New Zealand’s Ardern Continues Tilt Toward the West at the UN

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New Zealand’s Ardern Continues Tilt Toward the West at the UN

The Russia-Ukraine War was a major dividing line at the U.N. General Assembly, and Ardern largely spoke with those of a similar mindset.

New Zealand’s Ardern Continues Tilt Toward the West at the UN

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s 77th session.

Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern intends to continue a more pro-Western foreign policy strategy, if her agenda from a hectic week of diplomacy is anything to go by. She met with four G-7 leaders – Britain’s Liz Truss, the United States’ Joe Biden, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, and France’s Emmanuel Macron – in various settings while she was at Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in London and at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

While at the U.N., Ardern fit in a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and also spoke with Olena Zelenska, the wife of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Ardern also met with the Chilean president, Gabriel Boric, and with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres. There were also shorter, more fleeting meet-and-greet opportunities on the U.N. floor – such as with Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir – and at a U.S.-hosted reception for world leaders, where Ardern talked to Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Ardern addressed Pacific Islands Forum leaders at the launch of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent plan. The expansion of a new U.S.-led grouping, the Partners in the Blue Pacific, also took place while Ardern was in New York. The group also included Australia, Japan, and New Zealand at its launch, but it has now been widened to also bring in Germany and Canada.

Ardern’s ability to attract the attention of top world leaders is well-known and is a measure of her international standing. It was certainly not a one-off: This was her third meeting this year with Biden, and it was her second with Trudeau and Macron, after she was an invited guest at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Madrid in June.

Indeed, the common denominator for many of Ardern’s interlocutors seemed to be their commitment to supporting the Western-led coalition that has emerged from Russia’s war on Ukraine.

In a week in which Russian President Vladimir Putin mobilized 300,000 reservists and indirectly threatened to use nuclear weapons, it is probably no surprise that Ardern sought to show her solidarity through the company she kept. Her speech to the U.N. General Assembly was also very much in keeping with this theme: Ardern called Russia’s war “illegal” and “immoral,” before highlighting New Zealand’s opposition to nuclear weapons.

A notable omission from Ardern’s speech was any mention of the word “food,” which stood out as a major theme in addresses from many countries in the Global South.

India’s foreign minister, S. Jaishankar, said that his country was “on the side of those struggling to make ends meet, even as they stare at the escalating costs of food, of fuel and fertilizers,” while Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos called food “an existential imperative, and a moral one. It is the very basis of human security.”

Indeed, a dedicated food security summit co-hosted by the United States, European Union, African Union, and Spain was held during U.N. leaders’ week. Ardern did not appear to attend the event, which was held on the same day as a “Christchurch Call” leaders’ summit she co-hosted with Emmanuel Macron.

Food security did make it into the U.N. statement made by Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, however, who said the crisis amounted to a “growing scale of human suffering that threatens untold global instability.”

Wong also met with counterparts from a more diverse range of countries than Ardern did – the Australian foreign minister’s agenda in New York included meetings with counterparts from IndiaIndonesiaChinaMexico, and Turkey.

While many leaders choose to attend the U.N. personally, such as Ardern, it is also common for foreign ministers such as Wong to attend in their place. China and Russia were two other countries that dispatched their foreign ministers to New York.

A third strategy is to use both figures – an approach the U.K. pursued by sending both its new Prime Minister Liz Truss and Foreign Secretary James Cleverly. If New Zealand’s aim had been to maximize meeting opportunities after the COVID-19 pandemic, this tactic might have been considered. But Ardern decided to keep Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta back in Wellington, where she welcomed new heads of mission and faced questions over domestic issues.

Back in New York, a key difference between the Global North and Global South at the U.N. unfolded over the approach to the war in Ukraine. Western countries largely pointed fingers at Russia. Biden said “it’s Russia’s war that is worsening food insecurity, and only Russia can end it,” while Truss told her audience that “we will not rest until Ukraine prevails.”

By contrast, non-Western countries such as India, Turkey, and Qatar were keener to contemplate the idea of a negotiated settlement simply to end the war.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pointed to his country’s success in brokering the recent Black Sea grain export deal and called for a “reasonable, just and viable diplomatic solution” to the war that would “provide both sides the opportunity of an ‘honorable exit.’”

Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, even called for an immediate ceasefire – a word rarely used in current discussions about the war in Ukraine.

For his part, India’s Jaishankar argued his country was “on the side of peace” and wanted an “early resolution” to the conflict. He also noted that the global focus on Ukraine meant less attention was being paid to other crises in India’s immediate neighborhood, such as Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.

These calls may fall on deaf ears. With both sides keen on maximizing their positions, a resolution to the war in Ukraine appears further away than ever.

As Ardern inches New Zealand’s foreign policy toward the West, it is understandable that she might want to spend more time with like-minded counterparts. It is natural to stand alongside those who we agree with. But as the U.N. General Assembly showed this year, it is worth remembering that there are many other points of view.

This article was originally published by the Democracy Project, which aims to enhance New Zealand democracy and public life by promoting critical thinking, analysis, debate, and engagement on politics and society.