Bombing balls up during ‘ceasefire’

Two questions – why did the US bomb Syrian troops, and why were they bombing at all during a ceasefire?

Bombing and killing the the wrong people (62 reported to be dead) may have been a genuine mistake, shit happens during wars.

But why where they bombing at all when there was supposed to be a ceasefire?

These questions have been asked by Russia and have precipitated an emergency meeting at the UN’s Security Council.

RNZ: Emergency UN Security Council meeting

On Sunday (NZ time) Russia called an emergency meeting of the Security Council, with New Zealand’s UN Ambassador Gerard van Bohemen in the chair, after the United States admitted carrying out air strikes believed to have killed Syrian government soldiers.

British-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 80 government soldiers died in the attack.

The attack had paved the way for Islamic State fighters to overrun the position near Deir al-Zor airport, the group said.

Other reports say at least 62 Syrian troops fighting Islamic State were killed.

The US military said it believed it was bombing Islamic State jihadists, but stopped as soon as Russian officials said it was hitting the Syrian military.

This was in the middle of a seven day ceasefire agreed between the US and Russia, that took effect from last Tuesday.

According to reports Murray McCully received about the Security Council meeting…

…there were “bitter exchanges” between Russia and the US in particular, although there were many other countries with strong views on the conflict.

The mess in the Middle East, currently centred on Syria, is bad enough. When the world’s biggest military and political powers are actively involved the stakes become more serious. Especially when they stuff up and bomb the wrong targets.

Jeffrey Feltman, UN Under-Secretary for Political Affairs, said there was no obvious solution to the Syrian conflict, and welcomed the focus that will be brought to it this week.

And when there is “no obvious solution” it is of major international concern due to flow on effects outside the Middle East.

“There is no bigger crisis, in terms of peace and security on the international scene than the Syrian crisis, and the repercussions are global, when you look at the migration in Europe, you look at the potential return of foreign terrorist fighters from the Syria battlefield.

“This is a truly global peace and security issue.”

Mr Feltman said the UN was taking a three-pronged approach to the Syrian crisis; trying to reduce the violence, increase the humanitarian access and trying to get to a viable political process that can lead to a political transition in Syria.

John Key is heading to New York into the middle of the United Nations impotence. Murray McCully is already there (Key may have arrived by now).

Before leaving for New York, Mr Key said the Security Council meeting on Syria would be one of New Zealand’s “biggest moments”.

“This is a time when New Zealand can use the presidency, which only happens twice in the time you’re actually on the council and we’re only on the council every 20 or 30 years, so it’s the one time to use that presidency to direct the world’s leaders, if you like, on the most pressing issue we face.”

While it would be nice if New Zealand can inject something effective into the Security Council crisis it’s hard to see a miracle happening.

Mr McCully said the events of the weekend just underlined the need for the Security Council to face up to major conflicts and find a long term solution.

(I think a New Zealand term is appropriate here on the chances of that).

Yeah, right.

With bombs dropping during a ceasefire I don’t like anyone’s chances of stopping all the death and destruction.

Was Clark’s UN bid ever realistic?

Helen Clark’s bid for UN Secretary general has been talked up in New Zealand, but did she ever have a realistic chance of getting the job?

Two things in particular seem to have ruled against her – that she doesn’t come from Eastern Europe (there’s a lot of talk about it being ‘their turn’), and the risk that she wouldn’t be compliant enough for the large powers who don’t want to be dictated to by the UN.

Andrea Vance writes that Helen Clark’s UN bid is fantasy land stuff:

God loves a trier. The United Nations, it appears, does not.

Helen Clark is doggedly continuing with her quixotic bid to succeed Ban-Ki Moon as secretary-general.

Inspiring? Possibly. Realistic? Absolutely not.

…to maintain the fairytale – at vast expense to the New Zealand taxpayer – is misguided.

I guess it depends on the reasoning behind giving Clark’s bid strong support.

So, why is the Government persisting with this fairytale? Firstly, the Government believes it is an achievement that benefits New Zealand.

It might give New Zealand some feel good bragging rights but the UN is supposed to benefit the world, not the country the Secretary general comes from.

Key argues Clark is the best person for the job and should be appointed on merit. He might be right, but it’s pretty hard to take from a Government that has just retired moribund ex-minister Maurice Williamson into a plum Los-Angeles trade post.

Fair point on hypocrisy – when politics is involved merit is a fairly loose term.

