The Foreign Minister, the Zone and the Convention

Last month the relatively new foreign minister of our realm, Hon Gerry Brownlee, steered a wobbly diplomatic course on Israeli settlements, which became leveraged to a political level.

In May, he described UN Security Council resolution 2334 of December ’16, adopted 14-0-1 with the US abstaining, as ‘premature’.  In fact, New Zealand had co-sponsored, and our ambassador had advised the Council that the resolution confirmed principles long accepted in the UN, and that the text was achievable ‘right now’.

The new Minister was effectively repudiating that formal statement.  Called upon to explain, the Minister said: “It’s something I’ve got to take [a] little bit of a lesson from my friends at MFAT, who are currently giving me various pieces of advice about appropriate diplomatic language.” But “I’m an excellent student, a great learner.”

Within days, the Minister’s inappropriate language was corrected by the relatively new Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, neither of whom had ever held the foreign affairs post.

Mr Brownlee, said Bill English, was ‘still trying to find the right language’. But he was confident the Minister had found the right language ‘now’.  He did not expect Mr Brownlee to describe the resolution as ‘premature’ any longer.  “I think it’s just reflective of someone brand new on the job trying – as I’ve had to, being fairly new into the foreign affairs area – you get to learn the Government’s positions and the language that goes with that.”

In the House, Paula Bennett confirmed more formally that New Zealand did, in fact, support the resolution, as did the Leader of the House three days later – both speaking for the Minister in his absence.  So, with the Foreign Minster absent from the House, NZ diplomacy was restored to its former position.

On 8 June, the House moved to adopt a Notice of Motion celebrating the 30th anniversary of the NZ Nuclear-free Zone Act.  The Green Party had circulated a draft which celebrated the anniversary, then called on the House to support the negotiations for a total ban (Nuclear Weapons Convention) currently underway in New York, in fulfillment of the aspirations of the NZ legislation. The Government ignored this and, on the day, circulated its own, omitting reference to the NWC.

I met that morning with Minister Brownlee to urge him to refer to the Nuclear Weapons Convention. He declined.  I asked if he was aware that New Zealand was a vice-chair of the negotiations. He was not.  I asked if he supported the negotiations or not.  He did not; they were not accurately decribed as negotiations, because the nuclear powers chose not to join in the negotiations.  That afternoon, the Minister put forward his Notice of Motion, with no mention of the NWC negotiations.

Yesterday, I asked in the House whether New Zealand supported the negotiations. The Minister was absent.  Yes, said the Leader of the House.  Would NZ encourage all nuclear powers to join in the negotiations?  Yes, said Mr Bridges; that was a ‘good idea’.

Once again, with the Minister absent, NZ diplomacy was restored to its correct position.