Crunch time for UN bid

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 07:08 16/06/2014

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OPINION: The stakes are high and it is turning increasingly ugly. Seething beneath the polite diplomacy surrounding New Zealand's bid for a stint on the United Nations Security Council is a story of desperate courtship and dirty tactics. The knives are even out for former prime minister Helen Clark as her name is increasingly touted for the top job at the UN in 2016.

Such is the desperation of three competing nations for a seat on the Security Council - Spain, Turkey and New Zealand - the speculation about Clark is being said by some Government insiders to have played into the hands of our opponents.

There has even been an international whispering campaign that New Zealand only wants the seat to leverage Clark into UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon's job when his term is up.

As Prime Minister John Key prepares for a round of diplomatic speed dating at the UN in New York this week, it's no wonder questions about Ban's successor have become highly sensitive.

But Clark has no truck with suggestions that she may influence the outcome. "New Zealand is running a full-blooded campaign for the security council. I'm not running a full-blooded campaign for anything. The New Zealand campaign should just get on and do its bid."

Clark, of course, first launched New Zealand's bid for the Security Council seat back in 2004. One of the first things she impressed on Key after the change of power was that New Zealand should press on with its bid. National agreed.

But a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. Some long-time diplomatic insiders suggest there were two points at which New Zealand should have considered pulling its bid.

The first was when Turkey declared its hand. In an aggressive campaign for a semi-permanent council presence, Turkey has thrown hundreds of millions of dollars in aid money at its bid, including at Africa - which, with its 53 votes, represents a powerful voting group in the 193-seat UN General Assembly. Turkey has not been afraid either to tread on New Zealand's toes on home ground.

This month, the Turkish Government flew the leaders of 14 Pacific states to Istanbul - ostensibly to discuss areas of co- operation in sustainable development. But no one will have been under any illusion that Turkey is not after Pacific votes.

Key's barnstorming run through the Pacific earlier this month was chiefly aimed at reminding those Pacific nations that our shared history goes back a lot further than Turkey.

But if Turkey's entry to the race was one "break point" during our six-year campaign, a second also had a significant impact. That was Australia's decision to run for a seat first; something viewed as the time-honoured Australian strategy of "doing the dirty" on their trans-Tasman cousin.

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Publicly, the Government would never couch it in those terms. But privately there is an acknowledgement within Government circles that Australia winning a two-year seat in 2013 damaged New Zealand's chances.

Making the pill harder to swallow was the view by some that the Aussie kick in the guts was a personal ploy by former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd to shore up his chances of securing Ban's job for himself.

A more serious concern is Australia reneging on aid promises. A change of government and Tony Abbott's austerity drive have put some of those projects at risk. That could make some UN member states look sideways at New Zealand - a risk our Government counters by saying it has been careful not to make big aid promises that it can't keep.

But while the Government insists it has not been throwing money at the bid, there have been huge resources directed at the campaign, including new diplomatic posts in Africa and the Caribbean, the diversion of considerable resources from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the appointment of several special envoys including former prime minister Jim Bolger and former Commonwealth secretary general Don McKinnon.

The Government has also wooed around 60 UN-based diplomats with all-expenses-paid travel, putting them up at the best and most expensive Kiwi resorts, and hosting them for dinners and wine tasting evenings. One group was hosted at Government House by Key. More are due before the vote in October.

The Government has even flown Labour foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer - a former UN boss - to New York to impress upon diplomats that it will be business as usual, even if there is a change of government.

It is a huge investment for what seems like a fleeting presence on the Security Council. If successful, New Zealand's term would last just two years.

But as Government insiders point out, for those two years we get to sit with the movers and shakers - China, France, the Russian Federation, Britain and, of course, the world's superpower, the United States.

The last time we sat at a table where the stakes were so high was more than 20 years ago. If we miss out, it could be another 20 years before the opportunity comes round again.

- The Dominion Post

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