Like other small states, New Zealand has looked to international institutions to help reduce uncertainty and vulnerability through rule-making, while offering opportunities to build a reputation of reliable global citizenship. Global citizenship includes encouraging cooperation through bridge-building and mediating.
Regional and small state cooperation
Norman Kirk, prime minister from 1972 to 1974, had ideas about possible regional multilateral economic and social cooperation that were gradually realised. For Kirk, cohesion among small states regionally could act as an effective counterweight to political, military or economic domination by larger powers. He also believed that it was small states that would ensure UN Charter principles were upheld. Without that, he said, major powers would move towards bilateralism, with Europe becoming increasingly inward-looking.
South Pacific nuclear action
At the UN General Assembly in 1975, New Zealand aired the possibility of establishing a South Pacific nuclear weapons-free zone. This emerged as a treaty a decade later. New Zealand also exerted sustained pressure to end nuclear-weapons testing and, more recently, have nuclear weapons removed from alert status – which means they can be launched within minutes of a perceived attack.
Mediation at work
After France sank the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior in Auckland in 1985, a dispute arose over compensation. New Zealand and France asked the secretary general of the UN, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, to mediate, agreeing beforehand to accept his decision. His 1986 determination required France to pay NZ $13 million to New Zealand, not injure New Zealand trade with Europe, and accept terms for the incarceration of the responsible French state operatives, Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur.
Taking opportunities offered by the UN forum was prompted by public support for disarmament, environmental sustainability and human rights. Domestic professional, technical, private-sector and technical advice further informed New Zealand’s multilateral strategies and objectives.
One difficulty was New Zealand’s awkward group location at the UN – the country was included as an ‘other’ in the West European and Others grouping (along with Australia and Canada). Group location affects nomination for positions within the UN system. Asian states (an alternative grouping) did not regard New Zealand as a natural partner within the UN.
As a result, New Zealand has been something of a nomad in search of a grouping that makes sense geographically. However, that has had advantages, creating scope for fresh alignments of interest as others lost potency or relevance.