The world stage is a fascinating, yet frightening place to the casual observer wondering how it got to be the mess that it is – conflicts girdling the Middle East, a dangerous mosquito borne virus in South America, a migrant crisis spiralling out of control. One cannot blame them for being a bit pessimistic about the future. It is hard to blame people for wanting to move to safer nations away from the corruption, the wars, the disasters and the inanity of world politics.
It is hard to blame them for looking at a little island nation far removed – or so people say – from all that is happening. They see peace. They see a future for their families. They see a chance to actually have a life. And they also see a nation that knows it can punch above its weight in dealing with big issues. So they move there in hope of a future. That nation is New Zealand.
There was once a time when New Zealand was bold and brave. It could take on much bigger nations and stare them down, with the net result being huge respect around the world. Three examples stand out for me:
- One such case was the withdrawal from the A.N.Z.U.S. alliance because New Zealanders did not want nuclear armed or powered ships in New Zealand waters. When that led France to commit the Rainbow Warrior bombing on 10 July 1985, hoping it would divide New Zealanders the result was the polar opposite.
- In 1994, when Rwandan militants shot down the plane carrying the President who was of Hutu ethnicity, it kicked off a genocide that lasted 100 days. At its peak had slaughter rates comparable to the worst days of the Holocaust. 1 million lives later and the world wondering how it failed to stop the genocide, it emerged that New Zealand diplomats had found out that there was going to be large scale slaughter and they urgently darted amongst their United Nations colleagues trying to raise the alarm – one of the very few nations to do so.
- When the East Timorese voted for independence, the Jakarta backed militias on the island went wild. They started killing and looting. The world, particularly Australia and New Zealand were revolted, and at the Asia Pacific Economic Forum that year in Auckland, plans were laid down for a United Nations peace keeping force led by Australia, with substantial New Zealand assistance.
Fast forward 16 years and the brave little nation that drew admiration and respect from around the world is quite different. Blinded by the politics of pleasing certain nations, it struggles raise a finger at brazen atrocities it would have had no trouble calling out two decades ago. Perhaps over awed by the fact that it has won a coveted spot as a temporary United Nations Security Council member, New Zealand’s chairmanship of the most powerful organ of the world body has been less than inspiring, with a number of problems failing to be addressed:
- There might be peace in Syria and Yemen, but the war criminals who bombed hospitals need to know that that behaviour is totally unbecoming
- The United Nations needs reform to stay current in the 21st Century – particularly the Security Council
- And what about pushing any one or more the causes which in the past New Zealand has enjoyed great success with – womens rights; disarmament; human rights, to name just a few
New Zealand’s loss of initiative is mirrored by other nations as well who have been past leaders on the world stage. But it is perhaps unique because most of those other former leaders of the international community have been bigger, stronger nations. Some might say it is a result of too much power being vested in foreign bodies that we now feel somewhat controlled by causing us to lose the initiative, lest we anger them. Whatever the case might be, the days when New Zealand stood on principle are ones I miss.