After US President Donald Trump questioned the value of internationalism and the entire concept of the United Nations, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has taken a very different tack in her first address to the General Assembly.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on September 28, 2018

“Any disintegration of multilateralism, any undermining of climate-related targets and agreements, aren’t interesting footnotes in geopolitical history,” Ardern told the assembly. “They are catastrophic.”

Her speech never mentioned Donald Trump by name but was Trump’s tariffs, she said the economic benefits of trade need to be distributed more evenly.

Ardern on internationalism v isolationism

After opening her speech with a Māori salutation, Ardern turned to the effects of globalisation, which she said had been “massive” for many people around the world. In this context, she said international cooperation would be vital for a geographically isolated nation like New Zealand to combat climate change.

Two weeks ago, Ardern met with other Oceania leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum and there was consensus among attendees that climate change was the most pressing security issue in the region with many nations reporting rising sea levels, an increase in extreme weather levels and difficulties in securing crops and water supply.

“While that impact (of globalisation) has been positive for many, for others it has not,” Ardern told the assembly. “The transitions our economies have made have often been jarring, and the consequences harsh. And so amongst unprecedented global economic growth, we have still seen a growing sense of isolation, dislocation, and a sense of insecurity and the erosion of hope.

“As politicians and governments, we all have choices in how we respond to these challenges.”

Ardern’s speech also stressed the importance of collective action and the dangers of leaders fomenting insecurity and xenophobia by blaming the ‘other’.

Ardern urged world leaders to “recommit ourselves to gender equality”

The third woman to be New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Ardern also touched on gender pay gaps and the ongoing problem of domestic violence as she called on world leaders to “recommit ourselves to gender equality” and said she would not celebrate her nation’s achievements on this front while many other women around the world lacked basic opportunities.

Earlier, the 38-year-old Ardern had made history by bringing her three-month-old daughter Neve Te Aroha to the General Assembly. Neve Te Aroha’s ID security pass identified her as the ‘first baby’ of New Zealand.

The New Zealand leader has been a media darling on her trip to the US with a well-received appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.