Diplomacy enhances our image in foreign theatre

David Shearer – 

It is wonderful to be contributing to this 17th birthday commemorative issue of Indian Newslink.

Congratulations to the Editor and journalists for your work in providing an intelligent news source as well as a window on our shared South Asian identity.

Our Indian New Zealand community – always engaged with current affairs locally and internationally – deserves nothing less.

I have been asked to provide my analysis of New Zealand’s current foreign policy.

Waning influence

This is timely, as New Zealand has been a member of the United Nations Security Council for two years – undoubtedly the top table in world affairs and where we as a country have taken part in decisions that affect millions.

When we step down at the end of December, our influence as a nation will inevitably wane. And it is likely that we will not take up a seat on the Security Council again for another 20 years.

How best, then, do we continue to make a positive difference in the world?

During my 20 years working overseas, I saw other small countries become influential and effective contributors to international peace.

I would like New Zealand to feel confident making the same sort of impact.

The obvious first step is using the connections and relationships that we have built during our time on the Security Council.

Building personal relations

International relations so often come down to personal relationships and trust built between leaders and their senior advisers and diplomats.

So, our current diplomats need to remain, to leverage that hard-earned goodwill over the coming months.

Two years ago, Australia stood down from the Security Council, pulled out its ambassador and senior staff and its international influence crashed.

We should learn from their experience.

Second, we should continue to focus on the Pacific: it is an area that we know and have the ability to influence. And we should not underestimate the value of a strong aid programme to address the real issues there – poverty and climate change are two big ones.

New Zealand should be more outward-looking – seeking to make a difference in places where we can play a part in peace and reconciliation.

Other countries, such as Norway, have cleverly leveraged off the contacts and relationships their citizens have cultivated and not been afraid of stepping up and becoming involved.

Afghan example

In Afghanistan, we showed how stability, development and strengthening local government structures can come together to build peace and improve lives.

That was done by combining the talents of our defence, aid and diplomatic staff.

We have an in-built Kiwi talent for this type of job which in my view is unsurpassed in the world. Our armed forces and other international staff are famous for their ability to get along well with local cultures wherever they are in the world.

Yet, right now we have fewer peacekeeping troops overseas than at any time in the last 20 years.

We could also be doing more for refugees. Labour has promised a lift in the quota to 1500 per year, a number that would better reflect our international obligations.

Managing terrorism

Terrorism is an issue that has dominated our news. What we know is that inclusive, egalitarian societies which offer opportunities for young people to have a real stake in are the best tonic to prevent terrorism or snuff it out in its infancy.

We have forces in Iraq, by all accounts doing a good job within the limited scope of their mission.

But our mission needs to look beyond, at the reasons why a young person might choose to strap a bomb to themselves.

And there are places out of the news where our expertise is sorely needed – South Sudan for example. Every theatre we are exposed to enriches and builds our diplomatic and military skills and experience.

Strategically, New Zealand occupies a significant position internationally.

We have an excellent relationship with both the US, and the other global power in the Pacific, China. The balance between these two superpowers needs to be carefully managed. And our trade relationship should never inhibit us from speaking out on international and human-rights issues that concern us.

I have seen commentators make the mistake of assuming that because New Zealand is small and isolated, we will never hold much sway.

No isolationist

To that, I say that we are isolated, but we are not isolationist.

We have a proud history as engaged international citizens, committed to democracy and human rights and the rule of law.

Foreign policy is to a large extent bipartisan across governments. Both sides favour a rules-based system – adherence to international treaties and obligations. Without them, small countries are at the mercy of large ones.

But as Labour spokesperson, I would like to see us looking for opportunities, not sitting back waiting to be asked by the United States and others.

We favour free trade agreements, but economic interests are only part of a foreign policy agenda.

Human rights, democracy and eradicating poverty are issues that should occupy our thinking just as much. Ultimately, neglecting these issues will come back to haunt us.

As a country, we can be more outward-looking.

David Shearer is an elected Member of Parliament from Mt Albert in Auckland and Labour Party’s spokesman for Foreign Affairs.

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