A potential huge win-win for NZ foreign policy

March 30th, 2009 at 7:07 pm by David Farrar

The Tailor of Panama Street blogs:

As we have posted before, New Zealand is currently running for a seat on the 57 member UN Human Rights Council.  Elections will be held in May and New Zealand is currently one of three candidates for three vacancies that will come in the Western European and Other Group (WEOG).  The other declared candidates are Norway and Belgium.

Now this is not a good thing. The HRC is just as bad as its predecessor that was abolished because it was a repulsive joke. The current Council is more into taking rights away than defending them. It is trying to make it compulsory for countries to ban virulent criticism of religion.

There are signs President Barack Obama may be about to reverse another George W. Bush policy and take a fresh look at the HRC.  Bush shunned the Council, arguing it was biased against Israel and ignored flagrant human rights abusers (indeed, many of its members fall into this categrory).   However, as part of a campaign to improve the US’s image in the world, Obama seems to be taking a more cautiously supportive line.  On 1 March, the US announced it was sending an observer to the Council’s current session, to “use the opportunity to strengthen old partnerships and forge new ones.”  Now, UN scuttlebutt suggests that the US might be looking to run for a spot on the Council in the May elections.

This is a golden opportunity.

So far, so good. There is no doubt that the Council can only benefit from having the US actively engaged. But with four candidates for three WEOG spots, someone is going to miss out.  The Progressive Realist suggests that the US has already sounded out the Belgians to see if they would step down to let Washington run unopposed. No word on this yet, but is it too cheeky to speculate whether New Zealand might offer to step aside for Washington? From Minister McCully’s point of view, wouldn’t this advance two foreign policy goals: improve relations with the new US administration and get out of the foreign affairs equivalent of a “polar bear hug”?

That would be a brillant move. It is the best of all worlds. We escape having to serve on the Council (imagine the shame as we have to explain vote after vote), the US rejoins it (the only country that can temper it a bit) and Uncle Barack and Aunt Hillary owe us a big favour.

Hopefully McCully will make the offer to withdraw to make room for the US to stand, when he meets Clinton.

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