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The Antipodean Villager nominates former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and current New Zealand Prime Minster John Key for a Ladder Award

Sir Geoffrey Palmer’s ladder

The first of two Ladders is proposed for the former New Zealand Prime Minister, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, for his appointment to head a United Nations inquiry into the fatal Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla last June. Village-Connections also offers him its very warm congratulations and best wishes for this highly challenging commission.

Prime Minister John Key’s Ladder

A second, related Ladder is proposed for the present New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key. This is for his recognition that Sir Geoffrey’s appointment was “a very significant recognition of a New Zealander, and demonstrated New Zealand was seen as ‘neutral and an honest broker’ in international circles.”

Previous neutral foreign policy initiatives

New Zealand has been moving in this direction ever since it adopted its independent nuclear-free policy in the 1980s. Two notable initiatives include its successful mediation in the Bougainville Island crisis in the 1990s and its nuclear-free diplomacy between the United States and North Korea in 2007.

Now a neutral foreign policy

Nonetheless, John Key’s statement stands out as the first by a New Zealand leader that clearly and explicitly characterizes New Zealand’s foreign policy as a neutral one that involves acting as an honest broker. Over a long period politicians of all political stripes, media and academic analysts and commentators, and many even in the peace movement have been coy about using these terms, especially using them together in a single phrase or sentence. Now the Prime Minister’s simple and unabashed use of them should do much to bring them comfortably into the antipodean lexicon.

For instance, already in an editorial describing the appointment, The Christchurch Press has noted:

Although Palmer was selected in a personal capacity to head the investigation, the UN decision also reflects well on New Zealand. It reinforces this nation’s credentials as an honest broker internationally, in particular over Middle East issues, where it has taken an even-handed approach.

An active, peacemaking neutrality

The challenge now facing New Zealand is to ensure that “an even-handed approach” entails much more than “sitting evenly on both hands.” The Nuclear-Free Zone Committee founded by Larry Ross in 1981 advocated a very active form of neutrality which it called “positive neutrality.” This entailed the use of neutrality to facilitate communication and help mediate solutions. Some 5 annual Labour Party conferences endorsed this during the party’s 6 years in power.

Training is needed

To support neutral peacemaking competently and confidently training is needed. That is why previous Village-Connections blogs have recommended that New Zealand seeks observer status for its diplomats at various peace negotiations to learn, build up connections with those involved and be available to offer assistance if/as this is felt to be of use. For some years, also, a Diplomacy and International Relations course has been taught at the University of Canterbury, as has mediation by Jacob Bercovitch, a world-leading scholar in the field.

Towards a new era

We hope that Sir Geoffrey’s commission and the current, National Party Prime Minister John Key’s framing of it will signal a new era for New Zealand’s international relations. The building block for this era would be the promise of the nuclear-free world that local, “nuclear-free zone” villagers throughout the country aspired to when they brought the 1984-90 Labour Government to power. Now the United States President Obama administration also wants John Key’s government to help make this a reality.

Your comments and Awards most welcome

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