2010 TOP TEN

Thank you to readers who sent messages about the 2012 Top Ten list that I posted a couple months ago. I always welcome comments and other feedback, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your impressions of the year gone by. I was also pleasantly surprised that quite a few folks inquired why I did not do a Top Ten list in 2010. Lest anyone think I slighted my first full year in office, I note that I did write a year-end summary of sorts in December 2010.

I wouldn’t want you to think that I found 2010 lacking in any way. Quite the contrary. It was a dynamic, exciting, highly productive year … in many respects a necessary reboot that paved the way for the significant work done in 2011 and 2012. So, to correct my omission then, I share now a more structured list of the efforts in which the American Mission played a meaningful role that most significantly contributed to positive momentum in U.S. relations with New Zealand and Samoa in 2010:

10. Ambassador’s Blog

At the risk of appearing unduly self-focused, the tenth slot on this highlight list goes to my own blog, launched on March 14, 2010. The blog was the first and most visible sign of the Embassy’s vigorous new focus on social media and other forms of nontraditional diplomatic engagement. It was a risky, time-intensive experiment, but even in its first year it accomplished what we hoped it would, expanding and diversifying our audience.

Duane, Dora, Joe, Liz, and me.

The blog is about personal moments as well as policy. Here, with my spouse, mother-in-law, Vice President, and mother, just before being sworn in.

Perhaps most importantly, the blog demonstrated within the Embassy the depth of front-office commitment to new forms of communication, which made subsequent steps a bit easier. For purposes of this list, the blog represents the large amount of work undertaken in 2010 to create the broad, deep, vibrant cyber engagement programs that have now become fully integrated, organic parts of how the American Missions in New Zealand and Samoa operate.

9. Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases

Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases

The first Senior Officials’ Meeting of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA) convened in Wellington in April 2010, with representatives from 29 nations. We arranged a large American delegation co-headed by Dr. Roger Beachy (the director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture) and me.

An idea first floated by New Zealand the prior year, the GRA was designed to develop science-based methods of producing substantially more food while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector. The Senior Officials’ Meeting was organized to organize the effort. We worked with the Government of New Zealand to insure a successful launch of the enterprise, with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack committing up to US $90 million in funding over four years.

8. Visit of Special Representative Farah Pandith

One of the Embassy’s core themes for the year was highlighting, embracing, and engaging diversity, Kiwi as well as American. A key part of our inclusive outreach program was bringing to New Zealand the State Department’s Special Representative to Muslim Communities, Farah Pandith, for community meetings, school visits, and other events in Wellington, Hamilton, and Auckland.

Farah Pandith

Farah Pandith talking with students in Wellington.

Farah is a passionate and articulate interlocutor, and has extensive experience in foreign policy, including at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Security Council. She was generous to us with her time, and we put her through a packed schedule that helped pave the way for additional visits and important work in the two years thereafter.

7. Independence Day Receptions

To be frank, when I arrived I had no idea what a national day was supposed to look like in polite diplomatic circles. The couple of others I attended involved harp music and trade statistics, which seemed a bit odd. So, for my first Ambassadorial Fourth of July, we decided to throw a party celebrating the great diversity that has always defined, distinguished, and strengthened America, and that is increasingly defining New Zealand.

The Topp Twins making an impertinent guest appearance by video.

The Topp Twins making an impertinent Independence Day guest appearance.

Our guests were greeted with a rock-n-roll montage of American history and culture, tastings of a half dozen of Kentucky’s finest whiskey brands, performances by Pacific island students, prayers by clergy from a local mosque and Anglican parish, taped welcomes by Secretary Clinton and others, a comedy video by New Zealand’s favorite lesbian rabble-rousers (the Topp Twins), and a cheeky speech (by the Ambassador) devoid of trade statistics. Our 2010 Independence Day places on the Top Ten list because it demonstrated unequivocally that we weren’t your grandfather’s Embassy any longer.

6. Joint Commission on Science and Technology Cooperation

The sixth spot on the list goes to one of the first major events that we facilitated after my arrival, a week-long series of meetings of the U.S.-New Zealand Joint Commission on Science and Technology Cooperation. Starting with working sessions around the country, the Commission proceedings concluded with a couple days of plenary sessions at Te Papa in Wellington.

Joint Commission on Sci. and Tech.

NZ Minister of Research, Science, and Technology Dr. Wayne Mapp addresses the Joint Commission.