And it’s delusional. The UN might like the idea of a woman, but it absolutely does not want a reformer.

It’s even doubtful the few countries who make the decision like the idea of a woman, going by the initial straw polls that strongly favour men.

The P5 countries – the ultimate decision makers – want a bureaucrat who will not challenge them.

It’s no surprise that the biggest powers make decisions that suit their own selfish interests, not the good of the world as a whole.

World leaders are not ready to be bossed around by a woman from a tiny country on the far edge of Earth. They may never be ready.

The selection process is ridiculous, but is a symptom of a major flaw with the United Nations – the Secretary general is appointed on the recommendation of the Security Council, which has just 15 members, one of which is currently New Zealand.

And the Security Council is dominated by five permanent members- the USA, the United Kingdom, France, China and Russia (the main victors of World War 2). Each of them has veto power, which is used to stifle the effectiveness of the UN.

And these permanent members have the power to stifle the leadership of the UN by ensuring a compliant candidate is recommended and ‘chosen’.

So Clark may never have been a realistic chance.

Bohemen on the Security Council

Audrey Young has a Q&A with New Zealand diplomat Gerard van Bohemen (who sits on the United Nations Security Council and is New Zealand’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations).

Q. What has been the most positive accomplishment of the Council since you have been on it?

I suppose in real world terms, the Iran deal was the most positive because council action was essential to give effect to the negotiated outcome even if the negotiations happened away from the council. The council’s authority was needed both to lift the sanctions but also to put in place this complicated arrangement whereby, if Iran doesn’t comply with the deal, the sanctions would snap back into place. That was a very significant achievement.

The next one, I think, has been the pressure the council has been able to bring to bear on Syria to bring the cessation of hostilities about. The council is far from the only actor in this area. The International Syria Support Group is the key international negotiating feature and the cessation was actually negotiated between the United States and Russia.

We were part of that. We gave international endorsement to the outcome but the actual negotiations were done outside the council. But that’s just world realities; you work with what you have got.

From the New Zealand point of view, the resolutions we have adopted on humanitarian access, particularly to besieged areas and hard to access areas in Syria were significant. It was a significant achievement to get the resolution renewed at the end of last year with stronger language on access into besieged and hard to reach areas.

Its relevance became immediately apparent in January when the publicity came on to Maydaya and as a result of the work we have been doing, the situation has improved markedly for a good percentage of the people in those areas.

But there is still a significant percentage yet to receive aid despite the cessation of hostilities. Some of those are in areas besieged by ISIL…but it is progress in the broader sense in Syria.

Q. How would you sum up the second year on the Council? How is it different?

It’s different in the sense that we are now in our second year and you are conscious that the finish line is coming closer and that your time to do things is constrained, different in the sense that you are much more confident about, what’s going on, how the council manages business and how you can influence both process and hopefully outcomes.

I guess we are also conscious that we’ve got to makes sure that the things we have set as our priorities get reflected in the last part of our time on the council.

More on addressing international issues particularly in the Middle East involving Syria, Israel and Russia, and future priorities: Q&A with New Zealand diplomat Gerard van Bohemen.

Gerard van Bohemen

Gerard van Bohemen@GVBohemenNZ

Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations

Gerard van Bohemen is currently New Zealand’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and recently chaired the Security Council sessions during the General Assembly. Van Bohemen has led New Zealand’s delegations to many major international negotiations, including the International Whaling Commission, since moving from private legal practice in the areas of environmental and resource management, and civil litigation.

Gerard van Bohemen worked in private legal practice in Auckland and Wellington. In that capacity van Bohemen was a partner first at Buddle Findlay in Auckland and then at Chen Palmer and Partners, based in Wellington. He appeared in the Environment Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and also appeared twice in the Privy Council in London.

Mr van Bohemen rejoined the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 2005, rising to the position of Deputy Secretary responsible for Multilateral and Legal Affairs. He has served twice at the New Zealand Mission to the United Nations in New York, the second time as Deputy Permanent Representative during New Zealand’s last term on the Security Council. Mr van Bohemen oversaw New Zealand’s successful bid for a seat on the UN Security Council in 2014, and has recently served as Chair of the Security Council. He has also been New Zealand’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

New Zealand voted on to Security Council

New Zealand has just been voted on to the United Nations Security Council, topping both Spain and Turkey on the first ballot. A second ballot will decide who of the other two also get a seat for 2015 and 2016.

