Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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What if it was us?

The title of this post is a question asked by our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in her speech presented to the United Nations General Assembly this morning (New Zealand time). I chose that title as it reflects how I see my position in the world. None of us live in isolation, what harms others harms each of us, no one has the right to impose their values on others, and we do have an obligation to ensure freedom is available to all.

Her speech covers a number of topics including the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, Reform of the UN, climate change, Nuclear weapons and the proliferation of disinformation and disinformation. It’s almost seventeen minutes in length, but I encourage all my readers to listen to it or read the transcription I have included below.

Jacinda Ardern’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly

E ngā Mana, e ngā Reo, Rau Rangatira mā kua huihui mai nei i tēnei Whare Nui o te Ao.
[To the authorities, leaders and representatives gathered in this Great Assembly of the World].

Ngā mihi maioha ki a koutou katoa, mai i tōku Whenua o Aotearoa.
[Warm greetings to you all from my home country of New Zealand].

Tuia ki runga, Tuia ki raro, ka Rongo to pō ka rongo te ao.
[Unite above, unite below, unite together and listen as we come together].

 Nō reira, tēnā koutou kātoa
[I acknowledge you all]

Mr President,
Mr Secretary-General,
Friends,

I greet you in te reo Māori, the language of the tangata whenua, or first people, of Aotearoa New Zealand. I acknowledge the leaders who are here, gathered in person after a long and difficult period.

And as is tradition, in my country, I also acknowledge those who have passed.

Loss brings with it a chance for reflection.

And as leaders, between us, we each represent countries and communities who have lost much in these past few years. Through famine, severe weather, natural disasters and a pandemic.

COVID-19 was devastating. It took millions of lives. 

It continues to impact on our economies and with that, the well-being of our people. It set us back in our fight against the crisis of climate change and progress on the sustainable development goals while we looked to the health crisis in front of us.

And while we enter a period now where the crisis is subsiding, the lessons cannot.

COVID schooled us.

It forced us to acknowledge how interconnected and therefore how reliant we are on one another.

We move between one another’s countries with increasing ease. We trade our goods and services. 

And when one link in our supply chain is impacted, we all are.

The lessons of COVID are in many ways the same as the lessons of climate change.

When crisis is upon us, we cannot and will not solve these issues on our own.

The next pandemic will not be prevented by one country’s efforts but by all of ours. Climate action will only ever be as successful as the least committed country, as they pull down the ambition of the collective.

I am not suggesting though that we rely on the goodwill of others to make progress. 

We need a dual strategy. One where we push for collective effort but we also use our multilateral tools to make progress.

That’s why on pandemic preparedness we support efforts to develop a new global health legal instrument, strengthened international health regulations and a strong and empowered World Health Organization.

It’s why we are such advocates of the World Trade Organization and its reform to ensure supply chains remain open and critical goods and services are not subjected to protectionism in times of need.

It’s why we have worked so hard within the Paris Agreement to see the action we need on climate, while also doing our bit at home including putting a 1.5C warming limit into law, increasing our NDC to 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and quadrupling our climate finance commitment.

Whether it’s climate, trade, health crisis or seeking peaceful solutions to war and conflict – New Zealand has always been a believer in multilateral tools.

We were amongst the founding members of the United Nations as governments of the day recognised that the perils of war would only be avoided through a greater sense of shared responsibility.

The basis on which this institution was formed, remains as relevant today as it was then.

But without reform, we risk irrelevancy.

There is perhaps no greater example of this than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Let us all be clear, Russia’s war is illegal. It is immoral.

It is a direct attack on the UN Charter and the international rules-based system and everything that this community should stand for.

Putin’s suggestion that it could at any point deploy further weapons that it has at their disposal reveals the false narrative that they have based their invasion on. What country who claims to be a liberator, threatens to annihilate the very civilians they claim to liberate?

This war is based on a lie.

But I recognise, that for the people of Ukraine who have lost loved ones, their sense of peace and security, their livelihoods – these are all just words. 

They need us, as a global community to ask one simple question: “What if it was us?”

