Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: New Zealand brought new perspective to UN Security Council but no major breakthrough

New Zealand's ambassador to the United Nations, Gerard van Bohemen.
New Zealand's ambassador to the United Nations, Gerard van Bohemen.

If the way to world peace is through the stomach, New Zealand's team on the Security Council has got it cracked.

New Zealand's time on that august body will end in four months.

Much has been made of New Zealand's need to rely on soft power to get its way given its lack of military, economic and political heft. So New Zealand's legacies to the Security Council include breakfasts and lunches.

It was New Zealand which started a tradition of a monthly breakfast of the ambassadors of the 15 Security Council members. New Zealand hosted the first in July last year, about six months into New Zealand's term on the Security Council and its first turn as President under the council's practice of rotating the chair each month.

Since then, every other Security Council member has followed suit with a breakfast to kick off their month as President.

It was a bid to meet without the set-piece statements, the acronyms and officials.

UN observers now point to the breakfast club as an important addition to the Security Council practice which had become dominated by set-piece statements rather than actual discussion between the members.

Food features in another move New Zealand has driven, along with Venezuela - lunch meetings of the 10 elected members on the Council to maximise their power as a bloc, given the Permanent Five need at least nine votes to pass a measure.

It is also an attempt to try to stop the Permanent Members coming to the rest of the Council with a measure as a fait accompli and expecting them to rubber stamp it.

Sport is a further example of New Zealand's soft power at work. Rugby helped break the ice with one of the big five - Russia's ambassador Vitaly Churkin.

It turns out Churkin is quite a rugby fan. During the campaign for the Security Council seat, New Zealand took Churkin to watch the All Blacks Maori play the USA in Philadelphia. There Churkin sat on a bus full of New Zealand and Pacific Island diplomats, complete with the experience of a guitar sing-along in the back seat on the way home.

Churkin now sits next to New Zealand's ambassador, Gerard van Bohemen, around the Council table. New Zealand is hoping the relationships last beyond the Security Council term.

The elected members are divided into two camps - those who do something with their time and those for whom a stint on the Security Council is a vanity project because of the kudos that attaches to it.

By the accounts of most observers, New Zealand falls into the first camp.

But there have been frustrations for New Zealand. A modern New Zealand saying seems relevant: "all hui, no do-ey."

That was on show this week when the Council spent four hours talking about the problem of getting humanitarian help into Aleppo without doing a thing about it.

It has frustrated New Zealand diplomats at times.

UN experts say a country's size does not necessarily consign a country to irrelevancy on the Council, provided it has a strong ambassador, is prepared to be pragmatic, chooses its battles well and has a very focused agenda.

New Zealand and van Bohemen are well regarded by observers of the UN who say New Zealand brings a refreshing perspective. However, some wonder if New Zealand made the most of its tenure on the Security Council.

Some believe New Zealand would have done better to target something more achievable than a breakthrough in the Middle East peace process between Israel and Palestine.

The draft resolution New Zealand proposed on that in 2015 has remained just that and is now effectively on hold because of the US elections.

Undaunted, New Zealand has decided to address the Syrian crisis in September when it will again hold the presidency. It has some ground to build on here. Along with four other countries, New Zealand spearheaded a resolution to try to halt attacks on hospitals in conflict zones. It is also one of three countries with oversight of measures on the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

But such ambition has prompted some mockery domestically and possibly internationally. In the face of New Zealand's confidence it could bring world peace, one diplomat reportedly told a New Zealand diplomat "the answer to every world problem is not always New Zealand".

New Zealand has four months to prove them wrong. Brunch and a round of Ten Guitars, anyone?

- NZ Herald

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Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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