Why NZ must take more international responsibility

New Zealand should make a pitch for change at the United Nations, write Robert G Patman and Laura Southgate.

Brutal intra-state conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Gaza and Ukraine highlight a new reality in the 21st century - small states like New Zealand will have to assume more international responsibility as great-power leverage diminishes in an increasingly interconnected world.

But there is a paradox. While the number of national problems requiring international solutions is growing, many sovereign states, particularly the most powerful ones, remain in denial about this and so the international means for addressing these challenges remains weak and incomplete.

As a contender for a place on the UN Security Council, New Zealand must offer a vision of leadership that addresses the current marginalisation of the organisation and makes the UN a more effective institutional structure for managing security in an interdependent world.

Like many other states, New Zealand cannot but be affected by these recent conflicts.

In June 2014, members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria - a major source of armed resistance to the Assad dictatorship - crossed the Syrian border into Northern Iraq, and quickly captured large portions of Iraqi territory and US arms.

Areas under its control have apparently witnessed the persecution of Christians, Kurds and Shi'ites and the recent issuing of a ''fatwa'' that all girls and women in around Mosul are to undergo female genital mutilation.

Meanwhile, on July 8, Israel launched a massive air and ground offensive against neighbouring Gaza to silence terrorist attacks from the Hamas regime there.

More than 1300 Palestinians, including large numbers of civilians, have been killed in this campaign, while Israel has lost 56 soldiers in this conflict.

Furthermore, political turbulence in Ukraine prompted the Putin regime to use force to protect its interests.

In March, Russia annexed the Crimea and subsequently supported an armed rebellion by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, a development linked to the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17.

These conflicts hold significant economic and diplomatic implications for New Zealand.

According to recent data, oil imports are necessary to meet about 70 per cent of New Zealand's needs, and 24 per cent of crude oil imports are supplied from the Middle East.

The current turmoil in the region is likely to increase the global market price of oil in the near future, and that will be bad news for New Zealand and other countries.

In addition, the fallout from the Ukraine conflict has complicated discussions on a New Zealand-Russia free trade agreement and involved two of Wellington's major trade partners - the European Union and the United States - in a diplomatic confrontation with the Kremlin.

At the same time, the proliferation of conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine represent a significant erosion of the idea of a rules-based international order and a fundamental challenge to New Zealand's foreign policy's core agenda.

In the post-1945 era, New Zealand has traditionally championed principles like the rule of law and human rights, and consistently backed the UN - the leading multilateral institution - to uphold these principles.

It should be pointed out New Zealand did not agree with the US decision to bypass the UN Security Council in order to go to war with Iraq in 2003, arguing that bypassing the Security Council set a ''new and dangerous precedent''.

More recently, in a September 2012 speech to the UN General Assembly, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully strongly argued the continued failure of the UN Security Council to deal with atrocities in Syria was a compelling reason ''for us to ask the permanent five to voluntarily accept restrictions of the use of the veto''.

Specifically, McCully called on the permanent five to use their veto only when their vital national interests are at stake.

Diplomatic efforts at the UN Security Council to address the Syria crisis have been repeatedly vetoed by Russia and China.

The burgeoning conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Gaza and Ukraine are testimony to the impotence of the UN Security Council, an institution where great powers still attempt, often with disastrous results, to extract partisan advantage from conflict situations over which they have little or no control In this context, New Zealand must remind the world the current veto system in the UN Security Council no longer serves the interests of international stability or justice, and that Wellington seeks a seat on the Security Council to help correct an institutional shortcoming that has paralysed the UN in the face of some of the most dangerous international conflicts.

- Robert Patman is professor of international relations and Laura Southgate a PhD student in the department of politics at the University of Otago.