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April 13, 2014 | by  | in Features Online Only |
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Another Special Visitor to Wellington: Angela Kane of the UN

Dressed simply but elegantly in a green jacket, black skirt and shiny brooch, Angela Kane walks briskly up to the lectern in Laby 118. She gives a quick nod of acknowledgment to David Capie of Intp fame for his introduction, thanks us 30 or so students for coming to hear her (especially since the weather is rotten and there are no windows in this lecture theatre: loyal to her German roots, Angela doesn’t mince her words) and then launches straight into the substance of her speech: nuclear disarmament. Angela Kane is astute and articulate and she doesn’t muck around – you don’t become the UN High Representative for Disarmament for nothing. Appointed by Ban Ki-Moon to the role in 2012, Angela has already led the negotiations to destroy the chemical weapons stockpile in Syria and has overseen the creation of the Arms Trade Treaty. Her work with the UN spans a full three decades, including postings in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Thailand and Indonesia and responsibility in one former position as Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs over every continent apart from Africa. (No pressure.) Angela is visibly enthused about the work of the UN and holds dear its Charter aspiring to peace and security for all the world’s peoples.

Angela was invited to New Zealand by MFAT and she has been giving talks about the country, including a VILP seminar and a public lecture held at the Law School. At Victoria, Angela stresses the importance of congruence in discussions of nuclear disarmament. The ideal is for the views of a state’s people and its government to align, but this is very rarely the case in a world where citizens express their desire for peace but governments neglect obligations under international law to disarm. Fortunately, New Zealand is an exception and a shining example for other countries to follow. In her second talk, Angela discusses the wider theme of disarmament in optimistic and pessimistic terms. An optimist would praise the international norms that have been established over the past few decades, such as the global abhorrence of chemical weapons (which country would boast, “I have a bubonic plague in my laboratory!” Angela quipped). The optimist would expound the success of the processes to eliminate both cluster munitions and landmines and the conventions against biological and conventional weapons. He would point out the reduction in the world’s nuclear arsenal since the Cold War and the progress made in reframing the nuclear debate in humanitarian terms. The pessimist, however, would draw attention to the lack of any verification measure for biological weapons and the recent devastating use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. The increased destructive potential of nuclear weapons and the development of weapon modernisation programmes would not go unnoticed. So it is clear that, although progress has been made in some areas, there is much to be achieved. Angela insists these are issues affecting everyone which we must unite to resolve: whether we are lawyers, doctors, journalists, peace activists or students. We must always keep in mind the end goal of a peaceful, post-nuclear weapons world. It is not sufficient to know what we are fleeing, we must also know what we are seeking.

I’m able to snatch a few moments with Angela after her Vic Uni talk. We sit side by side in the Laby Lecture Theatre: Law/IR student me and Angela Kane: the once small-town girl growing up at a time where women did not work and now the world’s highest spokesperson on disarmament affairs. Angela’s mind is already on her next speaking engagement and she furtively reapplies lipstick as she responds to my questions. This is Angela’s first visit to New Zealand. Her schedule is tight so there’s not much time to sightsee, but she did spend a day in the Bay of Islands and feels inspired by New Zealand’s natural beauty. What does Angela do to escape? She loves English and French Literature and originally studied these subjects before taking up Politics and Economics in preparation for her professional life. The best present you could give her is unstructured time. Does she have any advice for students interested in pursuing an international career? Keep your sense of curiosity, Angela advises, find something of interest in every job you undertake and love what you do. Don’t be dissuaded from applying for a position because of your gender, or any other factor, just go for it. Disarmingly simple.

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