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Sovereignty challenged

Sovereign equality of states asserted
Sovereign equality of states assaulted
Support development of the UN

The idea of sovereignty held in 1945, when the United Nations Charter was adopted in San Francisco, is now very seriously weakened, according to a former New Zealand representative to the UN, Colin Keating.

Sovereign equality of states asserted

UN Charter Article 2(1) asserts the sovereign equality of states. Colin Keating says he is sure that “political leaders will continue, as in the past, to dwell when politically necessary on the rights and privileges of sovereignty. So I am not going to declare sovereignty to be dead”.

But he calls on New Zealand to think proactively outside the square. In his address September 11, 2001 – A Year On – Some Implications for the United Nations and for International Law to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, he said that a principled evolution of the UN is in New Zealand’s best interests.

“ We must stand firm behind current UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his reform agenda,” he says, “but also begin to develop a vision of a better UN, lest it be stolen from us as part of a reaction to September 11.”

Sovereign equality of states assaulted

Sovereignty has come under assault, says Colin Keating, because of:

  • a number of quite radical constitutional developments that impact regionally and locally
  • the network of treaty obligations, now regulating wide areas of activity
  • the globalisation of economic, humanitarian, security and environmental concerns
  • groupings of numbers of major States into 'Communities' or 'Unions' (the European Union, North American Free Trade Agreement, Organisation of Arab States)
  • divisions of states into either new states or sections of countries that have many of the characteristics of states (e.g. Scotland, Wales, Cook Islands, Niue)
  • the pooling of law-making and adjudication through regional or global councils, courts and tribunals (Australia-New Zealand ministerial councils, the European Court of Justice, the UN Human Rights Committee)
  • the empowering of minorities and indigenous peoples (in New Zealand’s case, emphasis on the Treaty of Waitangi) in innovative and creative ways far beyond what Charter writers in 1945 could have imagined.

  • All this has had a cumulative impact, “moderating or nuancing the principle of the sovereign equality of states”.

Support development of the UN

Colin Keating says that we absolutely must stop repeating that New Zealand is a small country. We are held in very high regard internationally. Our credentials for leadership are outstanding. We have shown repeatedly in major multilateral contexts (the Law of the Sea, the Uruguay Round, the Security Council in 1993/94 are only a few examples) that New Zealand can make a big difference and can make an impact much greater than countries many times our size.

Secondly, we have to have a vision. A New Zealand vision of the UN should emphasise:

  • an integrated, coherent and efficient UN executive
  • the incorporation of human rights and humanitarian principles into the heart of the Charter
  • the genuine application of the international rule of law, with all that this implies for dispute settlement.

We will also have to decide how to incorporate in our vision the momentum towards international governance machinery based on genuine principles of representative democracy and weighted to provide an incentive for democratic values and the rule of law. As a country, New Zealand is well placed to exercise leadership in developing innovative solutions to manage both the risks and the opportunities of these developing trends.

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