Our ability to answer that question with any confidence that we have the tools as a global community to act swiftly and collectively has been severely undermined.

In March when we most needed the UN Security Council to act in the defence of international peace and security, it could not. It did not fulfil its mandate because of one permanent member who was willing to abuse its privileged position.

That was wrong.

We will not give up on the ability of our multilateral institutions to stand up against this illegal war or to take on the many challenges we face. 

These institutions are the ballast we need but it’s a ballast that requires modernisation, fit for the tumultuous waters we all face.

That is why New Zealand was pleased to champion the Veto Initiative. Not only does it provide an opportunity to scrutinise the actions of the permanent member who cast a veto, the Veto Initiative gives the whole UN membership a voice where the Security Council has been unable to act.  

But we continue to call for more than that.

For the United Nations to maintain its relevancy, and ensure that it truly is the voice of the breadth of countries it represents, the veto must be abolished and Permanent Members must exercise their responsibility for the benefit of international peace and security, rather than the pursuit of national interest.

There are other battles that we continue to wage as a nation, including our call for a global response to the use of nuclear weapons.

Our history of championing not just non-proliferation, but a prohibition on nuclear weapons is grounded in what we have witnessed, but also what we have experienced.

We are a nation that is both of the Pacific and within it. 

It was in our region that these weapons of war were tested. Those tests have left a mark on the people, lands and waters of our home.

The only way to guarantee our people that they will be safe from the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons is for them not to exist.

That’s why Aotearoa New Zealand calls on all states that share this conviction to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Some will call such a position naive. Some believe that we are safer as a result of nuclear weapons. 

In New Zealand, we have never accepted the wisdom of mutually assured destruction.

It takes one country to believe that their cause is nobler, their might stronger, their people more willing to be sacrificed. None of us can stand on this platform and turn a blind eye to the fact that there are already leaders amongst us who believe this.

Nuclear weapons do not make us safer.

There will be those who agree but believe it is simply too hard to rid ourselves of nuclear weapons at this juncture. There is no question that nuclear disarmament is an enormous challenge. 

But if given the choice, and we are being given a choice, surely we would choose the challenge of disarmament than the consequences of a failed strategy of weapons-based deterrence.

And this is why we will continue to advocate for meaningful progress on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Progress and consensus that was recently blocked by Russia – and represented a backward step to the efforts of nearly every country in the world to make some even limited progress on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

None of this will stop New Zealand’s advocacy.

We will remain a strong and passionate advocate for efforts to address the weapons of old but, also, the weapons that are new.

The face of war has changed. And with that, the weapons used. The tools used to challenge the statehood of others are hidden and more complex.

Traditional combat, espionage and the threat of nuclear weapons are now accompanied by cyber-attacks, prolific disinformation and manipulation of whole communities and societies.

As leaders, we have never treated the weapons of old in the same way as those that have emerged. And that’s understandable. 

After all, a bullet takes a life. A bomb takes out a whole village. A lie online or from a podium does not.

But what if that lie, told repeatedly, and across many platforms, prompts, inspires, or motivates others to take up arms? To threaten the security of others. To turn a blind eye to atrocities, or worse, to become complicit in them. What then?

This is no longer a hypothetical. The weapons of war have changed, they are upon us and require the same level of action and activity that we put into the weapons of old.

We recognised the threats that the old weapons created. We came together as communities to minimise these threats. We created international rules, norms and expectations. We never saw that as a threat to our individual liberties – rather, it was a preservation of them.

The same must apply now as we take on these new challenges

In Aotearoa New Zealand, we deeply value our right to protest. Some of our major social progress has been brought about by hikoi or people power – becoming the first country in the world to recognise women’s right to vote, movement on major indigenous and human rights issues to name but a few. 

Upholding these values in a modern environment translates into protecting a free, secure and open internet. To realise all of the opportunities that it presents in the way we communicate, organise and gather.

But that does not mean the absence of transparency, expectations or even rules.  If we correctly identify what it is we are trying to prevent.

And surely we can start with violent extremism and terrorist content online.

