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NEW ZEALAND MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE: An Eye, an Ear and a Voice: New Zealand's Changing Place in the World, Proceedings of the 75th Anniversary Conference.

NEW ZEALAND MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE An Eye, an Ear and a Voice: New Zealand's Changing Place in the World, Proceedings of the 75th Anniversary Conference

Editor: Bryan Lynch

Published by: New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, Wellington, 2019, 308pp, $35.

New Zealand has in recent years been well served with analyses of its international relations. This volume, edited by Bryan Lynch, who has developed something of a niche as editor of collected papers, adds to the canon and does it well: albeit differently from its recent predecessors.

Seventy-five years is a notable landmark for any organisation and it is fitting that it is celebrated through a thematic consideration of New Zealand's pathway from international neophyte to, at least, a confident and mature presence on the world stage. (It is, though, curious that the 50th anniversary was celebrated with a book with almost the same title--catchy and relevant though the title is.)

This book, unlike its 50th anniversary predecessor (which primarily involved previous departmental heads discussing their time as chief executive and with additional material on Maori and on the role of women in the diplomatic life), takes contributions from a wide range of past and present politicians, officials and scholars and covers, in 27 substantive contributions, a range of topic areas such as New Zealand's relations with major powers, with the Pacific, with Asia and through trading relations.

There are also contributions on the roles Maori have played within MFAT and in the development of the country's foreign policy, on diversity within the ministry and on the way ahead. All of this is supported by reminiscences from former prime ministers Clark and Bolger and a keynote speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Winston Peters. Additionally, Ian McGibbon has written a conference report, previously published in this journal (vol 45, no 1) and included in the volume, that outlines most of the substantive issues covered by the conference. The volume ends with speeches made at the separate 75th anniversary reunion of MFAT support staff that followed the conference.

McGibbon's conference report almost makes a separate review. For those who want only the broad outline, this is all that needs to be read. McGibbon references the 'ubiquitous mihi' prefacing all contributions other than that from Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peters, who is himself, as McGibbon also notes, Maori. If McGibbon is correct, then the papers have been edited lightly but not systematically, because many of the contributions as published do not include any form of mihi.

The contributions cover some common themes: of professionalism; of values; of working with others, both within the ministry and internationally; of punching above our weight (an overused cliche); of the personal element in diplomacy; and of the need for applied and grounded common sense when working in the international environment. All sensible and all points worth making. Overall, the impression left is of an institution that is both introspective, in the good sense of thinking about itself in terms of what works and what does not, and expansive in that it understands the need to be properly represented, resourced and skilled to meet the demands of diplomacy in the current environment, whether that 'current' is today or was 30 years ago. We can learn from the past and on the evidence of this volume we do.

Those looking for detailed analysis of issues should not search here. Instead, and perhaps more usefully given the relative dearth of informal material in the public record, we get the colour of diplomacy. We get the personal background to Bougainville peace talks from John Hayes. We get reflections on Pacific diplomacy from Gerald Hensley. We get insights on practical diplomacy from Simon Murdoch; indeed from all the practitioners. All are interesting and rarely found in more formal studies of either diplomacy or foreign policy. This element of personal insight makes the volume more rather than less useful. Scholarly contributions from Robert Ayson, Anna Powles, Malcolm McKinnon, Natasha Hamilton-Hart and Roberto Rabel give some added depth to those more individual discussions. Additionally, the politicians, Clark, Bolger and Peters, give insider perspectives from yet another point of view.

Although this is a volume of celebration, there are some hints of self-criticism and of caution. Gerard van Bohemen, past permanent representative at the United Nations and now a High Court judge, reflects on how our 'reputation for espousing principled positions' has caused problems 'when others see us falling short of the standards they expect from us'. Gerald Hensley warns that we must properly conform to the 'Pacific Way' rather than give lip service only, if we wish to be successful in our own region.

A cautionary note is expressed by Malcom McKinnon, who suggested that New Zealand's engagement with the wider Asia-Pacific region is 'thin' rather than 'thick'. This could be a problem, he argues, because the Asia-Pacific region needs commitment from New Zealand and this is more difficult absent 'buy-in' from the population. As he notes, this is an issue that goes wider than the efforts of our diplomats, but developing those social links would be 'a fitting way of buttressing what [the ministry] has achieved in this area of its work'. Helen Clark, for her part, specifically argued that the ministry cannot be run like a commercial corporation: 'in recent years [it] did appear to be somewhat hollowed out, leaving it with significant experience gaps'. Not really self-criticism as she was not 'in recent years' part of the government. This kind of critique, plays a very minor role in the overall collection and understandably so.

Because of the nature of the event and the decision to publish the conference presentations more or less verbatim rather than as formal papers based on the presentations, the volume is a mixed bag. There are purely formal introductory remarks by worthy people alongside sometimes de tailed analyses of issues and events. Inevitable, no doubt, for a report of proceedings rather than a systematic analysis of diplomacy and foreign policy. Tighter editing and the discarding of some of the supporting material might have made for a more focused volume, but overall the blending of the practitioner with the scholarly and the political works to give a more rounded understanding of our foreign policy than we might get from any one approach.

Although rare in this kind of work, an index would have been very useful.


Dr Jim Rolfe is a senior fellow at Victoria University of Wellington's Centre for Strategic Studies.
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Author:Rolfe, Jim
Publication:New Zealand International Review
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Jan 1, 2020
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