Former Commonwealth Secretary- General and New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Sir Donald McKinnon has appealed to political leaders to maintain their nations’ relationships with “like minded countries” and resist the trend towards isolationism.
Sir Donald made the appeal at the fundraising dinner of Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn’s Catholic Caring Foundation on September 20 at the Pompallier Diocesan Centre in Ponsonby.
“These institutions like the European Union, like NAFTA, have given us 70 years of peace,” he said. “Let’s not see them broken up. Let us continue to ensure that we are among those countries that want to build them up.”
Sir Donald said there has been an emergence of autocrats in various parts of the world who want to break up international agreements and organisations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) that has served the world so well.
Sir Donald noted that “the number of democracies dropped from 145 in 2000 to about 90 by 2017”.
He traced the breakdown of democracies to the global financial crisis of 2007-2008.
“Around the world, this really shook all those western democracies who couldn’t believe all their systems that they thought were in place failed,” he said.
“But the response to that was something we never really wanted to see. We have a number of leaders emerging saying, ‘this can’t be happening here, give me the reins of power and I will restore your faith in democracy’.”
He warned that this situation is dangerous “because we are then pulling back from the very values that sustained us for such a long time”.
He said this situation is not helped by US President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” policy.
Sir Donald observed that Mr Trump, instead of trying to solve the United States’ problems internally, is “beating up someone outside their country” by trying to break away from trade agreements and breaking up the European Union.
“As long as countries feel they have to put walls around them and go it alone, the challenges become enormous,” he said.
Sir Donald said New Zealand came out of the global financial crisis largely unscathed. However, he said, we will eventually feel the impact.
“We can only survive if we hold hands with other countries, like-minded countries. [This is] why we support and actively encourage trade with Pacific Islands, why we support being a member of APEC, why we support being a member of ASEAN.
“Because we can enlarge our voices, we can magnify our voices when we are a part of a group,” he said.
Last July, Sir Donald was one of 16 former foreign ministers who signed an open letter to US President Donald Trump expressing concern “about the deteriorating relationship between the United States and its Western allies”.
The group, which called itself the Aspen Ministers’ Forum, is composed of former foreign ministers in the 1990s who meet regularly and discuss international threats to security and prosperity.
It includes former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.