Terence O'Brien (New Zealand diplomat)

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Terence O'Brien
Terence OBrien.jpg
Terence O'Brien in Moscow, Russia
Personal details
Terence Christopher O'Brien

(1936-01-06) 6 January 1936 (age 85)
Aylesbury, England, United Kingdom
Nationality New Zealander
ProfessionFormer diplomat

Terence Christopher O'Brien (born 6 January 1936[ citation needed ]) is a former New Zealand diplomat who led New Zealand in 1993 to a seat on the United Nations Security Council.


Early life

O'Brien was born in Aylesbury in the United Kingdom[ citation needed ]. His father was a pilot in the Royal Air Force (RAF) who was sent to New Zealand during the Second World War. In 1940, he moved with his mother and sister to New Zealand by boat, narrowly avoiding being torpedoed by German u-boats, to follow his father who had taken up a post as Chief Air Instructor to the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) during the Second World War. Shortly after the end of the war, O'Brien returned to the United Kingdom to be educated at Beaumont College, and later University College Oxford where he read history. Following graduation O'Brien returned to New Zealand with which he had developed a great affinity in his early years and joined the then Department of External Affairs (subsequently the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade) in 1959.


O'Brien served as a diplomat with the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade for over 40 years from 1959 – 2001. He held early postings in the 1960s in Bangkok, London, and Brussels. It was in Brussels that as a first secretary he helped New Zealand to negotiate a special deal with the European Community giving access for New Zealand dairy products to Europe when the United Kingdom joined the Community in 1972. O'Brien then served as High Commissioner to the Cook Islands (1975–77), and then as Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva (1980–83), to the European Community in Brussels (1983–86) and finally to the United Nations in New York (1990–93) where he was instrumental in helping New Zealand to secure a seat on the UN Security Council. He was President of the United Nations Security Council during the war in Yugoslavia. While in New York, his leadership was a critical factor in New Zealand's securing a seat on the United Nations Security Council, despite competition from more favoured countries such as Spain and Sweden. Nicknamed by the New Zealand press on several occasions "Chardonnay O'Brien" for his love of a good glass of wine and a good cocktail party, O'Brien is known for his global view and his articulation of the role of New Zealand as an independent and free thinking country with its own values and way of doing things. O'Brien has always believed that small countries like New Zealand need to use and support international institutions such as the United Nations to promote common and universal values and have influence in international affairs.

Later years

In 1993 O'Brien was appointed Founding Director of the New Zealand Centre for Strategic Studies [1] He served as Director for almost 8 years until his retirement in 2001, earning the new institution a respected reputation and high public profile. Controversy surrounded his replacement in 2002 by David Dickens, a former Ministry of Defence official. The Parliamentary Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade investigated the matter and issued a critical report.

In 2009, O'Brien published a book entitled 'Presence of Mind: New Zealand in the World'. The book New Zealand in the World is a selection of writings on the place of New Zealand in the world reflecting on the position of a small country such as New Zealand and its place on the international stage from the perspective of a small, internationally minded, modern and multicultural democracy. The book stresses the importance of New Zealand taking an independent view on international affairs, reflecting its heritage as a nation located in the south-west Pacific with both Maori and European roots.

O'Brien continues as an Advisor to the Centre for Strategic Studies and a regular contributor to the New Zealand media on foreign policy issues. During 2012 he wrote several articles arguing against proposed reforms in the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. [2] His argument was that becoming a diplomat requires a special type of skill and that treating the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a purely business approach was short-sighted and not to the long-term benefit of New Zealand.

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  1. Profile on Centre for Strategic Studies Archived 11 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Dominion Post 13 April 2011, March 2012 and 2 April 2012