Let’s be sure we know what to do with that place on the Security Council

Three years ago, New Zealand's former Ambassador to the United Nations, Colin Keating, was granted Rwanda's Campaign against Genocide Medal by its President, Paul Kagame.

Keating was UN Security Council president during the darkest days of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and, as the Rwandans now put it, "relentlessly sought the intervention of the international community to end the carnage". Long before George Clooney et al were making Africa a cause celebre, Keating was a lone and courageous voice, "indignant about the deafening silence of the then Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations" as the killing intensified.

This year, despite his best efforts 20 years ago, Keating apologised for the UN's "utter failure" to stop the massacre of as many as one million Tutsi people by Rwanda's Hutu majority.

This type of insistent voice is the one that we, as New Zealanders, should be aiming to send to the United Nations Security Council, even if our thoughts are too dangerous to succeed, and even if our intentions fail to fire. Independent and ready to call a spade a shovel - if that's really the role we envisage for ourselves.


Instead, we're promising to lend to the world our sense of "fair play" and "New Zealand values" - whatever they are.

On present evidence, our values include the fact that we are "comfortable" with drone strikes on innocent civilians. We are cool with being part of the Five Eyes surveillance network. We felt world powers didn't do enough in Syria but we'll probably inexplicably support US involvement in the minefield that is Iraq.

We get to play golf with the President of the USA, and have the vague promise of better market access for our dairy products, with plenty of concessions on our side, of course. The problem is, in recent times, when perhaps we might have spoken up, we've pulled our punches. When Minister McCully visited Sri Lanka at the end of last year, we failed to emphatically get behind the independent investigation of atrocities by the regime against its Tamil minority, even as much of the rest of the world demanded it.

It will be interesting to see, for example, where New Zealand's allegiances fall on the issue of Israel. And will we be able to "advocate for small states" when their enormous benefactors - which are also ours - make demands?

A discordant note is also sounded in the intense way New Zealand has lobbied for the Security Council seat. Government ministers chose to wine and dine the decision makers with trips to Queenstown at a cost of over $200,000. I'm sure hobnobbing is part and parcel of the process, but would that it also involved consultation with human rights and community groups and other experts, to formulate some aims we could at least take to New York and present as a cogent plan of attack.

Because in the 10 years in which New Zealand has been lobbying for this position, the way the country sees itself has changed radically. We were once treated with caution by the US; now we enjoy favoured status. We were champions of neutrality and balance; we're now reversing that once-cherished aloofness.

The question is, which New Zealand will be turning up in New York should our bid be successful? Not just New Zealanders, but citizens of other countries too, have a right to know.