Disarmament Insight


Tuesday, 12 June 2007

In memory of Clive Pearson

In 1997, negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva on a Comprehensive nuclear Test Ban Treaty had recently been completed. Internationally there were widespread hopes that further negotiations would soon commence on fissile materials, and then further steps toward nuclear disarmament as part of the post-Cold War peace dividend. The CD just needed to settle a couple of niggles concerning its work programme first.

Into this environment arrived New Zealand's first Disarmament Ambassador, a flamboyant character named Clive Wallace Pearson. Clive was highly experienced in bilateral and trade diplomacy in various posts around the world, including as New Zealand's first Ambassador to Turkey. But he later said that nothing prepared him for the peculiarities of multilateral arms control negotiations, certainly not the baffling acronyms and the "late-night foul smelling rooms" he would spend so much time in during multilateral disarmament meetings over coming years.

A decade later, the CD still hasn't achieved consensus on its programme of work despite the best efforts of Clive and many others. Clive put his time as Disarmament Ambassador to maximum use, however, and was very active on the full spectrum of disarmament-related issues. He led New Zealand's delegation in the landmark negotiations in Oslo that resulted in the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention in 1997. The New Agenda Coalition, which Clive helped to found, played a major role in the 2000 review conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As chair of that meeting's subsidiary body on nuclear disarmament and with the invaluable assistance of his great friend Dr. Joan Mosley (then New Zealand's Permanent Representative in Vienna), Clive brokered a deal that resulted in agreement on the (as he put it) "all-singing, all-dancing" 13-steps to a nuclear-weapon-free world. And he was involved in the informal "Interlaken Group" from 2000 to 2001 that helped to prepare for success at the 2001 UN conference on a programme of action to tackle the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.

These are just a sprinkling of Clive's contributions. But even had he achieved less, Clive would still be remembered with great affection by virtually everyone who knew him in the Geneva context. He was hugely charismatic and great fun, not to mention elegantly attired. Ambassador Pearson's ability to sweep into a room and make most ladies' (and not a few gents') knees go wobbly was widely envied by the other silverback alpha males - but not successfully replicated.

In a relaxed moment, Clive would occasionally admit he could be a bit of a prima donna. Subordinates recall his preference for being called "Glorious Leader", although this was (probably) an affectation. Nevertheless, in line with the deadly professional seriousness with which Clive took his responsibilities, very high standards were expected of those who worked with him. He informed new subordinates, only half-jokingly, "your job is to make me look good". Fortunate then that he was so talented at getting the best out of those who were prepared to try to do so.

Those few people Clive had little time for invariably deserved it, usually being one or more of the following: lacking in deference, impolite, incompetent, deceitful, ungracious or a whinger. Perhaps it was his upbringing in the Presbyterian chill of Dunedin, but Clive detested miserliness most of all. And he wasn't fond of “puffed-up wind bags” either - as a select few in Geneva and even in Wellington discovered to their cost.

While always very conscious of his responsibilities as a senior diplomat and Head of Mission, Clive was also a loyal and supportive person, and was a formative influence in the professional development of a number of young diplomats in Geneva. When asked to be, Clive could always be depended upon to be a frank, yet good-humoured, sounding board. Indeed, if asked nicely enough he was also usually willing to take one for a spin around Lac Leman in his very rapid black Mercedes cabriolet “play car”. This was always good for one's spirits.

Meanwhile, it was the responsibility of any person on Clive's team to "look decorative". Newbies were inspected, spun-around and remedial advice proffered: "Lose those specs, you look like Nana Mouskouri" or "we need to get you into a new cozzie and some six inch heels, inst!" For the boys, French-cuffed shirts were mandatory. It was not entirely unheard of for colleagues at the Mission to be sent home to change for incurring his sartorial displeasure. "It's got to be immaculate", he would say.

Clive was also a widely respected authority on interior decoration, although his basic rule seemed to boil down to "everything in twos, and lots of cream and black". He only got half way there with his pair of marmalade Abyssinian pussycats, the adorable Benson and Hedges. While lacking in deference and uniquely destructive of New Zealand government furnishings, the pussycats gave him great companionship, not to mention the many official and informal dinner guests they harassed.

Like his Abyssinians, Clive had an acute sense of tactical opportunity. He loved nothing more than settling down with Mont Blanc fountain pen in hand and "ciggie on the go" to "dabble in a bit of drafting mischief". And his talents as a drafter were formidable, a crucial skill for good disarmament negotiators, as many speeches, multilateral agreements and diplomatic cables reporting on them come down to the appropriately nuanced formulation of words.

