have you had with the leadership of countries that have the veto? Have you got one-on-one, face-to-face with those leaders that can actually—?
No. Candidates don’t get that. In some countries, you see the Foreign Minister, so I’ve been Moscow and to Beijing – open door from the Foreign Minister. In the other countries, the P3 countries, to date they haven’t been seeing candidates at foreign-minister level.
So is it up, then, to the Prime Minister essentially, John Key, to really get in and do that leader-to-leader business on your behalf with those big powers?
Well, John Key’s done a fantastic job of advocacy, so has Murray McCully, so has the whole MFAT system, so has every minister when they’ve been briefed to—
You’re relying on them in a sense, though, aren’t you? You have to rely on John Key.
It’s a Kiwi campaign, so when the Government decides it’s going to back a candidacy, it’s all a bit— everyone’s in behind it, and that, of course, is indispensable. You can’t come into this without your country’s support.
Yeah, and I want to pick up on that – this relationship with John Key. And it’s not diplomatic what I’m going to say here – it just seems a little weird that you’re two former foes – you hated each other; he deposed you – and now here you are all matey-matey.
No, there was never any element of hatred. In politics you take different positions on things, but I think it’s important to keep respect for an adversary in politics, because there’s life beyond politics. I’ve discovered it. Actually, I’ve enjoyed a very good relationship with Jim Bolger for many, many years. You’ll recall New Zealand Labour Government did not rush to push Jim Bolger out of Washington. We used his skills and expertise and networks there. Same with Paul East in London. So at this level when a Kiwi moves into a diplomatic position, either for New Zealand or on the international stage, everyone works to make it work.
And what do you think of John Key now? After these years have passed and you’re watching him and you know his job better than anyone, do you rate him? Do you rate him as a prime minister?
Well, he’s in his third term, so that says he’s had a lot of success. I had three terms; I had a lot of success. So, of course, you have to, as John said in the comments last night, respect the fact that people win the confidence of the country to lead it for three terms.
And on politics wider around the world, what do you think of Donald Trump?
Oh, I’m not going to comment on the American campaign. I think in this position you just keep your views to yourself.
So you have views, but you—?
I have views on most things that happen around the world, but I don’t air them.
Yeah, and in terms of New Zealand, if this doesn’t happen or whatever else happens in the future, do you intend to come back? Do you intend to come back to New Zealand?
One day I will be home. That’s where my home is. That’s where my family is. So who knows when it will be, but I’ll be back.
Yeah, and if you don’t get this job, what then? Do you stay on in the UNDP? What happens next?
Only ever work on plan A, so plan A is we’re putting a lot of effort into this campaign, and it ain’t over yet.
Auntie Helen doesn’t have a plan B?
No, she doesn’t.
Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz