Team politics on the world stage
By political convention, the major parties shelve their differences when it comes to foreign affairs and security matters.
On the world stage, they’re team players. That’s one reason why National Prime Minister John Key has been so solidly behind former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark in her attempt to win the top job at the United Nations.
Under a less obvious convention, the travelling media also face informal pressures to be positive on matters affecting the national good.
Therefore, it was not entirely unexpected that the PM’s New York visit last week generated headlines back home such as ‘‘John Key warns US of risks in failing to ratify TPP’’ even though the speech in question basically recycled what United States president Barack Obama said in a Washington Post article five months ago.
In fact, the claimed ‘‘risk’’ that China could reap the geo-political rewards of a failure to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement has been something Obama administration officials have been telling Congress in vain for the past fifteen months.
However, headlines such as ‘‘Key repeats Obama warnings on TPP’’ wouldn’t have quite the same pizzazz.
Key’s media coverage of his New York visit was entirely consistent with a recurring theme of our national self-image: namely, that we are a courageous small nation that speaks truth to power, and punches above our weight on the world stage.
Last week, we got a double serving of this form of national comfort food. At the United Nations, Foreign Minister Murray McCully also seemed keen to play the role of the principled little battler, telling it like it is.
For the last time during our current stint on the 15-member Security Council, New Zealand was chairing the proceedings.
Resolving the war in Syria would never be easy.
Yet talking about Syria at the United Nations struck McCully as the right thing to do.
Supposedly, the ceasefire breakdown that made success ‘‘much more challenging’’ also ‘‘made it that much more right’’ to keep on talking.
McCully’s bromides on Syria came the day after Russia had accused the United States of refusing to provide the Council with the full set of documents outlining the details of the Russian/American ceasefire deal.
The Security Council meeting McCully was chairing was at risk of talking, it seemed, without being fully informed on exactly what it was talking about.
The ceasefire deal has since
Headlines such as "Key repeats Obama warnings on TPP" wouldn't have quite the same pizzazz.
disintegrated amidst deadly titfor-tat airstrikes.
A coalition airstrike killed 60 to 80 Syrian Army troops, and a Russian/Syrian air strike killed 20 humanitarian aid workers.
Recriminations and denunciations have ensued. It was important, Key said, that the United Nations did what it had to do, but without indicating what he thought that might be, beyond somehow bringing peace to the devastated country.
Gestures on humanitarian aid aside, not even the glimmerings of a viable, long term framework for resolving the Syrian conflict currently exist.
Ultimately then, last week’s events seemed more like a media pageant, in which our PMgot to talk about Important Things in Important Places to Very Important People.
Still, on this occasion at least, we were shadow-boxing above our weight.