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New Zealand Foreign Policy in a Post-COVID World

2–3 July 2021

St Margaret's College, University of Otago campus

The topic of the 55th Foreign Policy School focuses on the challenges and opportunities New Zealand faces during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

The global pandemic as well as climate change impacts, migration patterns, and rising economic inequality pose significant challenges to the wellbeing of nations.

There is little doubt that the international rules-based system has been severely challenged in recent years and renewed great power competition has also re-emerged. In particular, the Pacific has become a contested strategic space, which impacts on New Zealand's domestic and foreign policy interests.

In this context, small and middle powers face distinct challenges. Unable to rely on the application of power, these states emphasise the importance of a good international reputation, strong diplomatic networks, and multilateral cooperation to establish some influence and overcome challenges that they cannot resolve alone.

As a relatively small state with far-flung international connections, New Zealand's independent foreign policy must somehow balance Realpolitik and its moral values in an effort to maximise the benefits of global cooperation and minimise the risks that global exposure can bring. The benefits of New Zealand's membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have been substantial, but Wellington has not escaped the international consequences of problems like the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and COVID-19 economics.

In many ways, New Zealand and many other small and middle powers are facing a fork-in-the-road moment in international relations. The story of the post-Cold War era is one of growing interconnectedness which all states, including superpowers like the US and China, are confronted by a growing number of challenges that do not respect national borders. It is an environment which is creating new opportunities for smaller states like New Zealand to play a greater role on the international stage. New Zealand has signaled its desire to take a leadership role (for example the Christchurch Call, indigenous foreign policy and the Ardern Government's more tempered approach to the China relationship) and this requires us to 'step up' with clearly articulated and innovative ideas.

This School will explore some of the challenges facing New Zealand foreign policy in the emerging post-Covid era by considering four interrelated themes:

  • Values and Interests
  • The enduring importance of trade
  • The looming challenge of climate change
  • Small/Middle State leadership and soft power projection

Speakers include

Hon. Nanaia Mahuta | Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Local Government, Associate Minister of Māori Development

Dr Kurt M Campbell (TBC) | United States National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific (via Zoom)

Professor Alice C Hill | David M. Rubenstein Senor Fellow for Energy and the Environment, United States Council on Foreign Relations (via Zoom)

Lisa Tumahai | Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Waewae Representative and Deputy Chairperson of the Climate Change Commission for New Zealand

Professor Anne-Marie Brady | University of Canterbury, Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, Washington DC

Professor Mireya Solís | Director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies, Philip Knight Chair in Japan Studies, and Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings Institute (via Zoom)

Hone McGregor | Director of Wakatū Incorporation, Executive of the Federation of Māori Authorities (FOMA) and Board Member of Te Taumata, MFAT

Dr Reuben Steff | Department of Political Science and Public Policy, University of Waikato

Marion Crawshaw | Victoria University of Wellington, Centre for Strategic Studies

Professor Robert Patman | Politics, University of Otago


Otago Foreign Policy School Programme (PDF)


  • Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Canberra
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Delegation of the European Union to New Zealand
  • University of Otago
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