Speech to Forum on Parliamentarians for Nuclear Disarmament

On behalf of the Parliamentary Network for Nuclear Disarmament (PNND) of New Zealand I am pleased to be able to talk at this important workshop. I particularly greet fellow members of the PNND from other countries.

Commonly, when talking about anti-nuclear campaigning we talk about what international agencies like the United Nations are doing, what governments are doing, and what NGOs are proposing. There is another important group of people that can be left out, and that is Parliamentarians.

As parliamentarians we can have an important influence, especially if we act collectively. We are elected to represent our people and we can do important work, both as educators, through our access to the media, and in influencing what our governments do.

Of course, many of us parliamentarians have been doing what we can in this respect for some time, but the formation of the PNND is enabling us to do it more effectively. We are able to be better informed with publications from the PNND, such as the wonderful PNND Briefing Book. We are also able to act as a collective voice through the PNND branches in our countries.

The PNND has grown quite rapidly, with strong chapters here in Japan, and in other countries such as New Zealand.

In New Zealand we have set up PNND as a non-partisan body, with members from several political parties. The Chairperson of PNND in our Parliament is Nick Smith, a leading National Party politician. Mr Smith apologises for not being here with you today. I am the secretary of PNND and come from a different party, the Green Party, of which I am the foreign affairs and disarmament spokesperson. We also have members from the government parties, Labour and the Progressives.

Cooperation between MPs of different political parties on the nuclear issue is easier in New Zealand because of because of the consensus on keeping nuclear-armed ships out of our ports. New Zealanders were inspired by Kobe’s leading example with banning visits by US warships to their harbour in 1975.

There is less consensus on the second plank of our nuclear-free legislation and that is the ban on nuclear-powered ships.

The US government has still not accepted New Zealand’s nuclear free status and “diplomatically’ keeps the pressure on. Their case is not advanced by the accidents they have on their nuclear-powered and nuclear armed ships. One month ago, on October 25, the USS Hartford, a nuclear powered submarine, ran aground in Italian waters. Opinion polls still show that a significant majority of New Zealanders remain in favour of a ban on nuclear armed and nuclear powered ships.

At the other end of the political spectrum, Green MPs such as myself have been trying to extend New Zealand’s anti-nuclear legislation which at present only stops nuclear armed ships and nuclear powered ships going in and out of our ports.

The Green Party drafted a Private Members Bill, , to prevent keep sea-born nuclear arms out of our territorial waters (12 miles from our shore), and out of our of our Exclusive Economic Zone (200 miles from the coast). The exclusion was also to apply to nuclear powered ships and those carrying nuclear wastes.

In New Zealand, Private Member’s Bills are one way individual parliamentarians, even if not in the government, can make changes to our law. Which Private Members Bills go before the House is determined by a random balloting process, and in the year 2000 our New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone Extension Bill was lucky to be selected.

Even though the Labour government didn’t support the changes proposed in the Bill, it didn’t want to be seen as pro-nuclear, so it enabled the Bill to have hearings in the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee, of which I am a member.

There were several expert submissions and we had a fascinating debate on whether the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea could accommodate the exclusion of such warships from territorial waters or the EEZ. The Greens argued that under the Law of the Sea nations can prevent the passage of ships which are not there for “peaceful purposes” or which threaten eco-systems and the marine environment. We also argued that the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention must now be interpreted in the light of the subsequent World Court Advisory Opinion against the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. The passage of deployed nuclear-armed warships through New Zealand waters could no longer be defined as “innocent passage” — and therefore New Zealand had the legislative right to ban such ships from its waters.

Unfortunately, this Nuclear Free Zone Extension Bill did not get a majority in Parliament, but it did provide a forum for further anti-nuclear education.

Twenty years ago, a Private Members Bill to make New Zealand nuclear-free, was instrumental in a National Party government falling. The then Prime Minister Robert Muldoon was hostile to the Bill, but scared it would pass with a vote from a dissident National Party MP. He called a General Election and lost. He had misjudged New Zealanders’ hostility to nuclear weapons.

The Labour Party leadership made nuclear weapons a central election issue because that is what its MPs demanded. In turn, those MPs had been strongly influenced by the mass anti-nuclear protest movement of the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. The MPs provided a bridge for change.