The Commission had not convened since its inaugural gathering 20 years ago. As part of a renewed commitment to expanding the already substantial cross-border collaboration in matters of science, we brought a high-level delegation that included Dr. Arden Bement (Director of the National Science Foundation), Dr. Steven Koonin (Under-Secretary in the Department of Energy), Dr. Nina Fedoroff (Science & Technology Adviser in the Department of State), and a dozen other senior researchers and officials. Progress was made, and the Commission convened again last year, this time in Washington, DC.

5. Ambassador’s First Trip to Samoa

One of the great highlights of the year was my inaugural visit to Samoa to present my credentials to His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi Efi. Yes, the trip was exciting and enjoyable, but it also provided the information and experience necessary to formulate the aggressive plan that we have been implementing in Embassy Apia since then. I sprinted through a packed schedule including a long discussion with the Head of State about Samoan history and culture, a visit to a primary school to talk with teachers and see a computer training room that we had outfitted …

In the computer lab we provided to Samoa Primary School in Apia.

In the computer lab that we outfitted for Samoa Primary School in Apia.

… a roundtable discussion with National University of Samoa students, a community event at the American Corner we created at Apia’s public library, dinner with our Peace Corps volunteers to learn about their work and experiences, discussions at the Samoa AIDS Foundation, an afternoon with the crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Walnut digging foundations for fales in a village hit hard by the prior year’s tsunami, meetings with village elders and clergy on Savai’i, and conversations with numerous Government officials, NGO leaders, and my Embassy Apia colleagues. It was time extremely well spent.

4. Connecting Young Leaders Conference

Among the most important efforts of 2010 was formation of student adviser groups at universities in New Zealand as part of our new youth engagement program. The work built toward an exciting conference in October of that year that brought my advisers from around the country together for policy discussions with opinion leaders and experts, leadership training, networking, and brainstorming, including special appearances by a couple of my Washington colleagues by video feed. An absolutely exhilarating experience, the two days validated the new program, generated incredible enthusiasm and energy, and produced feedback that we used to revise and refine our approach.

Dr McWaine and me with some of my student Advisors at my Residence after the Connecting Young Leaders Conference.

With Dr. McWaine and a few of my student advisers at the Residence after the closing dinner of the Connecting Young Leaders Conference.

As I stated at the time, “[T]he goal of the conference was to bring a few dozen special people together, apply a little stimulation, let them talk among themselves, and then see what happens. What happened during the weekend was, not surprisingly, great. Now let’s see what happens in the future as these newly interconnected young leaders move forward…” Part of what happened is that we’ve expanded our adviser groups, updated all of our Embassy and Consulate General invitation lists to include Kiwis under age 30, held a second successful Connecting Young Leaders Conference, and created a full-time staff position dedicated to university engagement.

3. Ambassador’s Trip to Antarctica

That my first trip to Antarctica only places third on this list is a sign of just how incredibly productive and exciting 2010 was. From a personal standpoint, the experience remains one of the absolute highlights of my life thus far. With respect to work, the expedition contributed greatly to our reorientation of Embassy efforts around science-related projects, a commitment that has continued to grow since then. The trip energized our social media platforms with compelling reports and stunning photos, and helped us build closer relationships with the U.S. Antarctic Program and the National Science Foundation.

Deplaning at the South Pole.

Deplaning at the South Pole.

There is really no way to capture in a paragraph the adventure, magic, and value of the week I spent at McMurdo Station, Scott Base, the South Pole, and places in between. The best I can do is to refer you back to the series of reports I posted from Antarctica, drafted and uploaded late each night after getting back to the hut from the day’s adventures. You can locate the posts in my blog archive, from the last week of November and the first week of December 2010. The series remains by far my personal favorite blogging effort, and I still get reader comments about the penguins (of course).

2. Wellington Declaration

In the #2 spot on the 2010 Top 10 list was the signing of the Wellington Declaration by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister Murray McCully during the Secretary’s landmark visit to the capital. Short and simple in form but powerful in impact, the Declaration reaffirmed our two nations’ historical ties, committed us to a renewed strategic partnership, and identified two priority areas of joint focus — practical cooperation in the Pacific region, and regularized, enhanced political, security, and subject-matter expert dialogues.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Prime Minister John Key, Foreign Minister McCully at the signing of the " Wellington Declaration" .

The signing of the Wellington Declaration at Parliament.

