By the Antipodean Blogger
(Photo source: Wairarapa Times Age)
Very shortly you will travel to New York, with baby Neve, to address the United Nations.
I anticipate you will want to talk about international affairs, some New Zealand perspectives on them and what we might have to offer.
This blog proposes a Wellington-based platform for ongoing inter-embassy conversations. It is designed to situate New Zealand diplomats, politicians, scholars, and other interested parties to gain solid experience in connecting, competently and confidently, with regional and other international counterparts as honest brokers.
I hope you will examine the proposals and find them to be of use. I would suggest that it could be particularly opportune if you and your colleagues were able to discuss them before your departure for New York.
I believe you identified the most significant aspect of New Zealand in the world just 5 days after your election as prime minister when you were interviewed on CNN by Christiane Amanpour last October 31st.
Asking about the fierce exchange of insults and dangerous, nuclear threats between North Koreas’ President Kim Jong Un and United States President Donald Trump at the time, Amanpour alluded to Kim “again” threatening to hold an atmospheric nuclear test.
She then referred to President Trump being due to “come over to your region, Asia” (where he was to visit several countries) and asked, “What do you expect from the Trump trip and what would you say to the president? What is the region thinking about how this is going to be resolved?”
You answered spontaneously: “We are staunchly nuclear free”, significantly adding:
“The strong message we would send is it’s never too late to talk…. We’re a nation who have championed the nuclear free movement, we are staunchly nuclear free and continue to promote nuclear non-proliferation.
“That is a message we’ll continue to send on the international stage. It’s of critical importance to our region.”
Being “staunchly nuclear-free” certainly positions New Zealand well to press for nuclear powers to talk to each other, especially when they are being dangerously antagonistic.
In a practical vein your foreign minister, Winston Peters, who engaged in liaison between North Korea and the United States in 2007, earlier this year said, “New Zealand would do all it could to support the peace process.” (April 28th).
So I hope you will find useful the outline, in this blog, of some practical proposals about how a diplomatic platform might be set up in Wellington, a platform that would position New Zealand well to support peacebroking in new and very effective ways.
There are certainly many pressing issues to talk about and resolve in both our Asia-Pacific region and in the world beyond.
These include many issues New Zealand itself needs to have clarified if it is to reset its own bearings to good effect in a rapidly changing, increasingly complex environment.
That was a message Foreign Minister Winston Peters recently effectively underlined in his “Next Steps” address to the annual Otago Foreign Policy School (June 29, 2018) which I will discuss further on below.
As never before, nuclear power rivalries and tensions have been simmering in recent years, unresolved. Ultimately behind North Korea itself is China, which is also engaged in regional contestations with the United States (and other, Asian nations) over claims to territories and navigation rights in the East Asia and the South China Seas.
Also, in the Ukraine since 2014 and Syria since 2015 the nuclear rivals, United States and Russia, have been supporting conflicting parties in proxy wars, with direct conflict between the two now becoming an imminent danger in Syria.
The economic and geostrategic rise of China is also impacting profoundly on New Zealand’s own economy and its relationships with the Pacific islands to its north.
These impacts are being focused and heightened with the vast Chinese “Belt and Road” project floated by the Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013. This ambitious project includes setting up trading infrastructures across the Pacific Islands to New Zealand as well as across the Middle East and the European continent, Russia and Latin America.
Such regional developments provide the backdrop to Foreign Minister Winston Peters noting in his “Next Steps” address to this year’s Otago Foreign Policy School to the diplomats, academics and others there that:
“our eyes are wide open to New Zealand’s decreasing influence in the Pacific and we are committed to re-setting our approach to working with the Pacific”
“The Asia Pacific region is much more contested. Great power rivalries have intensified…. [U]nderlying challenges in Asia-Pacific are very complex. Overall, there is less of a consensus on what the future of this region looks like and greater concern about the strain on the international rules-based order.”
With these very big, unprecedented foreign policy challenges in mind he very boldly and encouragingly welcomed fresh thinking:
“It is not a time for intellectual timidity. It is a time for original thinking as we develop foreign policy prescriptions from adaptation…. Creative syntheses and challenging old verities is needed more than ever so be bold and take risks in your work. If you do you will find in this government a receptive ear to your ideas.”
Which could open up a question as to whether, and how, an environment or platform might be created where such “original thinking” and “creative syntheses” could be generated?
Another remark of his could provide just the right entre to an answer: “New Zealand’s leverage internationally must rest on the quality of our ideas and the principles we promote, including our reputation as an honest broker.” [Emphasis mine]
Which in turn opens up yet another question: in today’s complex, rapidly changing international environment, how might New Zealand develop the knowledge base and diverse, robust connections needed to act as an effective and respected honest broker?
