ANALYSIS: By Alexander Gillespie, University of Waikato
Since Jacinda Ardern described the state of world affairs as “bloody” earlier this year, there have been few, if any, signs of improvement. Ukraine, China, nuclear proliferation and the lasting effects of a global pandemic all present urgent and unresolved challenges.
For a small country in an increasingly anarchic world, this is both dangerous and confronting.
Without the military or economic scale to directly influence events, New Zealand relies on its voice and ability to persuade.
But in placing its faith in a rules-based order and in UN processes, New Zealand must also work with – and sometimes around – very imperfect systems. In some areas of international law and politics, the mechanism is broken. It’s unclear what the next best step might be.
Given these uncertainties, then, where has New Zealand fared well on the international stage, and where might it need to find a stronger voice or more constructive proposals?
Strength and clarity were most evident in New Zealand’s response to the Russian attack on Ukraine. There was no hint of joining abstainers or waverers in crucial UN votes condemning Russia’s actions.
While it could be argued that New Zealand could do more in terms of sanctions and support for the Ukrainian military, the government has made good use of the international forums available.
Joining the International Court of Justice case against “Russia’s fallacious attempt to justify its invasion under international law” and supporting the International Criminal Court’s investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine are both excellent initiatives.
Unfortunately, similar avenues have been blocked on other critical issues that New Zealand has every interest in seeing properly resolved.
UN vote to ignore China’s human rights abuses leaves West in a bind https://t.co/mTWo4ETubU
— The Guardian (@guardian) October 7, 2022
China and human rights
This has been particularly evident in the debate over human rights abuses in China and the genocide allegations made by some countries regarding the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
New Zealand and some other countries have correctly avoided using the word “genocide,” which has a precise legal meaning best applied by UN experts, not national politicians. Instead, the government has called on China to provide meaningful and unfettered access to UN and other independent monitors.
Although not perfect, the visit continued. The eventual report by outgoing UN human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet concluded that China had committed serious human rights violations, which could amount to crimes against humanity.
This should have forced the international community to act. Instead, 19 countries voted with China to block a debate at the UN Human Rights Council (17 wanted the debate, 11 abstained). The result was that China managed to drive the issue into a diplomatic stalemate.
Allowing an organization designed to protect victims to be controlled by alleged perpetrators is not something New Zealand should accept. The government should make it a diplomatic priority to become a member of the council, and it should seize every opportunity to speak out and keep the issue in the global spotlight.
Ardern’s warning for Russia: a new nuclear age is dawning – countries want to start and win a new nuclear war https://t.co/ft03c2FAI5 pic.twitter.com/DRoA4IDRFN
— nzherald (@nzherald) September 23, 2022
Elsewhere, New Zealand’s foreign policy can arguably be found wanting – most obviously, perhaps, in the area of nuclear weapons regulation.
Advocating for a complete ban on all nuclear weapons, as the Prime Minister did at the UN in September, may be inspirational and also good domestic policy, but it does not make the world safer. .
With the risk of nuclear conflagration at its highest level since the Cuban Missile Crisis, a better immediate goal would be to better regulate, rather than ban, nuclear weapons. This would involve convincing nuclear states to remove their weapons from “trigger alert”.
Other goals should be the adoption of a no-first-use policy by all nuclear powers (only China has made such a commitment so far), and pushing for regional arms control in the Indo-Pacific to curb India, Pakistan and China.
Finally, there is the danger that vital law and policy not only fail, but even fail to see the light of day. Such is the case with the World Health Organization’s so-called “pandemic treaty”, designed to better prevent, prepare for and respond to the next global pandemic.
New Zealand set some admirable targets in its submission in April, but these were watered down or missing in the first working draft of the proposed deal.
This should not be taken lightly given the lessons of the past two and a half years. Government transparency, a precautionary approach and the meaningful participation of non-state actors will be essential.
Likewise, better surveillance of the 59 laboratories in 23 countries that work with the most dangerous pathogens is essential. Currently, only a quarter of these labs score high on safety. The proposed treaty does little to require the kind of biosecurity protocols and robust regulatory systems needed to better protect present and future generations.
As with the other pressing and difficult issues mentioned here, New Zealand’s future is directly linked to what is happening elsewhere in the world. The challenge now is to continue to adapt to this changing world order while being an effective voice for reason and the rule of law.
Dr. Alexander Gillespie is a professor of law at the University of Waikato. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.