10 Questions with Graham Hassall and Negar Partow


Q1: What prompted you to put this book together?

The book overlaps three areas of interests for both of us: the operation of the United Nations system as a whole; the extent of New Zealand’s engagement with the United Nations system; and the long-term prospects for global security. The accounts of the experiences of New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) personnel provided us the unique opportunity to look in-depth into the challenges and opportunities of small states in the United Nations and its bodies.


Q2: Given the nature of diplomatic work, was it difficult to get people to contribute?

When we put the suggestion to then Foreign Minister Murray McCully in about 2015 he was interested in the idea. Upon completion of New Zealand’s term, we made a specific book proposal to senior MFAT staff. They were immediately enthusiastic. Although most MFAT staff were re-deployed away from UN-related portfolios from 2017, they were keen to record their experiences, and were as forthcoming as possible in their chapters without compromising any ongoing diplomatic relationships.


Q3: How things actually get done, or don’t get done, in the Security Council, and the UN in general, is fascinating. Was there anything from the contributors that surprised you?

Yes! The chapters are disarmingly frank about the impact of intra-Security Council tensions on its ability to respond to global crises, and they provide a fascinating insight into Security Council ‘culture’, such as the relative weight given to the views of its permanent and non-permanent members.

NP: I was surprised to read how shocked the New Zealand delegation were at how the Security Council had transformed into an elite but ineffective body since our last membership in the 1990s. It was also interesting to read how flexible the New Zealand team were in changing their strategy to impact the procedures of the Council. 


Q4: What was the most significant event or outcome during New Zealand’s stint on the Security Council?

New Zealand tried to put in place small, progressive measures, including insisting on accountability and transparency in the Security Council subcommittees. These may not be considered as events but, if sustainable, they often produce the best results in the longer term. 

The most significant finding might not centre on what New Zealand did not or did not ‘achieve’, but on the extent of reform that is required if the Security Council is to reduce conflict and secure peace between the nations, as envisaged in the UN Charter. Throughout New Zealand’s time, for instance, the Council made little headway in resolving the Syrian conflict, or making progress with the Israel-Palestine peace plan, let alone ongoing conflicts across North Africa.

This problem is exacerbated, yet again, by the veto power of the permanent members. Time and time in the book, we read accounts of hours of meetings and negotiations and lobbying, all of which could be either rejected or undermined by a veto vote.

Q5: Do you think the Security Council still has a role to play in international politics?

Yes, since there is no other mechanism at present with comparable authority on a global scale. Having said that, the mana of the Security Council reduces with each failure to solve conflicts. The accounts in the book reveal some systematic and structural problems with the Council, including the lack of appetite to engage with civil societies and organisations that work on the ground in conflict.


Q6: There is mention in the book of the increasingly ‘cold war’ feel in the UN. Was there a shift in great power relations around the time we were on the Council?

For a short period following the end of the Cold War, the global security environment showed tendency towards cooperation and collective security. But over the last two decades inter-Council disagreements and conflicts have significantly undermined collaborative work at Council level. During the time that New Zealand was on the Security Council, the majority of the five permanent members were more interested in bilateral agreements and refrained from participating in multilateral negotiations. Domestically, nearly all five permanent members (United States, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom) have adopted a protectionist approach towards politics and have less determination to focus on international conflicts. The multifold economic security issues that Covid-19 has created will further exacerbate the problems. At the time of writing, three of the five permanent members are facing significant domestic challenges and are increasingly less capable to deal with major international security issues.


Q7: Can small countries play a role at this global level?

The UN is the premier global organization and one quarter of its member countries are ‘small states’. It is therefore important that they are able to have an influence on decision-making and action, and that the views of small states, and their needs, are taken into account. New Zealand is in a unique position of being a relatively small state with a highly developed economy and society, so it provides a link between the larger, more powerful states and the smaller ones. New Zealand is also a ‘fair player’ in international politics and can play a major role in mediation and negotiations in multilateral agreements. Our record of transparency and accountability are major assets for the country’s international credibility.


Q8: What impact will COVID-19 have on the UN and other international bodies?

The global pandemic has shown itself to be a threat to security in many nations, and on a global scale. However, with the Security Council maintaining a traditional stance concerning what counts as a ‘security threat’ (i.e., traditional armed conflict between nations), COVID-19 has been defined as merely a health issue, to be handled by the World Health Organization. Hopefully, reflection on the UN’s response might lead to a re-examination of what counts as a security threat in the mid-21st century, so that pandemics and climate change can be countered through truly global leadership, responses and coordination.

This pandemic will have a significant impact on the UNSC and other UN bodies. The economic fallout will affect the monetary contribution of the main contributors, and countries have closed their borders. They have become more protectionist and less trade is moving around the world. This will mean changes in the way states interact with each other and with the UN.


Q9: What are your current research interests?

GH: My book ‘Government and Public Policy in the Pacific Islands’ is about to be published by Emerald, and an edited work on ‘Social Policy in New Zealand’ is soon to be published by Massey University Press. I will then focus on a study of the United Nations and the Pacific Islands, and a biography of the late Samoan leader Malietoa Tanumafili II.

NP: I have been working on a book proposal on empathy in politics, which is a conceptual investigation on the ways through which politics could be more ethical and empathetic. I am also writing two articles: the politics of sexuality in religio-political movements in the Middle East and the role of emotional resilience in successful political movements.


Q10: We always have a question about what you are reading at the moment, or would like the time to read (!), but also perhaps add watching to this question. A more personal angle.

GH: I am reading Global Governance and the Emergence of Global Institutions for the 21st Century by Augusto Lopez-Claros, Arthur L. Dahl and Maja Groff (Cambridge, 2020). The authors recently won the Global Challenges Foundation’s ‘New Shape’ prize for an essay on realistic steps that can be taken toward improving global governance.

NP: I am reading a couple of books at the moment, one is Political Philosophy, Empathy and Political Justice by Matt Edge (Routledge, 2017). I am also enjoying reading Auē by Becky Manawatu.