Don McKinnon

Master of Consensus

New Zealand’s Don McKinnon, 60, the longest-serving foreign minister in the democratic world today, is scheduled to take over the post of secretary-general of the commonwealth—the group of nations that once were British colonies or dependencies.
Although McKinnon has critics, the problems he will face relate to failures of democracies within the group.

“Laid-back” is how Pattrick Smellie of Auckland’s conservative weekly Sunday Star Times described this “tall, handsome fellow from a talented, old-money family.” McKinnon, says Smellie, “exudes a blue-blooded ease [and] has in most matters been a pragmatist in a cabinet stacked with ideologues. Some call his style consensual. Others call it supine.”

An editorial in Christchurch’s conservative The Press disagreed: “[McKinnon] has highlighted the advantages of quiet diplomacy. He will have at least nine years to stamp his mark on the commonwealth. Expect few fireworks. He will probably be happier—perhaps even more effective—when working behind the scenes than at the forefront.”

Either way, McKinnon’s agenda includes juggling the competing interests of the 54 member nations of the commonwealth (once mockingly referred to as the “British-run club”) and keeping a close eye on Pakistan, which, according to Smellie, is increasingly showing an “unhealthy interest in North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.” McKinnon will have to oversee the enforcement of a commonwealth rule requiring Pakistan’s military government to restore civilian rule within two years, or face expulsion.

McKinnon, who is slated to assume the commonwealth post in April, has his work cut out for him. But The Press concludes that “[McKinnon] may be just what the organization needs.”