New Zealand’s Position
While NZ is a small country, it does have a significant reputation for making an impact in the UN; both as a country, and in the contribution that its citizens make to it. It carries little baggage, it has few pretensions, it is good at seeing both sides and coming up with innovative solutions. Moreover, it does not threaten anyone. NZ governments have recognised the importance of the UN to our future, but have done little to highlight this fact to the public, nor to direct adequate resources towards support of the UN.
The current contribution that NZ makes to enhancing the effectiveness of the UN is difficult to assess. Diplomatically NZ has a good record, but it is not clear that it is committing the resources to maintain this capability. Financially, the MFAT website lists the budget for “UN and agencies” as $12 million. However, UN dues are $10 million, and total dues to international organisations, many of which are UN agencies, total $52 million. Other contributions to the UN would come under the category of aid. Also other departments may be involved in special activities such as climate change. It is unclear how much of that would contribute to helping the UN overcome its current problems. Some NGOs (e.g. Oxfam) take a strong interest in UN proceedings, but NGO activity needs to be better documented and supported. Business appears to rely essentially on MFAT for its appreciation of multilateral activities, and few have engaged with the UN Global Compact (3 in NZ, as against over 80 in Australia).
The last government did make a substantial increase in diplomatic funding (~$600 million over 5 years), little of which seemed to have been directed towards UN work, and now that has been withdrawn by the current government. Diplomatic intake was low last year, and this year people have been hired on a short term contract basis. This is a quite short-sighted approach for developing a professional diplomatic corps.
Other factors have degraded our reputation such as our failure to commit anywhere near the ODA (Official Development Aid) of 0.7% GNI which we committed to nearly 40 years ago, and our withdrawal from the HR Council bid in favour of the United States. Some people feel that NZ could also have responded more positively to the recent opportunities to re-enforce our disarmament stance.
What can New Zealand do?
New Zealand, as one of the founding member states, needs to expand its activities in increasing the effectiveness of the UN, through promoting its reform, as well as promoting international support of the UN and its activities. This needs to be done through both bilateral and various multilateral diplomatic activities, as well as through the community. There are other countries of similar size that have a much stronger commitment to the UN’s goals, supported by a stronger diplomatic presence at the UN.
One of the greatest impediments in the effectiveness of the UN is the difficulty that many countries face in reconciling their immediate national interests with common global interests. A role that NZ can play is in setting an example, as it already has done in significant areas, to remind countries of the common interest, and perhaps, to help countries reconcile global and national interests.
This emphasis on the UN needs to be supported by a comprehensive education and research programme to promote public understanding of the national interests, and to ensure that our efforts are most effectively targeted. Such programmes exist for the EU, although it is of far less importance for our national interests. While the Model UN programme for students provides them with a taste of the dynamics of multilateral negotiations, any structured overview of the UN or multilateralism is almost completely lacking in the schools or community, and minimal at university level. Research is also minimal.
New Zealand has much to gain by strengthening our reputation as a good international citizen, particularly in increasing our ODA and being seen to be responsible on Climate Change. In addition to enhancing the prospects of our security and prosperity, such an effort would increase our chances of gaining a seat on the UN Security Council and enhance our international profile with flow-on to our commercial interests.