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Cosmopolitan Public Conversations to Support Security Council re ISIS +?

Kiwi diplomacy

– German Chancellor Angela Merkel strokes a Kiwi female named Whau Whau. Beside her are Ranger Hazel Speed and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. Source: Kim Baker Wilson RadioNZ


The Antipodean Village Blogger writes:

Directly after New Zealand’s recent election to the United Nations Security New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key spoke of giving priority to addressing the rise of the Islamic State.

Emphasising the role of New Zealand as an honest broker and the importance of diplomacy he argued: “a diplomatic solution was needed to defeat Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq and Syria, one of the crises at the top of the current world agenda” and added, “We don’t accept the things that ISIS are doing or the particular form of Islam that they’re preaching but nevertheless, diplomacy always has an important role to play if you ultimately want to find long-term solutions.”

In a speech to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs on November 5th he described the context in which Islamic State is growing, detailing some major diplomatic issues involved.  They include:

* The lack of movement towards a two-state solution in relation to Palestine, and the recent high number of civilian casualties in Gaza, serving to make the task of recruiters to extremist causes a significantly easier one.

* The unresolved issue of Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

* The need to redouble efforts towards reaching a political solution to the violent stalemate in Syria. This has been another cause of ISIS’s rise, and has seen almost 200,000 killed, and led to more than 3 million Syrians fleeing their country.

* The need for capacity-building that is clearly required if Iraq is to have a future as a law-abiding democratic country that treats all of its citizens with respect.

John Key sees New Zealand playing important diplomatic roles. He says for instance:

* Over the next two years New Zealand has the opportunity to attempt to ensure that the United Nations Security Council, designed to address these major issues of stability and security, lifts its game.

* In our region too there is an opportunity for greater diplomatic effort, including working with our close friends and neighbours in Indonesia, Malaysia and others in the region, which have Muslim populations that are targets for extremist recruiters. They too are looking for ways of dealing with this threat.

This is a formidable list of difficult issues: helping to get agreement on Iran’s nuclear programs, containing and turning around Israel-Palestine-Gaza and Syria-Iraq IS conflicts and rebuilding political capacities in Iraq, engaging with Malaysia, Indonesia and others to address terrorism, and “lifting the game” of the Security Council. Working on them to good effect will require a huge amount of person-hours, skill and resources from all concerned, especially from New Zealand’s United Nations diplomats. These challenges come on the heels of large cut-backs in 2012 to Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff about which former diplomats have raised concerns.

Extending the pool of expertise

Given the big demands on restricted diplomatic resources it will be useful to ask, what tools and supports could New Zealand foreign policy practitioners use, or usefully develop? It may open new vistas of possibility if these questions are framed in terms of conversations, namely: what conversation partners could these practitioners and the government usefully draw on?

New Zealand’s Security Council diplomats in New York will inevitably converse with their Wellington government and fellow ministry officials to develop riding instructions at the outset and in the light of unfolding events.

Relevant academic and other specialists would also be consulted as needed.

Can this conversation base be usefully extended? Initially around some of the issues raised by the prime minister, and then perhaps, usefully, around others as well?

Back in 1999 the National government’s foreign minister Don McKinnon said that New Zealand’s small size inevitably meant its “pool of expertise on any given subject is necessarily limited” and proposed extending this base and actively solicited “informed public opinion” on foreign affairs issues (as reported to New Zealand peace groups such as Quaker Peace and Service).

Constructive new conversations

I would like to propose how such “informed public opinion” could be made available by stimulating some new kinds of conversation, facilitated as well as informal on a number of levels including:

Inter-embassy conversations: Some of the more obvious parties the government and its foreign affairs officials could invite for diplomatic conversations both with themselves and variously amongst one another include representatives from the Egyptian, Israeli, Turkish, Iranian, Indian and Pakistan embassies as well as others from those of countries the prime minister mentions (Malaysia and Indonesia). Other major global players like the United States, Russia and China would also be important, and Palestine and Gaza as well as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other interested representatives might also like to come to Wellington to join in.

Inter-faith and inter-ethnic conversations: Wide-ranging, probing community discussions could also help to bring out effective solutions that have eluded discussants anywhere so far. Interfaith conversations involving representatives from Islam, Judaism and Christianity and other religious backgrounds could provide invaluable insights and access to wider international networks. So could conversations involving immigrants from countries disrupted by civil strife and terror. Participants from parts afflicted by terrorism could provide first-hand information and help to create more constructive and robust proposals on the kinds of issues the prime minister wants addressed, as well as on other salient issues that might emerge as conversations unfold.

Local community conversations: Conversations involving both immigrants and New Zealand-born citizens about the challenges and successes involved in integrating into New Zealand society could also help bring new levels of understanding about the dynamics and the requirements for building inclusive communities in which people can connect constructively both locally and beyond. Ways of using new communications technologies and methodologies here, or anywhere, to so connect or reconnect could be usefully explored. These topics have been regularly covered on this Village-Connections site (For instance, From Localities to Network Localities & Nations of Well-Connected Villages).

Academic support: Aspects of these multi-level conversations could be drawn together in academic study that included research, teaching and international student scholarship and teaching fellowship programs as well as conferencing. Local students and scholars could then find themselves collaborating on new scales with others from diverse parts of the world to help find new ways of understanding and addressing its problems.

Addressing the roots of terrorism

With the on-going suite of multi-level conversations proposed here, issues raised by the prime minister and others that emerge both during New Zealand’s Security Council stint as well as after it could be progressively framed with more breadth and depth than is now possible. New locally-grounded, robust overviews of significant international issues could emerge in which win-win possibilities and sustainable solutions emerge, ones where all benefit rather than some at the expense of others. This would help provide an antidote to the all-too-common everyday reality where decisionmakers with limited horizons find themselves reacting to “just one damned thing after another”.

Being taken – very – seriously: Such an infrastructure of conversations and study programs in Wellington (and other centres where there was the interest), could help to create a very lively, well-connected and cosmopolitan capital city where solutions to global issues were framed that were well worth taking account of, including at the world’s top decision-making tables.

Your comments and queries are most welcome


  1. Shifa says:

    Hope you received the last comment re John Keys (something went wrong with the antispam code).
    In a nutshell – believe all the aspirations are commendable, especially interfaith, inter-ethnic point of view, though doubt that IS can be affected by diplomacy due to the irrationality/insanity which is displayed, though believe that should anyone be able to build bridges then John Keys is the person I would trust to do so.

  2. Barbara McKenzie says:

    John Key sounds woefully like Obama at his most dishonest – all this talk of ISIS, not addressing the fact that ALL the armed groups in Syria are barbaric extremists, not addressing the fact that the West is sponsoring these groups with the purpose of regime change in Syria, and failing that Syria’s destruction (see Iraq, Libya).

    After Gerard van Bohemen’s embarrassing speech at the UN Security Council, when he repeat all Samantha Power’s lies, I’m not sure the Russians or the Chinese would ever trust New Zealand. (I’m afraid I can’t locate the youtube clip)

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