Speech delivered by Acting Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Victoria Hallum, 23 October 2019.

Whakataka te hau ki te uru
Whakataka te hau ki te tonga
Kia mākinakina ki uta
Kia mātaratara ki tai
E hī ake ana te atakura
He tio, he huka, he hau hū
Tīhei mauri ora!

Last month I was fortunate attend the opening of the UN General Assembly with the Prime Minister.  It was wonderful to arrive in New York to see New Zealand artist Michael Joseph’s installation “Voices for the Future” projected on to the UN building. This melded his amazing videos of a melting iceberg, complete with the sounds of cracking and shifting of the ice, with the words and voices of young climate advocates speaking in each of the six UN languages.

I was struck by the sheer scale of UN Leaders’ Week: 123 countries represented at head of state or head of government level, a further 53 represented by foreign ministers, plus several hundred other ministers. 

This is a testament to the convening power of the UN – the ability to attract decision-makers and draw attention to issues.  The UN is also a force multiplier when it comes to achieving New Zealand’s objectives internationally.  The UN’s core values - the peaceful settlement of disputes, equality of nations, fundamental human rights, and the pursuit of social and economic progress for all - are aligned with New Zealand’s values. The UN can access and prosecute agendas that we would never be able to achieve on our own.

While at the UN, the Prime Minister gave the keynote address as part of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit to world leaders, multinational CEOs and thought leaders. This was an unparalleled opportunity to highlight what matters to New Zealand. To draw in others in support of our goals – in this case, to give impetus to the transformational change necessary to address climate change.

The UN sits at the apex of the multilateral rules-based system that is of vital importance to New Zealand. And that system goes far beyond the iconic building on the East River in New York, housing the Security Council, the General Assembly and ECOSOC:

  • It includes the International Court of Justice in the Hague, one of the principal organs of the UN, as well as the International Criminal Court in the same city and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg. And interestingly states are having increasing recourse to the ICJ – Gambia announced over the weekend that is it taking a case against Myanmar under the Genocide Convention.
  • It includes funds and programmes - of which the United Nations Development Programme is probably the best known to New Zealand through Helen Clark’s leadership of it and her effective use social media to tell its stories. Another is the United Nations Environment Programme in Nairobi.
  • It includes the UN Peacekeeping missions in locations such as Kosovo, Lebanon and Mali.
  • It includes the autonomous organisations such as the International Maritime Organisation in London, the Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome, the International Seabed Authority in Jamaica and the International Civil Aviation Organisation in Montreal. 
  • It also includes the Bretton Woods Organisations: the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation.
  • And in a practical sense, it includes regional organisations established in accordance with international rules, such as regional fisheries management organisations.  New Zealand is host to one: the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation, the only intergovernmental organisation located in New Zealand.

I think this whistle-stop tour of the world also demonstrates how much the multilateral system connects with our daily lives.  Every time we board a plane, make a phone call, or purchase an imported product we are relying on it.  The seas around us are governed and protected by it.  When we look up at the sky and wonder whether we are looking at a satellite or a shooting star we are looking at a shared and increasingly crowded global space, and one that probably requires more effective international cooperation.

At a time when there is a distrust of global institutions and a rise in rhetoric about the primacy of national interests, the UN and the multilateral system are as essential as ever.  As was clear in the Prime Minister’s speech to the General Assembly last month, New Zealand does not draw a false dichotomy between national interests and global interests.  New Zealand considers all nations, large and small, benefit from the UN and the rules-based international system. 

That is because the interconnected world we inhabit is a complex place.  Power alone is a blunt and ineffective tool to address the challenges we face.  There are many domains where unilateral action is just clearly inadequate and all nations have a shared interest in cooperation and rules-based solutions to shared challenges. 

Daniel Bethlehem identified these areas very well back in 2012 in an article called, rather alarmingly, “The End to Geography”.  He identified six interconnected areas which can only be addressed by multilateral solutions:

  • Shared spaces and global commons;
  • Issues related to the movement of people, both voluntary and not;
  • Challenges to human, animal and plant health;
  • Trade and financial flows and interconnectedness that comes from this;
  • Cyberspace (potentially the new global commons even if he did not identify it as such); and
  • Cross boundary challenges to security, including increasingly from non-state actors.

So I think we can see there remains a huge need for the UN system and for multilateral solutions.  The role of organisations like UNANZ is central to this. You have an important role in building support for, understanding of and a sense of connection to the UN and multilateralism amongst the New Zealand public.  And we appreciate your support and engagement. This is truly a situation where we are all in this boat together – He waka eke noa.