Nuclear disarmament called for

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta opens the University of Otago’s Foreign Policy School at St...
Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta opens the University of Otago’s Foreign Policy School at St Margaret’s College in Dunedin last night. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
There are many professions in which words matter: journalism, to name one obvious one.

But if you want to consider a profession in which words really, really matter and in which the meaning of them are endlessly pondered over, try diplomacy.

Consider the following phrases; "our good friend"; "our close friend"; "our warm friend". You and I might think that these three things mean exactly the same, but to diplomats and politicians each has a subtly different meaning in the international dance of dragons.

And heaven forfend that it suddenly become "the friendly nation of", "our friend" or "our warm relationship with", language shifts which would have the diplomatic channels burning hot for several days.

The sands that international diplomacy is built on are ever-changing, which is why such seemingly infinitesimal shifts in the vernacular mean something.

And they mean something more than just in the immediate context of relations between country A and country B. Because country B has good, close and warm friends as well, and if country A’s relationship with country B is changing, maybe it is also changing with countries C, D and E.

Then you need to consider that when country A is talking to country B that it may actually be bringing a message from country F ... or that country B only took the meeting because it wants to convey a message from country G to country F, via country A.

See how much fun this is?

All this excitement and more comes to Dunedin once a year, when the University of Otago hosts its annual Foreign Policy School (FPS).

Established in 1966 as a teaching forum the school retains that focus, but it has also developed into one of the main events on the diplomatic calendar. Representatives of many foreign powers pop down for the weekend, both to network but to also pay close attention to the keynote speech of each FPS — the opening remarks of the New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Our foreign ministers do not make many domestic speeches on international affairs for local consumption, so the FPS event is a must-attend event for those who care about such things.

Nanaia Mahuta, like her predecessors, is an annual FPS-goer. This year her speech was somewhat out of the ordinary in that its main focus centred in her lesser-spotted disarmament portfolio.

Each FPS has a theme and this years is "Populism and Global Politics". Ms Mahuta took an extremely wide-angle view on this theme as she discoursed about New Zealand’s long-established anti-nuclear position and the wider concerns of Pacific nations regarding testing, proliferation or — heaven forbid — use of nuclear weapons.

She could have been directly speaking to anyone, but there are six states in the Pacific which have, or claim to have, nuclear weapons — and two which are nearby or have overseas territories in or near the region, so that is a good place to start.

Many have populist leaders, some recently had leaders who have exhibited populist traits, and some may soon once again have leaders who match that description.

Ms Mahuta was not about to openly denounce anyone — this is diplomacy after all — but saying "Russia’s military actions have openly defied established disarmament and humanitarian law norms" is pretty much as direct as it gets.

As does "We cannot rest secure in the shaky belief that those brandishing nuclear weapons will always act predictably and rationally."

Ms Mahuta finished with a rousing call for the elimination of all nuclear weapons, and claiming agency for New Zealand to advocate for disarmament and build a "coalition in support of urgent progress in that sphere."

Now, you might think that these are empty words and that New Zealand carries no such clout on the international stage.

But then recall who Chris Hipkins popped in to have a sausage roll with this week, and that just over a year ago his predecessor Jacinda Ardern was able to snare a meeting with the President of the United States.

We may or may not be country A but we get to talk to country B, and when we do the rest of the alphabet pays attention.

Party time

National’s shadow leader of the House, Dunedin list MP Michael Woodhouse, set up a whale of a shindig on Thursday.

"Can I note," he said to Leader of the House Grant Robertson, "that in the end of that first week back, the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill will celebrate its seventh anniversary, having been reported back from the select committee. Would he agree that the best way to mark that milestone would be with a second reading?"

"I’ll consider what the best way is to commemorate that moment,’ Mr Robertson replied.

"It may well need to involve alcohol."

Saving up

Parliament considered the Thomas Cawthron Trust Amendment Bill — Second Reading on Wednesday, but no-one told Southland National MP Joseph Mooney that the third reading, with no speeches, was also scheduled for that night.

"I think I’m going to have an opportunity to speak in the third and final reading of this Bill, so I’ll save a few more comments till then," he said, only for Barbara Kuriger to break the bad news to him.

"OK, well then," Mr Mooney said, rushing to get his intended later remarks into his final 30 seconds, "Thomas Cawthron, he’s a self-made man who used his considerable fortune to make many gifts to his adopted city, including the steps in front of the church, including helping set up the Nelson School of Music, where I actually was a student at one time as well. So I have a number of connections to this. It’s been a pleasure to speak on it."