Saturday, 31 December 2016 08:40

New Zealand’s final days on UN Security Council Trapped between Two Bitter Cross-Fires—Israel-Arab and Obama-Trump Feud

  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print
  • Email

UN Mission became Impossible


The United Nation’s Security Council seat was viewed as the best showcase for New Zealand’s noble intentions. But within a few days of its tour of duty ending New Zealand found itself the fall-guy in two bitter feuds—the eternal Israel-Arab one and now the grudge one between the outgoing and incoming Presidents of the United States.

How did the tiny agrarian South Pacific nation with its international do-good mission find itself caught in these two bitter sets of cross-fires?

New Zealand’s presence on the United Nations Security Council was the culmination of a decades-long diplomatic strategy designed to underpin the nation’s ability to bring to bear common sense and good deeds where and when on the globe these were required.

Instead and at the 11th hour the nation’s participation in the Security Council drew forth hitherto unknown vituperation from the prime minister of a democracy, Israel-- the “act of war” comment.

Then, and more woundingly still, New Zealand found itself being distanced by the one democracy whose approval it values and in fact needs most of all – Australia.

The purpose of diplomacy is to avoid confrontation. We now examine the background to New Zealand’s increasingly curious role on the United Nations Security Council..................

The portents all looked favourable. The two year term would fit neatly into the conclusion of president Obama’s last term.

The President liked the scheme, and in practical terms even more significantly, so did his State Department, so recently led by Hillary Clinton.

New Zealand had put its shoulder to the wheel of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. In return Auckland would be chosen as the place to sign the mighty trade treaty itself.

So what could possibly go wrong? In a couple of words, the unanticipated.

The US media has always been close to the New Zealand Embassy. The Washington media was forecasting a seamless transition between the Obama one and an incoming Hillary Clinton one.

There were some lingering doubts about the likelihood of a third consecutive Democrat administration. A few cynics wondered about two Democrat pc presidents in a row.

Still, even if a Republican candidate did win the election, the transition was hardly likely to be disruptive. A distinct possibility in such an instance was the restoration of the Bush dynasty in the form of Jeb..

Again there would be no end of term friction, disruptions. Especially of the type to involve the Security Council. The Bushes and the Clinton - Obamas had long made up anyway.

The completion of New Zealand’s two year temporary term would take place at the very end of the year within just a few weeks of the end also of the final presidential term of Mr Obama.

Back home in New Zealand this happily coincided with the most suitably receptive time for institutional news, and what better news than about New Zealand’s distinguished stint at the top table of the United Nations?.

Few among the general public are aware of the distinction between the major-power permanent members of the Security Council and the countries which serve short tours of duty as temporary members.

Countries such as currently Angola, Malaysia, Senegal, Uruguay, the Ukraine, and of course New Zealand.

So in 2017, there was scheduled to be a nice start at the very beginning of an election year with smiling New Zealand diplomats and politicians being congratulated, and congratulating each other for all the good work they had been doing around the world and while at the highest level of United Nations, on the Security Council, no less.

The good news would have capped a long and in many ways remarkable association between New Zealand and United Nations.

Sir Leslie Munro, a founder of the National Party was president of the United Nations General Assembly, and also served three times as president of the Security Council itself.

Terence O’Brien, still an urbane presence on the Wellington diplomatic scene had similarly occupied high office.

Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark by this time was a familiar presence heading one of the United Nations key agencies and for a while even mentioned as secretary general, a post not wishing to leave such matter to chance, that she vigorously campaigned for.

And yet....and yet....

In Wellington and Washington New Zealand diplomats started to feel the chill as it became daily more evident that the transition between Mr Obama and the unanticipated Mr Trump was going to be anything but friendly.

They hunkered down when president-elect Donald Trump coolly announced that on taking office he would immediately trash the Trans Pacific trade deal signed in Auckland in 2016.

They held their tongues resisting the New Zealand impulse to speak up for the underdog when the incoming president spoke of his immigration plans.

In diplomacy though it is the unexpected that determines the outcome of even the most delicately thought-through plan of action.

The problem when it came was from President Obama. Not his replacement, Donald Trump.

The outgoing President Obama was by now showing signs of uncharacteristic ill-grace as his replacement was making it clear that he intended to sweep aside the cherished Obama legacy.

Mr Obama by now had had enough.

He emptied a bag of nails out of the back window of the presidential limousine in the form of the resolution calling for the end of Israeli urbanisation of its occupied territories.

This Mr Obama knew would get under the skin of a resolutely pro-Israel Donald Trump.

He was right.

New Zealand was now chosen as one of the Security Council nations to support it.

Which New Zealand did, incurring the instant incandescent wrath of Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu.

In the longer term it is safe to assume that it probably also jaundiced the view of an initially glad-handing to New Zealand Mr Trump himself

Australia the world’s 12th largest industrial nation now pointed out that this was not New Zealand’s fight. It would not be shoulder-to-shoulder with its trans Tasman cousin on the resolution.

Could the resolution have been filibustered, dragged over into 2017? By which time the New Zealand Security Council team would have been safely out of the Security Council and thus out of the cross-fire.

It couldn’t. The Obama people, sensing the ire of their departing chief, called in their Atlantic IOUs and ramrodded it through.

|  From the MSCNewsWire reporters' desk  |  Saturday 31 December 2016  |