The document wisely emphasizes what unites us:  “New Zealand and the United States are both Pacific nations. Our Governments and Peoples share a deep and abiding interest in maintaining peace, prosperity, and stability in the region, expanding the benefits of freer and more open trade, and promoting and protecting freedom, democracy, and human rights worldwide. We recall the long history of shared United States and New Zealand sacrifice in battle, and we honor those, past and present, who have borne that sacrifice… Our goal is a partnership for the 21st Century that is flexible, dynamic, and reflects our fundamental beliefs and aspirations.” Sounds right.

1. Secretary Clinton’s Visit to Wellington and Christchurch

Of course, the signing of the Wellington Declaration was part of a larger event that clearly ranks as the most important Embassy effort of 2010 by far, the transformative three-day visit of Secretary of State Clinton to Wellington and Christchurch which in certain ways rebooted the bilateral relationship and focused it forward rather than backward.

In Wellington, she enjoyed her first-ever pōwhiri, met with numerous civil society and business leaders, engaged with my student advisers, laid a wreath at the National War Memorial, went for a supposedly incognito jog around the harbor that ended up stopping traffic, met the press, and held strategic discussions with senior officials including Prime Minister Key, Foreign Minister McCully, and Defence Minister Dr. Mapp.

With the Secretary during the Pōwhiri in the Parliament forecourt.

With the Secretary during the Pōwhiri in the Parliament forecourt.

In Christchurch, the Secretary met with Kiwi and American Antarctic scientists, held a reception for American businesses active in New Zealand, did TV interviews, engaged with more than 500 Kiwis in a public town hall discussion (with in excess of 3,000 other citizens participating via a live stream on the internet), met with Mayor Bob Parker and Minister Gerry Brownlee, and slipped away for a run through Hagley Park.

In a sign of her commitment to the relationship, the Secretary spent 3 days here during an otherwise hectic 13-day, 12-stop trip covering several nations and more than 31,000 air miles. She reframed discourse, injected a hyper-dose of adrenaline into the Embassy’s activities, validated our restructuring and reorientation, and generated momentum that still helps propel us forward today, two and a half years later. And, of course, she and just about everyone she met here enjoyed the experience. She still talks fondly about the visit.

* * *

Well, for those of you who inquired, that was 2010. It was a highly productive year that laid the foundation for the important work that has followed. It was also, frankly, a very difficult year as our teams in Wellington, Auckland, and Apia oriented to new priorities, launched extensive new programs (without new resources), and adjusted to higher expectations and new ways of doing business.

It was all well worth the effort. You’ve already seen what was accomplished in 2011 and 2012 as a result of the investments made in 2010. Stay tuned for what promises to be a great 2013.

I always wait until the last moment to complete my year-end lists because in this job the unexpected is to be expected. Who knows what the final days of a year will bring? As it’s now almost 11:00 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, though, I think it’s probably safe to close the books on 2012. So, back to the countdown …

5. Pacific Islands Forum

A clear choice for the Top Ten list again this year was the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), held on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. Trumping our participation last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led the largest and highest-level U.S. delegation ever to attend the annual event in its 41-year history. For the second year in a row my Embassy hosted the delegation because the Cook Islands is within our area of accreditation.

Secretary Clinton receives a traditional warm welcome on arrival in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.

An enthusiastic welcome for Secretary Clinton on the tarmac in the Cooks.

With the Secretary and me were the Governor of American Samoa Togiola Tulafono, several of my fellow Ambassadors, U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Samuel Locklear, Coast Guard Commander Rear Admiral Charles Ray, and other senior officials from the White House, USAID, Peace Corps, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and several other agencies.

The delegation came to work. As we did last year, my team and I scheduled our various principals for more than 120 separate meetings and public appearances with officials from other nations, NGOs, multilateral institutions, businesses, and citizens groups. It was a punishing but highly productive schedule for the 48 hours or so that most of our visitors were in town, as well as for the week that my team spending preparing for the deluge of arrivals.

Secretary Clinton and Delegates to the Pacific Islands Forum pose for a family photo at the Cook Islands National Auditorium, August 31, 2012. [State Department photo by Ola Thorsen/ Public Domain]

Secretary Clinton poses for a family photo with Forum leaders and Post-Forum Dialogue heads of delegation. She is flanked by Prime Ministers Key (left) and Puna (right) of New Zealand and the Cook Islands, respectively.

