An eye, an ear and a voice: Chris Seed launches the proceedings of the MFAT 75th anniversary conference.

AuthorSeed, Chris

I feel somewhat dressed in borrowed robes tonight! First because I am a rather poor substitute for the minister of foreign affairs; clearly I have neither the cut of suit nor the coiffe of hair to stand in for Winston Peters, who can't be here for reasons the followers of prime ministerial press conferences and sufferers of crocked knees will well understand. But second I also find myself launching a book which recounts the proceedings of a conference I wasn't actually at!

It is, of course, precisely this kind of improvisation--also known as opportunism--that has been a feature of New Zealand's diplomacy for over 75 years (and my career, many would add, for not quite half of that--the opportunism, that is).

Let me begin, though, with thanks to the many in my own ministry, at the NZIIA and from the centre who were involved in staging last year's conference. It was a feat of the many.

And while I wasn't there, its proceedings were broadcast in real time around our network--a digital boon unimaginable when Charles Boswell went to Moscow in 1944, when Gerald Hensley went to Apia in 1959 or even when a young Seed went to Tehran in 1989--which means that we were all able one way or another to feel part of it.

But despite diplomacy having entered the digital age, ours is still an essentially human profession. So just as last year's anniversary conference saw a huge amount of unseen and perhaps unacknowledged work by many people, so too does the story of our diplomacy over the past now 76 years.

Our work might be entangled with the vines of history, and recounted in terms of resolutions, treaties, TPNs, annual reports and thickets of prose in all its forms, but from our beginnings it's been people who made the ministry work.

Occasionally--and maybe more often than that--we've probably been guilty of the great man and great woman theory of history: we like to tell our stories in terms of the titans from the past who made a difference, and their names are rightly studded through this book.

I want to acknowledge the wider human story that stands behind the themes and events recounted in this book. Because just as behind every great man apparently lies... an incredulous mother-in-law, so too behind every story of achievement in this book lies desk officers, communicators, drivers, financial managers, consuls, stenos and lest we forget: partners and families.

So in recalling San Francisco, or Suez, or Apia, or Brussels or 9/11--and so on--let's remember...

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