The nub of my proposals is to create a platform for brokering conversations between diverse international players, large and small, by networking diplomatic, academic and other potentially helpful organizations and people in Wellington.
Many countries, including the major powers, already have diplomatic representatives in embassies in Wellington, our seat of government and the site of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade headquarters.
Wellington is also an academic centre with Victoria University, and the presence also of Massey university. Many internationally oriented NGOs also have headquarters there, and many individuals with strong backgrounds and interest in international relations reside there.
Seminars are already conducted in the capital that attract academics, diplomatic staffs from these embassies and other interested organizations and people. These could be regularised more and given more official support.
Maty Nikkhou-O’Brien and Dan O’Brien set up the Diplosphere organization that began organizing such seminars in 2014-15.
However, this kind of project would need New Zealand government investment and support to be sustainable and fully effective.
I believe that diplomatic conversations could be conducted, highly productively, by creating and utilizing a three-tiered platform as follows:
1. A “substantive tier” of diplomatic conversations with both long- and short-term/ad hoc issue streams.
2. An academic tier: What might be achieved by the substantive tier could be hugely extended and consolidated if it was serviced by an academic tier that provided a range of supportive programs.
Such academic programs would include special classes and research projects involving scholars and students from various parts of the world focusing together on subjects and issues that could help the substantive conversations to be that much more productive. Such programs would obviously usefully include conflict resolution and mediation, both as part of dealing with substantive issues as well as with helping to keep the platform itself running more smoothly and effectively.
3. A social tier: The possibilities for both of the above tiers could be further amplified if there was also a tier where diplomats and academics, and others involved, could mix informally and socially. Canberra diplomats regularly socialize, for instance, at a Canberra Diplomatic Social Club whose activities are recorded on its Facebook page.
The aim of this tier would be to create and sustain an environment where people from all sorts of places and backgrounds could meet convivially no matter what the state of relations – however good or how bad –between various nations at the time.
The aim of having a distinct longer-term conversations stream would be to create space for working, uninterrupted, towards relative consensus around broader, longer-term regional hopes and aspirations, obstacles to these and potential ways through.
Then as ad hoc events and shorter-term issues also arose, these could the focus of a second stream without distracting or diverting the first one.
Parties working in the first stream could nonetheless also usefully come into the second, bringing into it a perspective of wider implications and possibilities. Such dual participants could also, then, feed useful learnings from here back into the first stream.
All of these conversations could help generate much unique, highly productive and interesting academic work.
Ongoing conversations thus structured and regularized would enable all involved to get to be better able to talk together, learn together, and form better relationships.
All of which should help the build-up collective purpose and good will, or what is called social or “diplomatic” capital. Wellington could, thereby, become something of a unique regional, even a global, “diplomatic village”.
To get more of a sense of some of the kinds of issues such a Wellington diplomatic village could engage with see the links at the end of this blog.
I would like to conclude by returning to your CNN interview where you said of the United States North Korea dispute that “It’s never too late to start talking”.
A turning point occurred when Presidents Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un met amicably in Singapore on June 12 last year, although a huge amount of detail still needed to be worked through.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has been mediating very effectively, having just completed a third very successful meeting with Mr Kim.
Nonetheless, there is still much to work through.
Mr Peters was also quoted in the media report noted above about New Zealand wanting to help that he “hoped the North would continue to build trust with the South, and the international community, through ongoing talks.”
Perhaps the one move that would enable New Zealand to be most helpful of all would be to invite North Korea to set up an embassy in Wellington.
Then, particularly if the diplomatic platform proposed here was also put in place, New Zealand would be extremely well positioned to “do all it could” to help: North Korea would be able to participate in “nuclear-free New Zealand diplomatic village” conversations where it could be supported to progress nuclear disarmament with any guarantees it might feel it needs.
It could also build up relationships with other countries based on better mutual understanding and better find its way into the world economy, including that of New Zealand.
Proposals outlined in this blog should enable New Zealand, even as a small, remote country in the antipodes, to do the most it is able, to help create a peaceful, “nuclear-free” world, one where baby Neve and her generation can enjoy the peace and security that is their need and entitlement.
Yours sincerely in peace,
I have previously written a number of village-connections.com blogs illustrating several ways such a diplomatic village platform could be utilised, including:
1/ Making Wellington a diplomatic village for the Asia Pacific region – and beyond?
February 26, 2014
3/ Cosmopolitan Public Conversations to Support Security Council re ISIS +?
November 18, 2014