The Secretary had perhaps the busiest agenda, packed with individual and group discussions with Pacific heads of government and heads of state, remarks to the Post-Forum Dialogue plenary, a commemoration of America’s historic and ongoing peace and security partnerships in the Pacific, and other events focused on trade promotion, gender equality, and fisheries. And she found time to chat with Cook citizens on the street during a couple of walk-abouts between meetings, which set off an island-wide “Auntie Hillary” frenzy.

In all, over the course of the PIF, Secretary Clinton launched a large number of new initiatives of mutual benefit to the island nations and the United States on issues of regional security, sustainable development, marine protection, climate change, gender equality, education, and economic partnership. Oriented toward capacity building, people-to-people engagement, and entrepreneurial self-reliance, the initiatives provide a recipe for empowerment, not dependency. For a full list of the extensive business accomplished, see my September post about the PIF.

4. Auckland Consulate General Restructuring

As I’ve discussed before, we’ve been engaged in a good bit of internal restructuring at the Mission to bring our programs, staffing, resources, and methods into alignment with current, rather than legacy, circumstances and priorities. That’s all much more difficult than you might imagine, but it’s essential to becoming more effective at our work. Simply put, there wouldn’t be a credible Top Ten list without our restructuring activity. In 2011 we focused on retooling the Embassies in Wellington and Apia (which is why “Embassy Restructuring” was #4 of my 2011 Top Ten). In 2012 we focused intensely on the Consulate General in Auckland.

Click through for image source.

When I presented my credentials in December 2009, we had a full consular team but just one catch-all program staff position in Auckland despite that city representing more than a third of New Zealand’s population. (The population percentage increases even further if one includes the greater metro area, which I  define as the places within an easy day’s commute of the Auckland CBD.) Such a skeletal deployment makes very little sense and certainly impaired our effectiveness.

Over the past year we’ve corrected the problem by creating new portfolios and moving several existing American-officer and locally-engaged positions from Wellington to Auckland. In doing so we have rebalanced our program staff to achieve a roughly 50/50 split between our two facilities, and have created in Auckland fully functioning economic, political, public diplomacy, and public affairs teams. I am particularly excited about positions we’ve created in Auckland for university outreach, educational advising, and Pacific communities engagement. The changes are already producing results, and will pay dividends far into the future.

3. Secretary Leon Panetta’s Visit to New Zealand

We hosted our third visit of the year by a senior member of the Cabinet when Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta came to Auckland in September. The first American Secretary of Defense to visit New Zealand in more than 30 years, Secretary Panetta engaged in a busy two days of meetings, including with Prime Minister John Key, Minister of Defence Dr. Jonathan Coleman, and Leader of the Opposition David Shearer.

Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta being welcomed at Government House in Auckland.

The visit takes a place high on the 2012 Top Ten list because it was emblematic of the tangible revitalization of security relations between the two countries over the past two years.

In June, Secretary Panetta and Minister Coleman signed in DC the Washington Declaration, a short statement that expressed our joint commitment to expand defense cooperation and establish regular senior-level strategic security policy dialogues.

Earlier in the year New Zealand hosted both the first U.S.-N.Z. joint air exercises and the first U.S.-N.Z. joint army/marine exercises in more than a quarter century.

Also this year New Zealand was invited for the first time ever to send a ship to participate in the U.S.-sponsored RIMPAC, the world’s largest international maritime exercise.

Such engagement is of significant benefit to both our societies, as well as to our neighbors. In an unpredictable world, enhanced coordination and interoperability will allow us to respond together more quickly and effectively to natural disasters, humanitarian crises, and other exigencies here in the Pacific. Compelling evidence of what I mean was our joint U.S. Coast Guard / Royal New Zealand Air Force mission a year ago to provide emergency fresh water supplies to Tokelau, thus averting a crisis.

The steps taken this year were wise, long-overdue, and mutually beneficial. Considered together, the Washington Declaration and the Wellington Declaration provide a framework for engagement that both looks confidently forward and reaffirms the deep, vibrant partnership that our two countries have historically maintained.

2. Celebration of Samoa’s 50th Independence Day

On June 1, 2012, the nation formerly known as Western Samoa celebrated its 50th Independence Day. As you may recall from several of my posts that month, our Embassy Apia team put together an impressive schedule of substantive and ceremonial events to mark the august occasion and underscore the long, deep history of U.S.-Samoa friendship. In fact, the United States had the largest, most diverse, and most vibrant international presence at the independence celebrations.

