Is NZ still actually a "good global citizen"?

A speech last Wednesday by Michael Woodhouse had a poignant relevance to a landmark conference at Otago University this weekend and New Zealand’s leading United Nations role in July.

Woodhouse, who is Minister of Immigration, was marking world refugee day. He waxed lyrical that New Zealand, as a “good international citizen”, “takes our responsibilities to provide protection to refugees extremely seriously”. His evidence: we are taking “up to” 100 Syrian refugees.

The New York Times reported on June 8 that 4 million Syrians of the 11 million uprooted by violence since 2011 are now outside Syria. They make up 20% of Jordan’s current population.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees calculates that worldwide nearly 14 million were displaced by violence or extreme economic hardship in 2014 alone. That brought the total displaced to 59.5 million, half of them children.

Most who have left their countries are in poor countries.

New Zealand takes a total of around 1100 a year.

Woodhouse is in top rich-nation company. A New York Times editorial on June 13 lambasted the United States government for taking fewer than 1000 Syrian refugees. The United States population is more than 70 times New Zealand’s. Poor Ethiopia and Kenya have taken more than rich Britain and France.

One point in Woodhouse’s defence is that, as he said, most refugees would far prefer to go home than have to fit in to a foreign culture. And he said the United Nations praised the work New Zealand puts in to settle those it does take.

Woodhouse is also in august company in Dunedin. The organisers of the fiftieth annual Otago Foreign Policy School this coming weekend on “New Zealand and the World: Past, Present and Future” did not think the mass global movement of migrants and refugees was worth a session.

Go back to the United Nations: migration and refugees are not high on New Zealand’s priority list for its one-month presidency of the Security Council in July.

The primary focus will be on getting big nations to listen to small island developing states of the Pacific, the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean and their issues of illegal fishing, irregular migration, money laundering and climate change.

This is indisputably a worthy, relevant initiative. It follows one in 2013 by then United Nations Ambassador Jim McLay to ensure systematic information and seminars for all small states so they could better deploy their missions’ skimpy resources to get value from the myriad meetings and programmes. That helped McLay get a stunningly high vote for the council post.

McLay’s replacement as ambassador, Gerard von Bohemen, will also aim to get council representatives offsite for an informal discussion to get more openness in the way it operates, especially its five permanent veto-wielding members.

All this is in keeping with New Zealand’s self-presentation as a “good global citizen”, disinterestedly helping to resolve conflicts. An element is the attempt, derided in the Israeli media, to mediate in the Israel-Palestine standoff.

But is New Zealand actually such a good global citizen? Not on refugees, with a quota of 750*. Not on climate change, the perfunctory “consultation” on the modest target for the Paris December talks tells us. Not on peacekeeping, where numbers are way down from 20 years ago.

There is a whiff of excuse: “global” is changing. The world to be explored by the foreign affairs experts this weekend is not what it used to be.

Geoff Gallop of the Graduate School of Government at the University of Sydney wrote in February: “The distinction between the global and the local is collapsing under the pressure of climate change, economic restructuring, global migration and jihadism on the one hand and the populist and information technology revolutions on the other.”

Citizens of the internet are in a sense global citizens, buying, selling, betting, ordering taxis, hotels and meals. National borders decreasingly confine them.

Consequently, “trade” isn’t what it used to be. The core thrust of the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, from the United States negotiators’ (as distinct from Democratic Congressmen’s) point of view, is to align regulatory policy. Tariffs on agriculture, while critical to New Zealand, are secondary.

And “security” isn’t what it used to be. Australia is tightly allied to the United States through ANZUS, the tripartite treaty we were kicked out of 30 years ago. But Geoffrey Barker, no soft-left peacenik, asked on the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s website earlier this month if ANZUS was past its use-by date.

He predicated this “perhaps heretical” question on the United States’ “seemingly chronic and recurring political, economic and social malaise” and the rise of the “economic and military power of China … in an increasingly multipolar world”.

He might have said “increasingly disordered world”. Which includes displaced millions. And would logically make for gripping discussion this weekend.

* The quota is 750, to which are added family reunifications.