First ballot vote (a two third 129 votes from 193 members required):

  • New Zealand 145
  • Spain 121
  • Turkey 109

(Update: after two more ballots Spain got the second seat).

The Government, particularly through Foreign Minister Murray McCully have worked hard to secure this seat but have been helped by Labour’s David Shearer.

Having Helen Clark in the number 3 position at the UN (head of United Nations Development) will have continued to help, it was Clark who initiated the campaign for the seat ten years ago.

New Zealand and the other successful country will represent ‘Western European and others’. Angola, Malaysia and Venezuela stand uncontested for the seats in their regional groups.

There are 15 seats on the council, five held by the permanent members China, France, Russia, the UK and the US, plus 10 non-permanent members serving two-year terms.

Topping the ballot is an indication of the degree of respect given New Zealand internationally. New Zealand was last represented on the Security Council by Colin Keating in 1993/94. Last year Keating gave a speech supporting and explaining this bid:

The UN Security Council: What is in it for New Zealand?

by Colin Keating
Presentation to the United Nations Association of NZ 2013 National Conference, Wellington | 18 May 2013

As everyone in this audience is aware, New Zealand is a candidate for election to the UN Security Council. If elected, New Zealand will serve a two-year term as one of ten elected members of the council, and will also sit with the five Permanent Members of the Council, China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA.

The election will be held in October 2014. So it is just 17 months away. It is a closely fought contest. There are two vacant seats and three candidates, New Zealand, Spain and Turkey.

New Zealand is not a stranger to contested elections for the Security Council. New Zealand last served on the Council in 1993/94 – exactly twenty years ago. To win that seat New Zealand had to defeat Sweden. So we know what it takes to win against larger and richer countries.

Part of our appeal is that New Zealand is not greedy in seeking election too often. In this regard, when campaigning, we don’t need to rub in the fact that our competitors seek election much more often that we do. This is watched closely by the 109 small states that are members of the UN and who are our natural constituency. They know very well that Spain was last on the Council only 8 years ago – and Turkey only two years ago.

I believe that New Zealand is very well placed to win. We already have very strong support in all regions. And the New Zealand story resonates very well everywhere. But there is no denying the fact that this will be a very hard election. We are up against two significant competitors.

The Government has made it clear that New Zealand is not going to try, as some countries do, to buy votes. For New Zealand that would be silly. Once you start down that track small countries can easily be outbid.

Nor will New Zealand shift its policies or values to attract votes. Again, to do that would be silly. One of the things about New Zealand that really appeals around the world is its consistency and its honest, constructive and balanced positions. Tilting our positions to curry favour with this or that demandeur would actually undermine our strong value proposition.

It also needs to be acknowledged that this election campaign has to be managed in a very tight fiscal context. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is funding the campaign from within its existing budget. This of course requires some very careful reprioritisation of expenditure. The Ministry has had to limit some of its other activities accordingly. Again this is not a new experience. The last Security Council campaign in 1991/92 was similarly fought under very tight budget constraints. And the refocusing of effort that occurred at that time, in my view, actually strengthened and reenergised the Ministry in many ways.

But, given the real electoral challenge that we are facing and appreciating the time and effort that is required by Ministers Special Envoys and officials to campaign across 192 countries, I think it is very important to be able to set out exactly why this is a good idea and what is in it for New Zealand.

There will be some New Zealanders who wondering why we are doing this. Others may ask why don’t we spend the money on something at home or on promoting New Zealand business overseas. These are important questions and need to be answered.

The short answer is that the campaign is not taking money away from domestic priorities or from funding for overseas promotion. It is only using money that MFAT would have been spending anyway.

But this does not address the underlying question of why we would want this in the first place.

I want to set out for you my answer to that question. It is very much a personal opinion. It is based on my experience of the 1991/92 Security Council campaign, of my time in New York as the New Zealand Ambassador representing New Zealand on the Security Council in 1993/94 and also my recent experience in New York setting up and running for 7 years a brand new think tank called Security Council Report to monitor and make accessible to the public the work of the Security Council.

 I must stress that I am not speaking for the Government – although as many of you are aware I am helping the Government with the campaign as an independent adviser and as a Special Envoy of the Prime Minister.

The first point that I want to make is that, when you are campaigning for election to the Security Council, you never need to answer the question why are you running for election when speaking to other Governments. Election to the Security Council is the most highly coveted electoral prize for countries around the world. Almost all Governments would like to get it and they understand completely why it makes sense to go for it. Often they have slightly different reasons, but the bottom line is that everyone understands intuitively why it is a priority.

