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New Zealand On The Global Stage Into The Future

Posted on 04 Jul 2009

Hon Heather Roy speech to the Model United Nations Conference; Rutherford House, Victoria University, Thorndon, Wellington; Saturday, July 4 2009.

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

United Nations Youth Association President Matt McGrath, Model United Nations Coordinator Nigel Smith, Honourable Delegates of this Model United Nations, invited guests, ladies and gentlemen.

This is the 10th annual New Zealand Model United Nations conference run by the United Nations Youth Association of New Zealand. It is also 10 years since that association - of which you are all now members - was established.

You have come a long way. Congratulations on continuing to educate young New Zealanders about the important issues facing the world - a world that your generation will soon lead.

As a Wellington-based MP I welcome you all to our nation's capital from all around New Zealand. As a Minister in our Government I want to remind you of the importance of being aware of, and engaged with, the world around you.

I know you will make the most of this opportunity to prepare yourselves for leadership of this country, and of the world - starting today with setting aside your own personal opinions and views to represent the issues and challenges of your 'adopted' countries signified by the flags in front of you.

It is very fitting that the United Nations will play such a central role in your next few days, as it plays a central role in our world affairs. New Zealand has often engaged successfully with the UN - both to pursue our own interests, and to advance the interests of humankind.

As a small country in the South Pacific, with a population of a little over four million, we have had an influence seemingly beyond our means. New Zealand has been able to punch above its weight in this way because, in times of global uncertainty, small countries like New Zealand rely even more heavily on an effective international rules-based system to deal with issues of great importance to us.

That is what the United Nations provides. Let me give you an example: a UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf recently affirmed New Zealand's right to around 1.7 million square kilometres of extended continental shelf seabed. Thanks to the UN, no one can challenge our rights to whatever natural resources might be on the seabed that we control.

We have had to work hard to protect interests like these - no one else will do it for us. But, because we speak at the United Nations we are heard by the global community, we do not have to work alone.

Rather than being a lone voice in a world without rules we have a broad base on which to build partnerships as, and where, they are needed. We can act in concert with the global community - from the United Kingdom to Uruguay, from Canada to Costa Rica - to develop balanced, coordinated approaches by the United Nations system to global challenges. We do this for our own good, but we have also often taken a leadership role for the common good.

An example of this is the lead role in international affairs that former Prime Minister Helen Clark has recently taken up in her appointment as head of the United Nations Development Programme. Miss Clark will require considerable skill to uphold the programmes functions of poverty reduction, improving democratic governance, crisis prevention, alleviating environmental degradation and stemming the tide of HIV/AIDS.

All politics aside, it was with good wishes and pride in the success of a fellow Kiwi that we recently farewelled Miss Clark form our Parliament and congratulated her on her appointment to the third-ranked position in the UN.

As well as Miss Clark's appointment, other New Zealanders have reached the highest levels of the United Nations - Sir Kenneth Keith currently sits as a judge on the International Court of Justice, the judicial organ of the United Nations.

It is good to hear that a Model Security Council is to be incorporated into your conference this year. This is an important institution to consider here, as it holds much influence within the UN system. New Zealand has been an effective player within this institution also - we were last on the Security Council from 1993-94. During this time the world was confronted with the tragic humanitarian situations in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Somalia.

New Zealand - taking our turn as President of the Security Council - was among the first to support the idea of an expanded United Nations presence in Rwanda when details of the terrible genocide emerged.

Our principled positions and hard work on many tough issues earned us widespread respect during our tenure on the Council. In that case, we did our bit to uphold the promise of the United Nations Charter: "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war."

But, as I'm sure you will learn, interacting with the Security Council is not completely without regard for our national interests. A seat at the Council also serves our national interest in a number of ways.

Working daily on pressing international issues with the US, China, the UK, France and Russia presents an unrivalled opportunity to develop and enhance our bilateral ties with those countries - the world's most powerful nations.

A seat on the Security Council automatically bestows a position of leadership - particularly on regional security matters. In this regard, our regional ties are strengthened.

Further, our economic interests are best served when we have our political relationships in good order. We have to work hard to convince other countries that we are worth dealing with and a constructive role on the Security Council presents significant opportunities to do so.

So, the United Nations has much to offer. Our engagement with the UN advances both our national interests, and the common global good. And it is for this reason that our engagement continues.

In September, Prime Minister John Key will travel to New York for the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly where he will set out our ambitions for the future of the UN.

I don't want to, however, leave you with a rose-tinted - and, thus, false - impression of this organisation. The United Nations is far from perfect. Even as we speak here today negotiations are taking place in New York to reform the Security Council, in order to make it more effective and more representative of the broader United Nations membership.

I encourage you to take these issues into consideration in your Model Security Council. But don't be disheartened if solutions are slow in coming - this has been the subject of debate for 14 years in New York with little progress!

In fact, when playing the key role in the writing of the UN Charter 64 years ago, former Prime Minister Peter Fraser argued against the establishment of permanent members of the Security Council with veto powers.

He may well have been right. In 2009, the Permanent Members of the Security Council are defined by the fact that they were the victors of World War II - even though, 64 years later, the world has changed; the power and political position of various states waxes and wanes.

Perhaps it is time to consider whether emerging powers should play a greater role in the Security Council. This is a matter that you will be asked to consider over the course of the conference.

I said earlier that New Zealand was one of the first countries to advocate for intervention in Rwanda. This is true, and it is something of which we should be proud. But it does not change the fact that the United Nations, collectively, acted too late to prevent the genocide of 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis.

While these failures are serious, however, we do not need to reinvent the wheel - just improve it. And there is much to indicate that these improvements are possible.

Today, more than 100,000 UN Peacekeepers are in the field on 15 operations actively preventing the spread of conflict. These personnel are drawn from many different member-states, and serve to demonstrate the level of commitment and confidence that those states have in the UN.

I'm proud, as Associate Defence Minister - and as a member of the New Zealand Army - that New Zealand has an illustrious history in this regard also.

We welcome the new US Administration's interest in multilateralism and will work closely with them and other friends to make the UN more accountable and effective, so it can fulfil its true potential.

It is important that New Zealand is ready to continue this work into the next generation. There are significant challenges to grapple with. How to future-proof the UN requires, for example, a solution to integrating the growing number of non-state actors and the future relevance of the nation-state. Trans-border issues are numerous and complex. For instance, cyberspace - the entire magnetic spectrum - is now recognised battlespace for all the major powers. What is it that will spark future conflict - a possible World War III? The answers might be surprising - the lack of fresh water? Antarctica and its resources? Space? These are all thoughts for you to ponder.

You can imagine now, even here in New Zealand, the challenges that we have in our Defence Review of contemplating the environment out to 2035.

I wish you all the best as you go into two days of debate in the various committees of the UN General Assembly, the Security Council, and in your Plenary session on Tuesday.

While I do not expect your task over the next few days to be easy, I do hope that your energy and commitment will contribute some fresh perspective on the multitude of issues that the UN faces today - and, most importantly, uphold and represent those ideals that were written into its Charter in 1945.

I would like to thank you for this opportunity to talk to you here today, and I wish you well for New Zealand Model United Nations 2009.


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