Nuclear-Free Legislation – 20th Anniversary

The Green Party strongly supports this motion. Twenty years ago New Zealand became a world power — not a world power in size, not a world power in economic terms, but a world power in moral strength. We spoke out for the majority of humanity who lived – and still live — in fear of nuclear war. We said to the most powerful nuclear armed state, America, “No, we will not allow your nuclear ships in our ports; these are an unacceptable danger to us and a danger to the world, and we will set an example, a nuclear-free example, for other countries to follow.”

Perhaps the Government of the time did not present it in quite such bold terms, but that was the sentiment of the people. That was the sentiment among the thousands of New Zealanders who had campaigned, petitioned, and marched for the previous 25 years since the formation of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1959. There were people like Phil Amos, a Minister in Norm Kirk’s Government, who is being buried in Auckland this afternoon. Phil not only supported Norman Kirk in sending a frigate to Mururoa to protest French nuclear testing but in October 1976, a year after Labour lost power, he also skippered one of the small protest boats that blocked the path of the American nuclear warship, the Long Beach, as it tried to enter Auckland Harbour. He was arrested and convicted of obstruction but managed to win on appeal, partly because he was helped by a good lawyer — one David Lange. That was the same man who as Prime Minister later shepherded the anti-nuclear law through our Parliament.

New Zealanders are rightly proud of our anti-nuclear status and we want our Government to remain a leading campaigner for nuclear disarmament. We could do a lot more. We have to be more like how we were back in 1987 when we were the mouse that roared — the small nation standing up to the superpower America. Today the main barrier to nuclear disarmament is still the United States Government. It not only possesses a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons but is escalating the nuclear arms race through “Star Wars” and the building of a so-called missile defence shield. Clearly such a shield will only encourage other nuclear States to increase their nuclear arsenals, so that they are less disadvantaged in any future nuclear confrontation. The nuclear disarmament process has largely stalled, as existing nuclear states go back on their promises, under the non-proliferation treaty, to get rid of all their weapons.

New Zealand has done well in promoting disarmament resolutions as part of the New Agenda Coalition alongside Sweden, Ireland, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, and Egypt. But we need to be more at the forefront of promoting a nuclear weapons convention where all nuclear weapons states buy into a staged process of ceasing production of fissile material and any new bombs, and completely, step by step, disarming under a tight inspection regime. Unfortunately, New Zealand has yet to take up the offer of Costa Rica and Malaysia to support their nuclear weapons convention proposal in the General Assembly this October. The concept involved is not that radical today. Even former war hawks like George Shultz, who as US Secretary of State in 1985 tried to keep us in the pro-nuclear ANZUS alliance, and Henry Kissinger, now say that “Reassertion of the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and practical measures towards achieving that goal would be, and would be perceived as, a bold initiative consistent with America’s moral heritage.” We could also play a more active leadership role in linking up the nuclear-free zones in the South Pacific, South-east Asia, Latin America, and Africa into a southern hemisphere and adjacent areas nuclear-free zone.

Although being firmly against the proliferation of nuclear weapons to new countries, we should not adopt the Bush administration’s biased view of where the main dangers come from. Surely the danger is more likely to come from Israel — secretly nuclear-armed and often engaged in warfare with its neighbours or from the nuclear-armed Pakistani dictatorship, than from Iran, which we are not yet even sure wants to acquire nuclear weapons.

New Zealand has done many creditable things since it became nuclear-free. One highlight was the successful campaign that resulted in 1996 in the World Court declaring that the use, or threat of use, of nuclear weapons was generally illegal. That campaign started with a Christchurch magistrate, Harold Evans, expanded to an active New Zealand peace group — the World Court Project — and later gained New Zealand Government backing. It was a fantastic achievement for New Zealand and shows just what we can achieve if we stick to our anti-nuclear principles and actually lead the world. Thank you.