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.

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