On March 15, 2019, New Zealand experienced a horrific terrorist attack on its Muslim community. 

More than 50 people were killed as they prayed. The attack was live-streamed on a popular social media platform in an effort to gain notoriety, and to spread hate.

At that time, the ability to thwart those goals was limited. And the chances of Government alone being able to resolve this gap was equally challenging. 

That’s why, alongside President Emmanuel Macron, we created the Christchurch Call to Action.

The Call community has worked together to address terrorism and violent extremist content online. As this important work progresses, we have demonstrated the impact we can have by working together collaboratively.

We’ve improved crisis reactions, stymieing the ability to live stream attacks, we have crisis protocols that kick in to prevent proliferation.

We are also focused on prevention – understanding the interactions between online environment and the real world that can lead to radicalisation. 

This week we launched an initiative alongside companies and non-profits to help improve research and understanding of how a person’s online experiences are curated by automated processes. This will also be important in understanding more about mis and disinformation online. A challenge that we must as leaders address.

Sadly, I think it’s easy to dismiss this problem as one in the margins. I can certainly understand the desire to leave it to someone else. 

As leaders, we are rightly concerned that even those most light-touch approaches to disinformation could be misinterpreted as being hostile to the values of free speech we value so highly.

But while I cannot tell you today what the answer is to this challenge, I can say with complete certainty that we cannot ignore it. To do so poses an equal threat to the norms we all value.

After all, how do you successfully end a war if people are led to believe the reason for its existence is not only legal but noble? How do you tackle climate change if people do not believe it exists? How do you ensure the human rights of others are upheld, when they are subjected to hateful and dangerous rhetoric and ideology?

The weapons may be different but the goals of those who perpetuate them are often the same. To cause chaos and reduce the ability of others to defend themselves. To disband communities. To collapse the collective strength of countries who work together.

But we have an opportunity here to ensure that these particular weapons of war do not become an established part of warfare.

And so, we once again come back to the primary tool we have. Diplomacy, dialogue, working together on solutions that do not undermine human rights but enhance them.

For those who have not sought out the Christchurch Call to Action, I ask that you consider it. As with so many of the challenges we face, we will only be as strong as those who do the least.

In these times, I am acutely aware of how easy it is to feel disheartened. We are facing many battles on many fronts.

But there is cause for optimism. Because for every new weapon we face, there is a new tool to overcome it.

For every attempt to push the world into chaos, is a collective conviction to bring us back to order.

We have the means; we just need the collective will.

Mai i tōku ukaipo Aotearoa, karahuihui mai tātou, nō reira, tēnā tātou kātoa.
[From my homeland, my source of sustenance, to yours, let us come together, all of us].

Nō reira, tēnā kotou, tēnā kotou tēnā tatou kātoa.


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If you’re not aware, today, the 29th of August is The International Day Against Nuclear Tests. Aotearoa New Zealand has long had an anti-nuclear weapons stance, which unfortunately the Prime Minister in the 1980s declared was “not for export”, possibly to appease the American administration at that time. The following is a presentation from Kevin Clements, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago, Aotearoa New Zealand.

The International Day Against Nuclear Tests -29th August 2020 Kevin P Clements Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago As Albert Einstein said “ A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought”. Its vital that every generation accepts this piece of sage advice, especially when […]

via Observing the International Day Against Nuclear Tests. — Kevin’s Peace Musings


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The nuclear argument 34 years on

david_lange_1992

David Lange (Courtesy Archives New Zealand)

In March 1985 the then Prime Minister of New Zealand, David Lange, against all political advice at the time, took part in an Oxford Union debate. He was the key speaker for the affirmative side That all Nuclear Weapons are Morally Indefensible.

He had won the election in July 1984 when the previous National Party government called a snap election after it lost it’s majority over the issue of allowing nuclear powered or armed warships into New Zealand. David Lange and the Labour Party campaigned on prohibiting such ships, and won with a sweeping majority. In 1987 when the anti-nuclear weapons legislation became law, it had the support of 92% of the population.

