The NZIIA was established at a meeting in Wellington on 7 July 1934. Mr Walter Nash (who was to become Minister of Finance when the first Labour Government was elected in 1935 and later Prime Minister), nominated the Hon Mr Downie Stewart as Chairman. Downie Stewart had resigned as Minister of Finance in the Liberal-Reform Coalition Government, in protest against the devaluation of the New Zealand pound in 1933. Alister McIntosh was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the new Institute (he was to become Secretary of External Affairs from 1943 to 1966). Membership of the NZIIA overlapped with that of two existing bodies - the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR), whose New Zealand branch had been set up in 1927, and the Round Table, whose Wellington branch had been founded in 1910. All three bodies had links to parent organisations overseas - the Round Table and the NZIIA in London, the IPR in Honolulu. The memberships of the three New Zealand branches were not large, but included a number of people who were, or became later, directly involved in running New Zealand's external relations.
After World War II ended in 1945, the NZIIA took on new life. Wood and his colleagues J C Beaglehole, Winston Monk, Ken Scott and King Braybrooke at Victoria University College (as it was then), all took part in study groups on international affairs. When a Commonwealth Relations Conference was to be held in Lahore, Pakistan in 1953, the NZIIA sent a delegation of three - R O McGechan, Winston Monk and Frank Holmes (later Sir Frank). Sadly McGechan and Monk were killed in an air crash in Singapore enroute. Holmes alone got there.
In 1959 the Institute agreed to host a Commonwealth Relations Conference, in Palmerston North, which was to be the last of what had been a series. It was made possible by the support of the Government, under Prime Minister Walter Nash (a founding member of the NZIIA). The Conference was notable for the attendance of three future Prime Ministers - Gough Whitlam (Australia), Jim Callaghan (Britain), and Garfield Todd (Rhodesia), and also Paul Hasluck (Australia) a future Foreign Minister and Governor-General of Australia.
In the 1960s, the Institute experienced the effects of the war in Vietnam. After the 'Teach-In" at VUW in 1966, the NZIIA published the Report of a Study Group on New Zealand Foreign Policy with Special Reference to Southeast Asia. The Study Group included J V Wilson and R M Mullins from the Department of External Affairs, as well as the late Professor Colin Aikman and other members of the Institute.
establishment of a national office
New Zealand's involvement in the Vietnam War stimulated public interest in international affairs and gave the Institute a new opportunity. In 1968 Professors Frank Holmes and Les Castle took the initiative to gain a generous grant of US$100,000 from the Ford Foundation, New York, to cover a period of three years, 1969-71. This enabled the Institute to set up a National Office on the campus of Victoria University of Wellington (VUW). It had a fulltime staff of three - Director, Executive Secretary and Secretary. The first director was Bruce Brown, on leave from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the three-year period. The National Office location on the VUW campus has led to a continuing partnership with the university and its key institutions for over 40 years. The Institute gains real value from the university's continued involvement and support.
The Ford grant also provided funds for research and publications, and travel for conferences. In 1969-71 the Institute published over 20 Occasional Papers on various aspects of New Zealand's foreign relations, many written by academic specialists, as well as several books. The most noteworthy of a number of conferences was that in Canberra in February 1970, at the Australian National University (ANU), jointly sponsored by the Australian Institute (AIIA) the host, the NZIIA, and the Institute for Defence Analyses of Washington. Among many distinguished participants was the late Professor Hedley Bull of the Australian National University (ANU) and later Oxford, an outstanding founding scholar in international relations. The ANU Press published the papers of the conference in 1971, as Asia and the Pacific in the 1970s.
Late in 1970, the Director, Bruce Brown, supported by the Institute's Treasurer, Professor Don Trow, reported on the Institute's achievements to the Ford Foundation in New York and applied for a second grant. Although the Foundation had initially made it clear that the grant was a one-off to enable the Institute to establish itself professionally, the Ford people were sufficiently impressed by the Institute's achievements in the first two years of the three-year grant as to break this rule and agree to a second grant of US$65,000.
