New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called for more “collective” action in her address to the U.N. General Assembly on Friday, especially on the issues of climate change, nuclear non-proliferation, pandemic response, and opposing wars of aggression such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ardern’s authoritarian impulses were on display in her call for tighter regulations on Internet speech, although she insisted she values free speech and merely wishes to cleanse “disinformation” from international discourse.
Ardern portrayed the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, which New Zealand addressed with some of the heaviest lockdowns to be found outside of communist China, as a painful lesson that “schooled” mankind in the importance of “collective action.”
“It forced us to acknowledge how interconnected, and therefore how reliant we are on one another,” she said of the pandemic. “We move between one another’s countries with increasing ease. We trade our goods and services. And when one link in our supply chain is impacted, we all are.”
Ardern explicitly called for the collectivist “lessons” of the pandemic to be applied to climate change.
“The next pandemic will not be prevented by one country’s efforts, but by all of ours. Climate action will only ever be as successful as the least committed country, as they pull down the ambition of the collective,” she said.
Ardern called for stronger, more lavishly-funded “multilateral” institutions, expressing strong support for the World Health Organization, World Trade Organization, and Paris climate change agreement. She then somewhat paradoxically presented Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine as an example of an authoritarian regime simply ignoring global institutions to fulfill selfish ambitions.
“Let us all be clear: Russia’s war is illegal. It is immoral. It is a direct attack on the U.N. Charter and the international rules-based system and everything that this community should stand for,” she said.
Ardern derided Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s claims that he invaded Ukraine to “liberate” it from “fascists.”
“Putin’s suggestion that it could at any point deploy further weapons that it has at their disposal reveals the false narrative that they have based their invasion on. What country who claims to be a liberator, threatens to annihilate the very civilians they claim to liberate? This war is based on a lie,” she scoffed.
The New Zealand prime minister suggested reforming the U.N. to remove or weaken the veto power Russia enjoys as a permanent member of the Security Council, finding it frustrating that great powers can thwart what she viewed as urgent initiatives.
“For the United Nations to maintain its relevancy, and ensure that it truly is the voice of the breadth of countries it represents, the veto must be abolished and Permanent Members must exercise their responsibility for the benefit of international peace and security, rather than the pursuit of national interest,” she demanded.
As it happens, Russia and the Soviet Union have cast the most Security Council vetoes in U.N. history, by a considerable margin, but the second most energetic user of veto power has been the United States.
Ardern likewise championed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, a fanciful document that “went into effect” in January 2021 and supposedly made nuclear weapons illegal. No country that actually has nuclear weapons signed it, and none have paid the slightest attention to it, but Ardern insisted it was not merely symbolic and supporting it was not “naive.”
“It takes one country to believe that their cause is nobler, their might stronger, their people more willing to be sacrificed. None of us can stand on this platform and turn a blind eye to the fact that there are already leaders amongst us who believe this,” she argued, presumably alluding to Russia’s threats to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Ardern did not appreciate that she might as well have been describing herself, since she went on to advocate global censorship to suppress anything she regards as “disinformation,” a concept she explicitly extended to include disagreement with her position on climate change.
Ardern called for “disinformation” to be treated like bullets, bombs, or nuclear weapons, conceding that “a lie online or from a podium” does not immediately kill people like the “weapons of old,” but in the long run could be more dangerous:
But what if that lie, told repeatedly, and across many platforms, prompts, inspires, or motivates others to take up arms. To threaten the security of others. To turn a blind eye to atrocities, or worse, to become complicit in them. What then?
This is no longer a hypothetical. The weapons of war have changed, they are upon us and require the same level of action and activity that we put into the weapons of old.
We recognized the threats that the old weapons created. We came together as communities to minimize these threats. We created international rules, norms and expectations. We never saw that as a threat to our individual liberties – rather, it was a preservation of them. The same must apply now as we take on these new challenges.
Ardern went on to insist that she prizes the “free, secure, and open Internet” and “our right to protest,” and tacitly admitted that it would be difficult to build a consensus around her global crusade against disinformation. After all, one of the first world leaders to present a list of “falsehoods” he wanted to suppress would be Vladimir Putin, assuming he could beat Chinese dictator Xi Jinping to the global disinformation desk.
Ardern suggested that suppressing “violent extremism and terrorist content online” might be a place to start, citing the “horrific” March 2019 attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand as an example, without offering any others.
“The attack was live-streamed on a popular social media platform in an effort to gain notoriety, and to spread hate,” she noted.
“As leaders, we are rightly concerned that even those most light-touch approaches to disinformation could be misinterpreted as being hostile to the values of free speech we value so highly,” Ardern allowed.
“But while I cannot tell you today what the answer is to this challenge, I can say with complete certainty that we cannot ignore it. To do so poses an equal threat to the norms we all value,” she continued.
“After all, how do you successfully end a war if people are led to believe the reason for its existence is not only legal but noble? How do you tackle climate change if people do not believe it exists? How do you ensure the human rights of others are upheld, when they are subjected to hateful and dangerous rhetoric and ideology?” she asked.