After thirty-four years, how much of the arguments put forward on both sides are applicable today? One of the affirmative speakers before David Lange touched on the fact the the major powers continued to wage war by proxy rather than by direct confrontation, and in fact nuclear deterrence had made little or no difference to world peace. War by proxy still seems to be a significant factor in many conflicts today.

The following clip contains selected excerpts from David Lange’s speech.

For anyone wishing to watch the whole debate, it can it seen in the next clip. I’ve started the clip at 7:15 in, which is where the debate starts. David Lange’s speech starts at approximately 23:30 if you wish to skip directly to it. A transcript of his speech can be found here.


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The Rainbow Warrior (almost) 30 years on

On the 10th of July 1985 a friendly nation committed an act of terrorism on New Zealand territory. No allies or friendly counties criticised France for the sinking of the Rainbow warrior in Auckland Harbour and the killing of a crew member. Even the United Kingdom sat on its hands as France forced an economic blockade on NZ products into Europe in an effort to gain the release of the convicted terrorists. New Zealand had no option but to capitulate or face economic disaster.

Was it any wonder that less than two years later, 92% of the population supported the anti-nuclear weapons legislation when it was enacted. Many non New Zealanders believe this country is Nuclear Free, It’s not. It’s nuclear weapons free.

The NZ herald has published an on-line feature article Rainbow Warrior – 30 years on that is worth a read if you are unfamiliar with the event.


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Remembering the Rainbow Warrior and the fallout

Rainbow WarriorIt is twenty nine years ago today that the French sank the Rainbow Warrior. The event was a trigger for me and many of my compatriots to reevaluate how we viewed NZ’s relationship with our so-called allies. For those who are unfamiliar with the Rainbow Warrior Affair, I suggest reading the Wikipedia article Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior.

I felt NZ had been betrayed twice. Firstly by France. That a supposedly friendly nation could condemn the sinking as an act of terrorism — when it was in reality guilty of the act itself — was quite appalling. The second betrayal was the refusal of our allies to condemn the sinking once it was discovered that France was the guilty party. Both the U.S. and U.K. made it quite clear that they were not not interested in the sinking, and it was a matter to be resolved between NZ and France.

Even after NZ jailed two of the DGSE agents and NZ was being crippled by France’s blockade of our produce to Europe — mainly the U.K. — neither of our major allies were prepared to comment. To rub salt into the wound, the U.K. bought produce from France without so much as a murmer. A great way to discover who your friends aren’t.

NZ has always had an antinuclear stance but the reaction of our so-called allies shifted our attitude even further against Nuclear weapons. When the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act was passed in 1987, it was supported by 92% of the population.

In the wake of the Rainbow Warrior sinking, the U.S. made the mistake of testing NZ’s antinuclear stance by requesting access to our ports for the USS Buchanan. The ship was capable of launching nuclear depth bombs, and it would have been political suicide for the government to have accepted the visit. How could Reagan have misread NZ’s attitude so soon after the sinking? His reaction to the refusal was certainly not the way to retain a friend.

So how did the the Reagan administration react? They scrapped the ANZUS treaty. We could live with that. Judging by the support NZ received over the Rainbow Warrior affair, it would be a mistake to expect the treaty to be honoured. What was insulting was that NZ envoys were denied access to the U.S. administration. While so-called enemies such as the USSR and China could access the U.S. administration, NZ could not. There were elements of the administration that wanted to punish NZ with trade sanctions: “How dare a little country stand up against us”. Is it any wonder that anti American sentiment rose many fold?

It has taken the U.S. twenty five years to get over their perceived insult by NZ. We are finally allowed to participate in multinational military exercises, and can take part in trade negotiations with the U.S. The American right still want to have trade liberalisation tied to the scrapping of our antinuclear legislation, but it seems that the Obama administration accepts that is not going to happen.

Will NZ and America ever return to the close relationship that existed before 1984? Somehow I doubt it. The fallout from the Rainbow Warrior Affair has seen a profound Change in how NZers see our place in the world. Is it for the better? I’m not sure. Only time will tell.