I led an official Presidential Delegation appointed by the White House which included, among others, Admiral Cecil Haney (Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet), Congressional Delegate Eni Faleomavaega, and my colleague Ambassador Frankie Reed (our current American Ambassador to Suva, and former Chargé d’Affaires at Embassy Apia). We brought with us the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Chafee (with 350 sailors on board), the N.O.A.A. climate research vessel Ka’imimoana, and several Coast Guard and Navy aircraft for ceremonial fly-overs.

Marching in the Independence Day parade.

In the Independence Day parade in our cool new Samoan-style shirts.

Our U.S. Navy 7th Fleet Band paraded and played concerts on Upolu and Savaii. The acclaimed African American step group Step Afrika! performed at schools, in church halls, and on stage at the national variety show. The Navy musicians, steppers, Peace Corps volunteers, my Embassy colleagues, and I all marched together in the official procession on Independence Day. And we hosted several dinners and receptions at our new Chargé Residence, including for the Samoa Chamber of Commerce, the large number of fellow Americans from American Samoa who attended the festivities, and senior government officials.

In terms of substantive activity, we announced our plans to build a new district medical center near the airport. We awarded several economic development grants. And Prime Minister Tuilaepa and I signed a Shiprider Agreement which will allow the Government of Samoa to place Samoan law enforcement officers on American Coast Guard and Navy ships passing through Samoan waters. Those officers will be able to direct the interdiction, arrest, and fining of foreign vessels engaged in illegal commercial fishing, trafficking in persons, or trafficking in prohibited substances, all serious problems in parts of the Pacific.

Shiprider signing aboard the USS Chafee.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa and I sign the Shiprider Agreement on the USS Chafee (with the Ka’imimoana in the background at right). Illegal fishing vessels, beware.

One of the highlights of our program was a reception aboard the USS Chafee after we signed the Shiprider Agreement on the foredeck. The 7th Fleet Band entertained guests including the Prime Minister, Head of State, King of Tonga, Governor-General of New Zealand, Governor of American Samoa, Deputy Prime Minister, several Cabinet Ministers, senior officials from French Polynesia, and heads of NGOs active in Samoa.

Our commemoration of Samoa’s 50th year of independence was, in my view, the most impressive and successful effort in the history of Embassy Apia. My colleagues underscored meaningful historical linkages and ongoing collaborations, while taking significant steps to deepen and expand relations further. Our Apia team planned for many months and then, along with visiting support from Wellington and Auckland, worked 15-hour days for more than a week to implement the program. It was the kind of effort that puts a big smile on your face, and easily ranks as one of our top two Mission efforts of 2012.

1. Celebration of the 70th Anniversary of US-NZ Bilateral Relations
and the Arrival of American Forces during World War II

In a photo-finish with the Samoa 50th, the top slot on my 2012 list goes to the Mission’s extensive commemorations of two highly significant milestones in shared Kiwi/American history. In February we marked the 70th anniversary of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the two countries, and in June we marked the 70th anniversary of the arrival of American military forces in New Zealand at the request of Prime Minister Peter Fraser after the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific.

70th Anniversary Coins.70th Anniversary Coins.It’s difficult to talk briefly about the anniversaries because the program spanned virtually the entire year, starting with social media efforts in February and concluding with the Marine Ball in November. I’ve already written more than a dozen blog posts about various elements of the commemorations, so I won’t recount the details again here.

I’ll simply say that, inter alia, we produced stamps, minted coins (at left), sponsored a 1940s video contest for students, held a memorial concert at Old St. Pauls, took the U.S. Marine Forces Pacific Band on a 3-week concert tour of cities and towns that had hosted Americans during the war, and held large 1942-themed Independence Day receptions for almost 1,500 folks in Wellington, Auckland, and Christchurch.

We talked live and online about the importance of shared history … Walter Nash’s arrival in DC to establish New Zealand’s first ever diplomatic mission abroad … the bedrock relationship formed when more than 150,000 American servicemen and women came to New Zealand during the war … and the shared service and sacrifice of our respective forebears during some of the darkest days of the prior century.

The Government of New Zealand held a wreath-laying ceremony at the National War Memorial attended by the Prime Minister, Governor-General, Leader of the Opposition, Minister of Defence, and other dignitaries. There was a moving sunset retreat on the Parliament forecourt with the Prime Minister and Governor-General, followed by a Parliamentary reception. Commemorative statements were read in the House, and New Zealand Post issued a set of anniversary stamps. The Kapiti Council and Kapiti U.S. Marines Trust held a series of additional events.

