New Zealand has a proud record of involvement, leadership, and success in the realm of the United Nations. Helen Clark was the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme from 2009 to 2017, and was a candidate for the top job of Secretary General last year.

The whole unit­ed nations show in the Bosni­an war was lead by a very expe­ri­enced, clev­er Japan­ese diplo­mat called Yasushi Akashi, and the mil­i­tary chief was a short, fit, tough French­man called Lieu­tenant Gen­er­al Bernard Jan­vier. He spoke lit­tle Eng­lish, had a scar on his cheek, and had spent most of his life lead­ing his legion­naires in active com­bat. I was proud to serve alongside him as his ‘Air Gen­er­al’, arrang­ing and advis­ing on all mat­ters of air pow­er and sup­port, on behalf of the North Atlantic Treaty Organ­i­sa­tion (NATO). The chal­lenges were immense, and there were some very dark times, but even­tu­al­ly the con­flict was sup­pressed, and the war­ring fac­tions came to a pret­ty much peace­ful agree­ment, which holds today.

Sta­tioned at the UN head­quar­ters in Zagreb, I have many mem­o­ries of that time. But one evening, in par­tic­u­lar, stands out.

I was the only non-french­man in a mil­i­tary tent on Mount Igman (home of the Win­ter Olympics in 1984), over­look­ing war-wrecked Sara­jevo. The oth­er 30 or so who were present, were for­eign legion offi­cers, host­ing a for­mal din­ner in hon­ourof Gen­er­al Jan­vier. It was bit­ter­ly cold, pitch black, and the wind was howl­ing.

The evening start­ed with great dra­ma as the youngest offi­cer sliced off the top of a bot­tle of cham­pag­ne with a razor-sharp sabre. After the meal, the offi­cers sang mourn­ful songs about com­rades who had died in com­bat, and they also sang about wom­en, both real and imag­i­nary, loved and long lost. Lat­er Jan­vier gave a short­speech and said of the singing, “Tous les chan­sons des sol­dats sont tris­tes.” (All sol­diers’ songs are sad.) I told him lat­er that that should be the title of his mem­oirs. The evening was mov­ing, eerie, and beau­ti­ful.

Since that time, I have worked, in the mil­i­tary and lat­er as a busi­ness­man, in multi­na­tion­al organ­i­sa­tions. It car­ries much in the way of frus­tra­tion, chal­lenge and, to a degree, inef­fi­cien­cy, when com­pared to sin­gle-nation insti­tu­tions. But I can say with con­vic­tion that, in the end, work­ing with oth­ers on big chal­lenges pro­duces bet­ter, more durable, and more sat­is­fy­ing out­comes. Dur­ing the big por­tion of my teenage life, grow­ing up in New Zealand, I learned that the abil­i­ty to work with oth­er cul­tures is very much a part of Kiwi val­ues and the Kiwi skill set. I am grate­ful to have been taught that abil­i­ty in this great coun­try.