When the Ford money ran out, the Institute had to reduce its commitments. Ken Keith (later to become Sir Kenneth), then Senior Lecturer in Law at VUW, took over as part-time director from 1974 to 1976. In 1976 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs agreed to give the Institute a grant, later gradually increased, which enabled it to keep a part-time staff of two (in more recent years it has had one full time executive officer and a part time director). From 1980, directors were again appointed - Colin Aikman (1980-85), John Scott (1985-90), David Holborow (1990-93), Bruce Brown (1993-97), Bryce Harland (1997-2001), Gerald McGhie (2002), Brian Lynch (2003-12) Peter Kennedy (2012-15) and currently Maty Nikkhou-O'Brien (2015-present). Maty Nikkhou-O'Brien is the first woman leader of the Institute in its 82 year history. The Institute has also been guided by a number of distinguished presidents including Professor Colin Aikman, Professor Gordon Orr, Sir Guy Powles, Mr Alexander McLeod, Professor Quentin-Baxter, Sir George Laking, Professor Leslie Holborow, Rt Hon Sir Brian Talboys, Rt Hon Sir Wallace Rowling, Mr Giff Davidson, Sir Frank Holmes, Rt Hon Sir Kenneth Keith, Hon Russell Marshall and currently the Hon Sir Douglas Kidd.
To complement the bimonthly journal New Zealand International Review, the Institute’s Research and Publications Committee has overseen a small but substantive publications programme. New Zealand in World Affairs Volumes I and II covered the periods 1945-57 and 1957-72 respectively. Volume III, 1972-1990, edited by Bruce Brown, was launched by the Governor-General, Sir Michael Hardie Boys, in December 1999. Volume IV, covering the period 1990-2005 and edited by Rod Alley, appeared in early 2007. (The Committee is currently looking at a follow-up publication for the period 2005-2020). Since 2004 NZIIA has published and/or launched books on New Zealand’s relations with Russia and with Southeast Asia, the country’s experience in the nuclear age (Standing Upright Here by Malcolm Templeton), the Dominion of New Zealand (Prof David McIntyre), Mr Ambassador, Carl Berendsen’s Memoirs (Hon Hugh Templeton), Agents Abroad: the Story of the Trade Commissioner Service, Presence of Mind (Terence O’Brien), Beyond the Battlefield (Gerald Hensley), Saving Globalisation (Hon Mike Moore), Persona Non Grata: Breaking the Bond: Fiji and New Zealand 2004-2007 (Mike Green), and the proceedings of a number of major seminars including, in 2015, The Arctic and Antarctica: Differing Currents of Change (edited by Peter Kennedy).
From an original annual schedule of six or seven the National Office now averages around 35 events per annum, made up of panel discussions, lectures, seminars, roundtables and an annual national conference. NZIIA has hosted illustrious speakers such as the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, IAEA DG Yukiya Amano, Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, UN Under-Secretary-General Jeff Feltman, ICG President Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Trade Minister Todd MacClay, Foreign Minister Murray McCully, and former NZ Prime Minister John Key.
The NZIIA national conference held in November 2016, at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington - The Global Future: Challenges to Security, Stability and Sustainability saw 35 speakers including the Foreign Minister, Chief of Defence Force, Secretary of the Treasury, Director of the GCSB, Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank NZ, prominent professors of international relations from the London School of Economics and Fudan University, the Chatham House, and many more. About 300 people attended the full day conference. The media were also present: in the form of the Radio NZ, the National Business Review, TVNZ, and Newstalk ZB.
Since 2015, the average number of attendance to National Office events has doubled, and in 2016 the Institue saw a historic increased revenue of 21%.
In addition to the National Office, the Institute now has 9 branches around the country in Auckland, Waikato, Tauranga, Hawke’s Bay, Palmerston North, Wellington, Wairarapa, Nelson, Christchurch and Timaru.