New Zealand and the United Nations

Page 3 – Participation in the United Nations

Despite the shortcomings of the League of Nations, New Zealand was willing to maintain its commitment to the principles of collective security when the United Nations was formed in 1945. Up to the outbreak of the Second World War New Zealand had looked to Britain for foreign policy leadership, but Japan's march through Southeast Asia and the Pacific changed this attitude. New Zealand's ratification of the Statute of Westminster in 1947 confirmed that the New Zealand Parliament alone had the power to make laws for the country. As such, New Zealand's participation in the UN was undertaken on its own terms.

New Zealand has been heavily involved with some key social and economic UN agencies, providing personnel and financial assistance to organisations such as:

  • World Health Organisation (WHO)
  • Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
  • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)
  • United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

In addition it has contributed to the six principal organs of the UN to help achieve the primary aims of the organisation: 

1. The General Assembly

The assembly is where all member states of the UN meet to discuss issues of international law and make decisions on the functioning of the organisation.

New Zealand's Sir Leslie Munro was president of the General Assembly during 1957.

2. The Security Council

The Security Council's main task is to maintain international peace and security. It has 15 members, of whom 5 are permanent and 10 are elected.

When the UN was first established, the so-called great powers wanted the power of veto over any decisions made by the organisation as a whole. This was their price for agreeing to become members. A major weakness of the earlier League of Nations was that some of the key powers were not members. New Zealand campaigned vigorously against granting the great powers the right of veto and joined many other small countries in abstaining from the vote that gave the 'Permanent Members' of the Security Council (China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States) this power. New Zealand's stand, while unsuccessful, ensured that the opinions of some of the world's smaller countries were heard.

New Zealand has consistently opposed the extension of the veto to any new members of the Security Council. It has also called for reform of the Council to reflect the new political and economic realities of the 21st century.

Over the last six decades New Zealand has responded readily to calls from the Security Council. In 1950 it sent 2000 troops and two frigates to the Korean peninsula in response to a request for help in providing armed forces against North Korea. (See New Zealand forces in Asia 1949–72).

New Zealand has also played a significant role in many UN peacekeeping missions, including recent missions in Timor-Leste (East Timor). New Zealand has served on the Security Council on four occasions: 1954–55, 1966, 1993–94 and 2015–16.

3. The Economic and Social Council

The Economic and Social Council assists the General Assembly in promoting international economic and social co-operation and development.

In the 1940s Prime Minister Peter Fraser played an important part in making this council a principal body of the UN. He recognised that peace and security had to address broader economic and social issues.

4. The Trusteeship Council

The Trusteeship Council was established to help territories that had previously been colonies of other states to move towards independence. One example was Western Samoa. As a former German colony, it had been administered by New Zealand as a result of a League of Nations mandate granted in 1919. The trusteeship system established by the UN was strongly supported by New Zealand. Western Samoa gained independence in 1962.

The Trusteeship Council suspended operations in 1994 when Palau, the last remaining UN trust territory, became independent.

5. The International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice, often referred to as the World Court, is the principal judicial organ of the UN. It is based in the Peace Palace at The Hague, Netherlands.

In 1973 the New Zealand and Australian governments took France to the World Court in an attempt to ban French nuclear tests at Mururoa Atoll in the Pacific. France ignored the Court's ruling that they cease testing, although in 1974 the new French president, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, ordered the tests be moved underground.

6. The Secretariat

The Secretariat carries out the day-to-day work of the UN. At its head is the secretary-general who is appointed by the General Assembly, on the recommendation of the Security Council, for a five-year renewable term.