So what are the drivers for New Zealand? Why would New Zealanders be interested in this?

I believe, and this is based on a lot of years of hearing from New Zealanders on foreign policy issues, that there are probably three quite distinct reasons, which may make sense to three different groups of New Zealanders.

These three groups, in very general terms, might be called:

  • The peace and justice community
  • The business community
  • The security community

There is of course quite a lot of overlap in practice between these three groups, and all the more so when global crises may affect all three.

Let us start with the peace and justice community. There is a strong sense amongst many New Zealanders, often based in the Churches, the NGO groups, the academic world and the Unions that, as a country blessed with resources and being a safe distance from conflict situations, we have a moral and political obligation to show leadership in helping resolve conflicts and promoting peace and justice.

For this community being a member of the Security Council offers a unique opportunity for New Zealand. The Security Council is the only global institution with real power. Many media commentators focus on its coercive powers, its ability to sanction countries and individuals, its power to bring the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to bear on individuals, its role as the only legitimate source of authority for intervention or even the use of force.

To my mind an even greater power of the Council is its capacity, in practice, to take decisions that result in the collective appropriation of money so that all 193 members share in the cost of peace operations. This is a hugely important tool in bringing resources to the field to help bring peace and justice.

There are currently 13 peacekeeping missions and 34 special political missions being overseen by the Security Council. The budget for these missions is almost US$8 billion. How these operations are working and how well they are delivering for affected populations are things that the Churches, the NGOs and the advocacy groups follow very closely. In New York, the delegations of civil society lobbying the Security Council are probably better informed and better resourced than many of the elected Security Council members.

The value of being on the Security Council and having a capacity to make a difference in conflict situations is therefore well understood by most in the peace and justice community. And the good experience from NZs term on the Council in 1993/94 gives encouragement that NZ can make a difference.

Turning to the business community, it is important to understand that for a country like New Zealand the competitive edge for our exporters is absolutely critical to our economy, to jobs and ultimately the quality of our society. But for small or new exporters making deals in foreign markets is very difficult. You need networks you need access to decision makers. You need national visibility and – when things go wrong – as they often do – you need political access with real impact.

One thing is clear from our term on the Council in 1993/94 – when you are on the Security Council – especially if you are taking a high profile role – you do get visibility in all of the major markets around the world. You are seen sitting at the top table. The influence that that carries can be very significant when exporters need help. When you want to raise something bilaterally you get taken much more seriously. You get unparalleled political access. And even more importantly we found in the 1990s that if you are effective on the Council and pull real weight, the benefits are not limited to the two-year term. They can continue for a decade or more.

This lifting of the NZ profile, this enhanced visibility and the access opportunities that go with it can be leveraged very effectively to assist wider NZ interests. And this can only be of assistance to the business community.

Next I would like to talk about the benefits of a Security Council term for the security community. In doing so I not only include the NZDF and the families of our military personnel and our veterans, but also in a wider sense all New Zealanders.

We are all affected when risks are taken and NZ forces are deployed into combat situations overseas. Losses, when they occur, are felt by everybody. The evidence of this is clear from the huge support around the country in recent years for ANZAC Day events including by young people. And the same is true for New Zealanders overseas, who flock to ANZAC Day events in large numbers.

If you visit the Army Museum in Waiouru, you will see the compelling displays and the graphic reminders that across the whole history of our country every 20 years or so, on average, young New Zealanders have been sent into situations of combat or armed violence.

Another thing you will learn at the Army Museum is the determination to learn from the experiences in the First World War, and some also in the Second World War, where New Zealand suffered unreasonable casualties because of bad command decisions by commanders from other countries.

Recently, although the numbers of New Zealand personnel deployed overseas have been lower than in the past, the frequency has been much higher. Think of where we have been since the end of the Cold War – Somalia, Angola, Mozambique, Bosnia, Bougainville, Timor, the Solomons and Afghanistan – to name just the most prominent. 

In the light of this trend, the security community, all of us, have a very strong interest in maximising the New Zealand voice at decision-making tables. This means not only in the Security Council, where very important decisions are sometimes taken, but also in terms of influence and leverage by other decision makers whose decisions may be the difference between life and death for our military personnel.

A strong and effective New Zealand term on the Security Council every now and then gives us the credibility, the mana and the political access to be taken seriously on these matters. And our military personnel and their families and the New Zealand public at large have every reason to expect the Government and our diplomats will seize such an important opportunity as a term on the Security Council to reinforce that sort of credibility, mana and access.

