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Welcome, Mr US Ambassador David Huebner – open letter by John Gallagher


Mr David Huebner, new United States Ambassador to New Zealand

Photo from Sheppard Mullin attorneys website

Blogger John Gallagher writes:

Dear Mr David Huebner,

Welcome to New Zealand.

Unsurprisingly, our headline writers have emphasised your openly gay background in announcing your appointment Ambassador to NZ Obama’s first gay posting

I would like to draw attention also to your very extensive background in international mediation and disputes settlement. Here you have successfully represented United States organizations, as well as Asian, European, and Australian organizations. Sometimes you have even acted (successfully) for latter clients against US organizations. You are also on the neutral panels of several major arbitral institutions. All of which makes you a very cosmopolitan person.

You arrive at a time that is pivotal for the development of New Zealand’s international relations, including very much with the United States.

As you will know, New Zealanders voted in a nuclear-free government in 1984, and have continued to be nuclear free since then.

As a member of the New Zealand Nuclear-Free Zone Committee organisation, I used to visit the United States embassy in the 1980s and 1990s as well as the Soviet Union (subsequently Russian) embassy, the Chinese, Swiss and Swedish embassies.

The US at the time took nuclear-free advocacy as anti-American. There was indeed a rupture in the NZ-US relationship. Personally, I always very much wanted constructive relationships to continue, but of a new kind.

So when I first visited the US embassy in 1985, I made a point of showing the staff a newspaper report of the US Secretary of State, George Schultz, sharing a toast with the Soviet Foreign Minister, Mr Andrei Gromyko in Vienna, Austria. They were celebrating Austria’s 30 years of “active neutrality.” They “heaped praise on its special brand of neutrality.” (The Christchurch Press, 17 May, 1985).

Like its long-time neutral neighbour Switzerland, Austria had become a site for antagonistic parties to meet and deal peacefully with their differences. Mr Schultz, amongst other things, “praised Austria’s active neutrality, singling out its mediating role in the Middle East, [and] its assistance to United Nations agencies based in Vienna….”

The Nuclear-Free Zone Committee, subsequently renamed as The New Zealand Nuclear-Free Peacemaking Association, advocated similar roles for New Zealand, calling this “positive neutrality.”

Subsequently, successive Labour and National governments have engaged in intermediary diplomacy, notably to help resolve the Bougainville conflict and in relation to North Korea’s nuclear development programmes. Our nuclear-free credentials made us acceptable to North Korea and so useful to the US. (See Nuclear free policy handy for US and where United States Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill confirms this New Zealand Herald, October 27, 2006 ). Our previous foreign minister, Winston Peters, also formed a very close working relationship with your then Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, in the course of this nuclear-free liaison.

I would like to conclude by running a large thought past you: that is to weigh realistically the military difference a very small country like New Zealand can make, against the difference it could make as a very engaged diplomatic intermediary. New Zealand can’t do both. Partisan military connections undermine and destroy our credibility and our ability to act as independent intermediaries.

You will know first hand of recurring, potentially very dangerous, rivalries and tensions in the Asia-Pacific region. How could New Zealand make its most constructive contributions to these? It will be useful to quote an Indian academic, Ramesh Thakur, from when he directed the Asian Studies Centre at Otago University:

The very fact of New Zealand being an anglophile outpost in Asia-Pacific makes it possible to search for strategies of niche diplomacy. China and Japan, for example, value contact with New Zealand precisely because we can act as interlocutors between Asia-Pacific and the West.


To the extent that there is great cultural-cum-demographic diversity in Asia and New Zealanders are not Asians, we can be equidistant from the regional fault-lines and can help in the safer management of these fault-lines. (“Time to Befriend the Asian Tigers,” The Dominion, 30 June, 1992)

How might New Zealand start to get into this kind of work? Here are some suggestions:

* Wellington could perhaps be supported to build strong communicative linkages with other capitals like Washington, Beijing, and New Delhi.
* Our decision-makers could prioritise resources for tertiary education-supported, international relations studies and conferencing, including track-2 diplomacy and direct mediation services. (See definitions)
* The US, NZ and others (including Saudi Arabia) could explore diplomatic and peace-building collaborations to help bring peaceful and lasting solutions to the Afghanistan and North Korean crises.

Of course, there will be more collaborations with nuclear-free New Zealand on international nuclear disarmament, so well flagged by your new president, Mr Obama (which has already helped to win him a Nobel Peace Prize).

Especially given your skills and feeling for mediated dispute resolution, Mr Ambassador, I am sure that you and our government could make a very big difference to our joint ability to find peaceful ways to make the world a more peaceful place.

I hope you will thoroughly enjoy your time with us.

Yours very sincerely

John Gallagher

P.S. Please see Similar Posts (below) for other Blogs for more detail. I very much welcome any comments from you or any one else who is interested.

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