There was great warmth in the celebration of our shared history, which is the rock-solid foundation on which the relationship between the two nations still stands, whatever the vagaries of the politics of the day. Seventy years on, Kiwis and Americans still stand shoulder to shoulder on the issues that matter the most in the world. We advocate together for universal human rights from a position of deeply held, shared civic values. We still serve and sacrifice together in peacekeeping and reconstruction efforts around the world.

And we work closely together on a wide variety of economic development, climate change, disaster response, gender equality, rule of law, political empowerment, and other projects. In a show-me-the-money era when values are often viewed as quaint inconveniences, it’s important to remind ourselves that first principles rather than pecuniary gain bind our relationship together.

The U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific Band.

The swing unit of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific Band performs in Wellington Town Hall under an image of 1942 forebears in Wellington’s Majestic Cabaret.

Of course, we don’t always agree on everything. But really, that’s to be expected. If we don’t occasionally squabble, then we aren’t being honest with each other. What matters is not the 5% or so of the time that we disagree, but the 95% of the time that our instincts, interests, and priorities naturally align. And what matters most of all is how we deal with disagreement when it occurs.

By those measures and all accounts, 2012 was a very good year.

*  *  *

That’s it for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour through the highlights of another gratifying year at American Missions New Zealand and Samoa. Our 2010 was an excellent year significantly surpassed by 2011, which in turn has been exceeded by 2012. I’m very much looking forward to the pleasures and challenges of maintaining that steep trajectory in 2013.

Next year brings another couple of special anniversaries. October 12, 2013 marks the 175th anniversary of American diplomatic presence in Aotearoa. On that date in 1838, U.S. Secretary of State John Forsyth commissioned John R. Clendon to be the first United States consul in the lands later to be called New Zealand.

In addition, August will mark the 70th anniversary of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s iconic island-hop trip through the South Pacific during the height of the war. From August 27 through September 2, 1943, Mrs. Roosevelt stopped in New Zealand to tour Red Cross facilities, visit marae, raise the profile of women’s contributions to the war effort, and engage with soldiers and civilians in Auckland, Rotorua, and Wellington.

Plans are afoot …

For now, though, Dr McWaine and I, and everyone else at American Missions New Zealand and Samoa, wish you and yours a very happy, healthy, and rewarding New Year … Kia hari te Tau HouIa manuia le Tausaga FouHau’oli Makahiki Hou.

Seventy years ago today, on February 16, 1942, Walter Nash entered the Oval Office and presented to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt his credentials as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of New Zealand. Mr Nash, then the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, thus became his country’s first Ambassador to the United States.

Ambassador Walter Nash (center) with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (at left).

Mr Nash’s arrival in Washington marked the establishment of New Zealand’s first Embassy anywhere, preceding establishment of Kiwi missions in Ottawa and then Canberra. Mr Nash’s arrival as Ambassador marked both the launch of formal NZ-US diplomatic relations and New Zealand’s assumption of responsibility for its own foreign policy and international relationships, independent of the Crown.

President Roosevelt reciprocated by appointing an envoy to Wellington. It is important to note, however, that American diplomatic presence in Aotearoa had begun more than a century before that. It was on October 12, 1838, well before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, that the United States commissioned John R. Clendon to be its first Consul in Aotearoa.

Mr Nash proved to be a tenacious advocate for close Kiwi-American relations. He had extraordinary access in Washington, and it was he who paved the way for the arrival in New Zealand in June 1942 of tens of thousands of American Marines and soldiers to defend Aotearoa from feared invasion, and to establish a staging ground for engaging the invaders in the Pacific islands.

The Rt. Hon Peter Fraser is welcomed at Washington

Ambassador Nash (third from left) introduces Prime Minister Peter Fraser (in black hat) to US Secretary of State Cordell Hull (in white hat) in Washington.

Seventy years on, Kiwis and Americans still stand shoulder to shoulder on the issues that matter the most in the world. We advocate together for universal human rights from a position of deeply held, shared civic values. The brave men and women of our respective armed forces serve and sacrifice together in peacekeeping and reconstruction efforts around the world.

And we are working closely together on a wide variety of economic development, climate change, disaster response, and other projects. In a show-me-the-money era, when values are often viewed as quaint inconveniences, it is important to recognize that first principles rather than pecuniary gain bind our relationship together.

