Formation of the United Nations
The External Affairs Department was initially preoccupied with post-war peace treaties and the establishment of a new international organisation, the United Nations. This aimed to safeguard international security by fostering international cooperation, helping to resolve disputes and resisting aggression through collective security.
Fraser at the UN
New Zealand Prime Minister Peter Fraser played an active role in the June 1945 conference in San Francisco at which the UN Charter was negotiated, and he advocated the rights of smaller powers to participate as equals. Fraser opposed, ultimately unsuccessfully, charter provisions that allowed permanent members of the Security Council to veto resolutions. He sponsored, with greater success, the concept of trusteeship, or international oversight of the administration of colonies, which subsequently played an important part in decolonisation. New Zealand’s delegation also influenced charter articles on economic, social and human rights.
From the outset New Zealand contributed actively to discussions across the whole UN agenda. This was partly because of its belief in the UN, but also because New Zealand had few significant bilateral relationships (diplomatic relationships with individual countries). Therefore multilateral diplomacy (relationships with groups of countries) through the UN and related organisations was a central preoccupation of New Zealand foreign policy during the late 1940s and 1950s. A UN mission was established in New York, with the New Zealand ambassador in Washington also designated a UN permanent representative.
Under both Labour and National (the latter took office in 1949), the government was sceptical of the need for a New Zealand diplomatic service and very reluctant to fund external representation or diplomatic initiatives. New missions were opened in Paris (1949) and The Hague (1950) but the Moscow mission was closed in 1950. New Zealand had an occupation force in Japan and established a diplomatic post there in 1952, after the signing of the Japanese Peace Treaty ended the occupation.
Suspected of spying
New Zealand’s overseas diplomatic posts have periodically been embroiled in spying scandals. Aucklander Paddy Costello worked at the New Zealand legations in Moscow and Paris after the Second World War. Secretary for External Affairs Alister McIntosh described him as ‘our most brilliant linguist and diplomatic officer’.1 However, Costello was forced to resign from the legation in Paris on suspicion of spying. It was alleged that he had supplied New Zealand passports to the Soviet spies Morris and Lona Cohen. The charges were never proved.
World Trade Organization
Another mission was established in Geneva in 1961, partly to cover UN agencies located there but mainly to increase participation in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which negotiated the multilateral rules for trade. The New Zealand mission remained in Geneva after GATT was replaced by the World Trade Organization in 1995. In 1997 it became a New Zealand mission to the UN as well as the New Zealand consulate general for Switzerland. Trade liberalisation under universally applicable rules, especially for primary products, was considered vital to New Zealand’s economy. Other posts, including in Paris (as New Zealand legation from 1949 and embassy from 1957), Rome (1966) and Vienna (1969), provided representation at specialised UN agencies.
Participation in the Colombo Conference in 1950 launched New Zealand on another path of international cooperation – providing development assistance to developing countries. The Colombo Plan focused initially on Commonwealth countries in Asia but soon broadened to include non-Commonwealth states and other regions.
New Zealand contributed significant amounts of capital and technical assistance in the early years of the plan. External Affairs administered Colombo Plan assistance, which was justified partly in developmental terms and partly as a contribution to stability and security in recipient countries. Colombo Plan assistance was a key factor in the decisions to open posts in New Delhi and Jakarta (both 1957). The Jakarta office was initially limited to aid delivery, but its presence generated demands that led by stages to full embassy status in 1967.
Apart from aid, External Affairs initially had little role in trade or financial issues, which were the responsibility of other government departments, especially Customs, Industries and Commerce (later Trade and Industry) and Treasury. External Affairs focused primarily on security and political issues. However in the early 1950s the department recruited diplomats with economic expertise, including Lloyd White and Frank Holmes.