And finally, although our geography means that we live in about as safe a part of the world as you could imagine, it is clear that in the 21st century security is threatened increasingly by unconventional risks, be they terrorism, narcotics and people smugglers cyber attacks and criminal networks. And, for our pacific island neighbours, the unconventional security risk presented by climate change is becoming increasingly real. All these issues can only be addressed by multilateral collective responses and they are already on the agenda of the Security Council.

I believe that in a country like New Zealand there is a real convergence of interest between the peace and justice community, the business community and the security community, and that it makes real sense for all of them to be strongly behind our determined race to win a seat on the Security Council.

Government utilising Shearer’s strengths

Ironically David Shearer’s strengths are being utilised by the National Government for the good of the country, in contrast to Labour’s disastrous elevation of Shearer to a role he totally unsuited to and didn’t like.

Newstalk ZB reports David Shearer taps his UN contacts:

David Shearer is back on his old stomping ground in New York, pushing New Zealand’s case for a seat on the Security Council.

He’s doing so at the request of Foreign Minister Murray McCully, who’s asked him to tap his old UN and diplomatic contacts.

Mr Shearer says he’s working in the country’s best interests, and a bipartisan view is needed.

The last time New Zealand had a seat was in 1994, when Mr Shearer was in Rwanda.

“And we took a very strong stance against Rwanda and what was going on. People really acknowledged and recognised it and I felt as a New Zealander being on the ground there incredibly proud.”

Mr Shearer says New Zealand can do the same again.

This was a smart move by McCully who has recognised Shearer’s strengths, and it’s good to see Shearer putting the interests of the country before the petty politics many opposition MPs indulge in.

Like all MPs Shearer was elected to represent and work for the country. This enables him to make a worthwhile contribution.

The country benefits. Shearer also benefits – apart from doing something useful he is gaining valuable experience. Should Labour lead the next Government Shearer will be better prepared to step up to a ministerial role.

This sort of bipartisan co-operation may (or may not) be common but it isn’t seen by the public.

An important role of opposition MPs is to hold Government to account and question problems and bad policies. But that doesn’t mean they should be always negative, nitpicking, opposing just to be contrary.

All MPs in Parliament should be working for the best interests of the country as a priority.

So it’s good to see Shearer doing this.

Street clarifies aid money question

On Thursday Radio New Zealand reported that Maryan Street, Labour’s associate foreign affairs spokesperson, was critical of the Government campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council.

Labour criticises UN bid as Shearer lobbies for support

The Labour Party has criticised the Government’s UN Security Council campaign at the same time as its foreign affairs spokesperson David Shearer is in New York lobbying for support.

I posted on this yesterday – Labour foreign affairs disconnect.

Maryan Street has responded to that:

I didn’t criticise the SC bid. I support it. I think Shearer is doing good work in NY right now.

What I did ask, in case you are interested in the facts, was whether or not there was a firewall between our disbursement of foreign aid and the SC bid campaign. In other words, has McCully been using aid money to lubricate our SC bid. A legitimate question.

John Allen said no, he hasn’t. Good answer.

Radio NZ reported it as criticism and it could be seen as a dig at McCully and raises an issue that wouldn’t help the bid Street makes it clear she accepts Allen’s assurance that it isn’t happening.

Street also makes it clear that she supports what Shearer is doing and supports the Security Council bid.

Labour foreign affairs disconnect

Another example of two Labour MPs working against each other, but this time it’s the spokesperson and the associate spokesperson for foreign affairs at odds.

Labour criticises UN bid as Shearer lobbies for support

The Labour Party has criticised the Government’s UN Security Council campaign at the same time as its foreign affairs spokesperson David Shearer is in New York lobbying for support.

At a parliamentary select committee, Mr Shearer’s associate foreign affairs spokesperson, Maryan Street, raised questions about the Government’s use of foreign aid in its campaign for a seat on the Security Council in 2015-16.

Mr Shearer was, meanwhile, lobbying representatives of the Palestinian Authority and Somalia, among others, at the United Nations. He says New Zealand’s bid is based on its reputation as a small country with an independent foreign policy.

The chief executive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, John Allen, dismisses Ms Street’s suggestion aid is being used to win a Security Council seat.

What is the official Labour position? Who speaks for Labour on this? Or do individual MPs say whatever they like.