Yes, we don’t always agree on everything. But that is to be expected. If we don’t occasionally squabble, then we aren’t being honest with each other. What matters is not the 5% or so of the time that we disagree, but the 95% of the time that our interests and instincts naturally align. What also matters greatly is how we deal with disagreement when it occurs. There will always be those who politicize or sensationalize to advance their own narrow agendas.  Those souls do not serve their respective peoples well.

Press Conference.

The Secretary and the Prime Minister take questions after the signing of the Wellington Declaration.

We are both Pacific nations geographically, demographically, culturally, and historically, and our longstanding partnership is a major force for good in the region. Secretary Clinton and Minister McCully reconfirmed that fundamental alignment when they signed the Wellington Declaration in 2010, which pledged to deepen and expand our bilateral relationship even further through practical cooperation in the Pacific region and enhanced political and expert dialogue.

The Wellington Declaration has borne fruit in dozens of tangible ways in just its first year, from accelerated collaboration on agricultural greenhouse gas emission research, to a joint humanitarian naval exercise in Tonga and Vanuatu, to an extremely short-notice operation using US Coast Guard resources to alleviate a potable water crisis in Tokelau, to increased educational and exchange programs, and much more.

USCG Walnut, Tokelau.

The USCG Walnut arrives in Tokelau with Kiwi and American teams.

The Wellington Declaration fits naturally within America’s pervasive, ongoing engagement in the Pacific. We don’t always get everything right, but the immense positive contribution that the United States has made in the region over the past century — at great cost in American lives and treasure — is beyond reasonable dispute. As Secretary Clinton wrote in a recent journal article:

We are the only power with a network of strong alliances in the region, no territorial ambitions, and a long record of providing for the common good. Along with our allies, we have underwritten regional security for decades, patrolling Asia’s sea lanes and preserving stability, and that in turn has helped create the conditions for growth. We have helped integrate billions of people across the region into the global economy by spurring economic productivity, social empowerment, and greater people-to-people links … [as] a champion of open markets and an advocate for universal human rights.”

Secretary Clinton in Burma with pro-democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Secretary Clinton in Burma with pro-democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

New Zealand has been a strong, consistent, important partner in many of those efforts. That’s why we remember and celebrate Mr Nash’s arrival in Washington 70 years ago, as well as Mr Clendon’s appointment in Aotearoa 174 years ago. And that’s why the steady work on reinvigorating government-to-government relations over the past few years has been so important.

In a transactional world, real friendship is a special treasure. As the great American philosopher Oprah Winfrey has said, “Everyone wants to ride with you in the limo. What you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”

From the dark days of 1942, to mutual support on Antarctica, to Hurricane Katrina, to the Christchurch earthquakes, that’s the kind of friendship that Americans and Kiwis have. No official press release or press conference is required to announce it. It’s natural, deep, and instinctive. And it’s there when one needs it most.

DH Sig


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My intrepid colleagues Ola, Renee, and Brendan and I have just completed a special project at the Embassy. We’ve pulled down the faded posters, old citations, and miscellaneous art from the walls. In place of all that, we’ve installed 70 poster-size photos of meaningful events and special moments from the Mission’s past two years of activity.

As a general matter, I think it’s important to remind folks of the value and meaning of the work they do, and of how skilled they are at doing it. So, I plowed through my files and selected photos from many of the events in which the Embassy and Consulate General have been involved since I arrived, plus a couple of images from elsewhere to provide context. The slide show below contains all 70 photos in our new hallway exhibition:

After we got everything up on the walls, I asked my Embassy colleagues to vote for their favorite of the images on display. The “winner” was the photo below of our colleague Mike leaving Christchurch four days after the February 22nd earthquake.

In Christchurch for the US-NZ Partnership Forum when the quake struck, Mike and seven other staffers camped on the floor of the US Antarctic Program offices at night and forayed into the ruined city by day to search for injured Americans, provide relief services to American citizens, and facilitate the arrival and deployment of urban search and rescue teams from the United States.

Mike leaves the city after a hard week.

Mike leaves the city after a hard week.

It was difficult, emotional, and highly stressful work … with little sleep, limited water, no amenities or toiletries, more than a few unpleasant surprises, and only the clothes on their backs. Snapped by my colleague Josh with his Blackberry as he and the others finally boarded an evacuation flight after their work was done, the photo of Mike powerfully captures the mood of the week.