Combined with his drafting skills, Clive’s great powers of persuasiveness made him a difficult negotiator for others to hold back. "We're not having that,” he'd say with a sweep of his hand, and that would be that: others usually had no choice but to be carried along by his enthusiasm and scary competence for whatever he'd decide to have a crack at. This was a refreshing trait in an ambassador, and it kept diplomatic colleagues on their toes.

In 2002, after a distinguished posting, Clive returned to Wellington. There, after running various divisions of the foreign ministry, he became special adviser to the New Zealand government on multilateral affairs - tackling yet more tricky diplomatic challenges with his usual aplomb and humour. From time to time he would turn up briefly at some multilateral meeting in Geneva, usually with a cheeky grin and draft text in the back pocket: "we've got yet another triumph on the go" he would chuckle over a drink or comfort food with old friends in the Café Bourg de Four, which he had long before affectionately dubbed "The Slophouse".

All was not well, however, and ill health intruded more frequently. Recently he took a turn for the worse. Just after the Queen's Birthday weekend, Clive passed away in a hospice in Wellington, with some of his nearest and dearest such as Joan close by.

Clive’s funeral was held in Wellington cathedral last Friday, and messages were read from the Prime Minister and other notables. The head of the Foreign Service delivered the eulogy. The New Zealand flag draped Clive's coffin along with white lilies (his favourite flowers). The clergyman was appropriately sonorous, and the pallbearers were reported to be a judicious mixture of the distinguished and the decorative, as he would have liked.

We already miss him deeply, and can't really believe he's gone.

John Borrie


Anonymous said...

John Borrie's words about the late Clive Pearson capture poignantly the very essence of the man.
Clive's trademark flamboyance never masked his steely determination in the cause particularly of nuclear disarmament, as befitted those of his generation from a region whose peoples were all too aware of the cataclysmic impact of atomic weapons used and tested there.
Indeed, that flair and charm, tactical acumen and profound commitment, were brought to bear with lasting effect, and few of his peers could claim as their legacy the satisfaction of helping secure - along with Joan Mosley and others - consensus on an "unequivocal undertaking" by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals. This outcome of the 2000 NPT Review Conference may be small consolation for Clive's untimely death, and its fulfillment still beckons, but, like Clive, it has nonetheless left an indelible mark in the disarmament arena.

Tim Caughley
(Director, UN Disarmament Affairs,

JGM said...

Clivo... my cousin... He was not just a good dipo, he was amazingly talented at everything else as well!
Even prior the dipo days, Clive was stunningly brilliant - The service was fortunate to have him... His legacy, may it go forward.

I recall both Clive’s and my first trip to Venice in maybe 1970, a manic train trip through Domodossola well after midnight.
Memorable, hilarious, and as the younger cousin, I'm telling no tales... Go well cuzin, I am still laughing and still have the pictures

Peter Goosen said...

What a shock! Clive was one of the most 'alive' persons that I have ever had the privilege to know and to work with. There are so many memories of the times that we were able to work together. He was a formidable alliance partner, and in 'multilateralism', where the force of the personality of the individual often provides the country with its reputation of being a role-player, he was one of those persons that you wanted on your side in the battle against the intransigent bastions and traditions that limited progress in the cause of disarmament. Clive had many 'greatest hours' -- from the success of facing down the opposition to a ban of anti-personnel mines in Oslo to facing down the nuclear-weapon States at the 2000 NPT Review Conference on a new agenda for nuclear disarmament.

Clive was a great friend, a respected colleague and a great comrade in arms in the fight for disarmament and non-proliferation. He was a person of impeccable taste. His passing is a loss to us all and a loss to the causes that he held so dear. He is remembered for his determination, his dedication, his loyalty and also for his personal style.

He is missed and he will be remembered!

Peter Goosen
A Friend and Comrade in the Cause of Disarmament.
South African Ambassador
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Peter said...

This time later, Clive persistently scribbles through my thinking and I miss him badly. We were a late friendship. Over various coffees, we veered between interrogating politics, places and the past, and being entirely mischievous about the present. There are times when life is preposterously unfair. Clive's foreshortened life is just that.

Lawrence said...

Clive and I were constant companions when we found ourselves in New Delhi in the late '70's - he at the NZ and I at the Canadian High Comm. India was a place where we both felt cut off from Western society. So together we managed to make the most of whatever India did offer.
Everything mentioned in the obit' was apparent in Clive when I knew him - his panache, his charm, his joie de vivre, his decorating ability - I remember them all well.
Our paths parted when I was posted on to Germany and then returned to Canada. Clive went to London and, while we corresponded for a few years, we gradually lost touch.
I was deeply saddened to discover that he had died at a fairly young age when I did one of my periodic Google searches for him this morning.
I'd love to hear from some of his close friends in his latter years.
Dr. Lawrence Gitterman,
Thousand Islands,