Among its past services at the top table of the UN, New Zealand chaired the sanctions committee on Iraq; their sanctions killed at least a million Iraqis, half of them children

by Philip Ferguson

The New Zealand elite is slapping itself on the back, having won a guest place on the UN Security Council. These particular places are set aside as a harmless concession to the rest of the world by the five permanent members on the Council, any one of which can veto action being taken by the UN’s equivalent to a central committee or war council (as it so often is).

New Zealand’s accession to the top table for the second time in two decades has bolstered the New Zealand elite’s flattering view of itself as punching above its weight globally – being “the small country with a big voice” in prime minister John Key’s words – due to what Key calls “its history of being an honest broker” and of “doing what is right”. While other countries spent “millions” on their campaigns to get elected to the Security Council, “we ran on our merits” he declared.

The NZ campaign this year, Key noted, was assisted by its performance on the Council back in 1993-94.  Indeed, among the services rendered to humanity then by the diplomatic representatives of this country was chairing the sanctions committee on Iraq; in other words helping oversee the imposition of sanctions that were responsible for a million deaths in that country, half of them children (see here).

Foul smell

So there is a foul-smelling irony when Key declares that “We’ll listen to the 145 (countries who voted for NZ – PF), stand up for their issues. . . stand up for peace and security.”

These days the Nats are as keen on the United Nations as Labour, whose second prime minister, Peter Fraser, helped found the new den of hypocrisy and thieves at the end of the Second World War. For instance, Key indicated his enthusiasm for UN resolutions and said that NZ went into Afghanistan (under the Labour-led government of Helen Clark – PF) because there was a UN resolution and didn’t go into Iraq because there wasn’t one. (Actually, NZ sent a detachment of armed Army engineers just in time to be able to bid on US contracts in Iraq.)

Meanwhile foreign affairs minister Murray McCully, also bathing in the glow of the UN election, noted how it wasn’t just about the feelgood factor of being on the Security Council, but also has a material benefit. Sitting at the “big table with the big players does give you a chance to advance your interests in relation to trade and so on.” Quite.

New Zealand in the new world order

New Zealand has done quite well out of the new world order that emerged out of the end of the Cold War. It no longer has to shelter under the US military umbrella and is freer to pursue its own imperialist interests and to diversify those interests.

It has built up some important export markets in the Arab and Islamic world and, even more so, in China. It no longer automatically sides with the United States, but was more aligned with the Franco-German-Russian position on Iraq and hasn’t thrown its lot in with the US propaganda campaign against China. After all, whereas the US ruling class sees China as a powerful economic competitor – a view that is rather exaggerated – the New Zealand ruling class see Chinese capitalist development as opening up a massive middle class market for high-value NZ exports from tourism to swanky brands of cheese and wine.

While the New Zealand ruling elite bathes in self-congratulation over being briefly raised up to the top table at the UN, and its elevation will certainly help its trade and other economic interests, it isn’t really at the top table. The real top table in the United Nations is the five permanent Security Council members. Moreover, these all have competing interests. China, the United States and Russia – the three key players – may all be capitalist, but this means their ruling classes have competing interests with each other and these are played out globally in terms of trade conflicts, competing investments, military manoeuvres, alliances and new spheres of influence, and then reflected within the UN itself.

New Zealand’s rulers also have specific economic – and thus political – interests, especially in the Asia-Pacific region but also, these days, more broadly, such as in the Middle East. NZ’s Mission at the UN is there to protect and advance those interests, lining up with whatever power, or set of powers, is seen as most helpful to those interests at any point in time and place.  being on the Security Council will help our ruling elite manoeuvre more effectively.

Whose rights?

What New Zealand’s United Nations Mission is not about is the rights of the exploited and oppressed masses of the world, especially the Third World. People struggling for political freedom and socio-economic emancipation won’t be helped by New Zealand’s presence on the Security Council, and nor will NZ workers. We are supposed to feel good about the prestige associated with being the country cousin at the UN’s big table and this is supposed to substitute for us being any better off in terms of wages, conditions and work hours in this country.

For us the slogan should be, “Don’t celebrate! Organise!” Organise against the New Zealand ruling class trying to further enrich itself at the expense of the mass of peoples abroad and at the expense of the working class at home.

Further reading:
The United Nations: friend or foe?



Comments are closed.