On an infinitely lighter note, in second place was a glorious photo of me with a few new friends during my trip to Antarctica last December. My colleague Ola and I ventured to the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf by helicopter, and Ola snapped this photo as a few scouts from a nearby Emperor penguin colony cautiously approached to say hello.

Being greeted by Emperor penguins.

Being greeted by Emperor penguins.

Without doubt, that week in Antarctica was one of the high points of my time on Earth (not only of my time as Ambassador). It’s almost impossible to explain why without gushing. If you haven’t already seen them, please take a look at the series of illustrated blog articles that I posted from McMurdo Station, Scott Base, and the South Pole while exploring the Ice.

The Secretary is greeted on Parliament forecourt.

The Secretary at Parliament.

The photo that received the third highest number of votes was this memorable image of  Kaumātua Rose White–Tahupārae greeting Secretary Clinton on the Parliament forecourt.

No single picture can capture the energy, excitement, and sense of forward movement that surrounded the visit, the first to Wellington by a US Secretary of State in more than 25 years.

This photo, though, certainly conveys a sense of the warmth, goodwill, and good cheer with which New Zealanders welcomed the Secretary.

To do the image justice, we’ve enlarged it to life size and mounted it in a position of honor in the Embassy’s main hallway. It continues to startle people who momentarily think that the Secretary has dropped in for an unexpected visit.

Other photos in the exhibition mark the Secretary’s signing of the Wellington Declaration, her meetings with Prime Minister Key, and her trip down to Christchurch.

It’s useful being reminded each day of how much was accomplished during the Secretary’s time in New Zealand, and of how expertly the Embassy and Consulate General managed her packed, complicated schedules in Wellington and Christchurch.

Comrades at the opening of A Friend in Need exhibition.

Comrades at the opening of A Friend in Need exhibition.

As I’ve mentioned previously a few times, next June will be the 70th anniversary of the arrival of American military forces in New Zealand after the outbreak of World War II.

The Embassy and Consulate General have been building toward the anniversary with a series of commemorative events, including arranging a Marine Band tour, collecting Marine Corps memorabilia, reaching out to veterans groups, and supporting the various projects of our good friends in Kapiti.

Placing fourth in our vote was this photo of the Embassy’s Marine Security Guard Gunny Sergeant with a Kiwi veteran at the opening of an exhibit sponsored by the Kapiti Marine Trust entitled A Friend in Need.

Housed at the historic Paekakariki train station, the exhibit comprises a large number of fascinating artifacts, mementos, and photographs related to the Marine presence in the Wellington area from 1942 to 1945.

Mayor Jenny Rowan and the curators walked me through the exhibit earlier this year and talked about the origin and objectives of the project. I thoroughly enjoyed the displays. If you have a chance to visit, please do. Both the exhibit and the nearby Whareroa Farm, site of one of the Marine encampments, are well worth the trip.

photo 5.

Marine Band at Old St. Pauls.

The fifth highest vote-getter in our Embassy exhibition was this photo of the Marine Corps Forces Pacific Band playing a concert in Old St. Paul’s in Wellington during the Rugby World Cup.

Old St. Paul’s was a beloved refuge for many of the thousands of Marines who passed through Wellington during the war, which is why we celebrate Memorial Day there each year.

Having a Marine unit back in the cathedral after so many decades made for a moving, uplifting evening of music and remembrance.

Snapped before the program as the musicians warmed up, the photo captures some of the special atmosphere of the event. By the time the concert began, the sun had gone down and the pews were packed.

We were delighted to have the Marine Band with us for a fortnight to participate in a wide variety of Rugby World Cup festivities. The concert at Old St. Paul’s was just one of a couple dozen memorable appearances in the Taranaki and Wellington regions which are well represented in our photo exhibition.

Although they didn’t quite make the top five in the vote, I’ll share a couple of my other favorite photos. They convey a sense of the energy and enthusiasm that keep me jumping out of bed each morning, raring to go:

New Plymouth street party.

New Plymouth street party before a USA Eagles RWC pool match.

Albany Home School's Free Range team wins a VEX Robotics match.

VEX match featuring our Albany Home School Free Range Robotics friends.

When you next visit the Embassy for a lecture, video presentation, or other event, take a look around. The exhibition is a marvelous summary of the impressive work my colleagues have done over the past two years … with the extra bonus that many of the photos still provoke a broad smile no matter how many times you’ve seen them before.