Even though a conservative National Party government came back into power in 1990, the anti-nuclear legislation endured because, by then, many National Party MPs had been convinced of its merit, and others realized it would be electorally unpopular to go against the anti-nuclear tide.

Pressure from MPs may also have been crucial to get governments to sign up to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty in 1985 and 1986, and to remain committed to it. I am thinking particularly of the Australian government, which despite being George Bush’s deputy sheriff in the Asia/Pacific, has not withdrawn its support for the Zone.

Today, members of the PNND in Australia, New Zealand and other countries are promoting a Nuclear Free Zone in the Southern Hemisphere and Adjacent Areas. And we parliamentarians can make a difference. A Southern Hemisphere Zone becomes more real if MPs from Africa, South East Asia, Latin America and the Pacific are working together on it, backed up MPs from outside our region, in countries like Japan. Collectively, we can bring it into the public consciousness, and help influence our governments.

There needs to be an inter-governmental conference of State parties to the existing southern hemisphere zones to advance the project. Mexico has already taken an initiative to get a the issue taken up by the UN General Assembly. Speaking at a PNND conference in Vancouver this month, a New Zealand Progressive Party MP, Matt Robson, suggested that New Zealand host a preparatory meeting. It is actually good if there is competition between Mexico, New Zealand, perhaps even Japan, to host such a meeting. I understand that Japan has already hosted discussions between state parties on a possible Central Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone.

I attended the annual meeting of the New Zealand branch of the Parliamentarians for Global Action last Tuesday. It projected an Asia/Pacific PGA regional meeting in Wellington next year on the International Criminal Court. It was suggested that after the conference concluded interested MPs from different nations, could get together to discuss how to advance the southern hemisphere nuclear free zone project.

There is a strong relationship between the operations of the International Criminal Court and nuclear disarmament, because the use of nuclear weapons would, in essence, constitute a war crime under the Statute of the ICC — even though the nuclear weapon states prevented a specific reference being made to nuclear weapons in the Statute. To clarify matters, states are putting their own anti-nuclear interpretation on the Statute,. For example, New Zealand, in interpretive declaration on ratification of the Statute said that the provisions banning attacks on civilian targets cannot be limited to conventional weapons. The interpretive declaration also referred to the 1996 World Court Advisory Opinion, which stated that humanitarian law did apply to the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons.

Members of Parliament can bring disarmament issues into a variety of international conferences. Last year the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution tabling the UN Study on Disarmament and Non Proliferation Education which contained a recommendation that Member States include parliamentarians in delegations to UN disarmament-related meetings. I hope this will be adopted by many governments as a way of educating parliamentarians and keeping them accountable to the electorate.

Sometimes we will be participating in conferences specifically for MPs, like the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Parliamentarians for Global Action or the PNND. At the 105th Inter-Parliamentary Union conference in Cuba in 2001, a resolution was passed calling for a complete ban on weapons of mass destruction and the transportation of their components through the exclusive economic zones and airspace of other nations.

On other occasions we can participate in official disarmament conferences, like Non-Proliferation Treaty Review conferences and preparatory meetings, some of which will be coming up soon. Anti-nuclear MPs can give heart to the NGO representatives at these conferences, and strengthen the resolve of the people on their government delegations.

Governments today are subject to strong pressures, even blackmail, from US officials. They need the support from both NGOs and MPs to stand up to Bush’s people, to oppose their military “solutions”. The New Zealand government is not immune from such pressure. Thankfully, New Zealand hasn’t yet joined the Proliferation Security Initiative, under which the US claims the right to board ships on the high seas and seize their cargoes. However, I was disturbed to read that our Disarmament Minister, Marian Hobbs, instead of criticizing the Proliferation Security Initiative proposals, said she was “studying” them.

Parliamentarians are also well placed to offer alternatives to the huge spending on the nuclear arms race, and the economic distortions which ensue. We can think of much better uses for the $30 billion the US spends annually on its nuclear weapons programmes, and the billions more spent on nuclear warships and delivery systems. For that sort of money, we could ensure that every child on the globe gets a good education.

As MPs we should know that real security is based on good food, clean water, adequate housing, an environmentally sustainable economy, human rights for all, and true democracy. Surely, in the 21st century we can move beyond the horror of nuclear weapons and live with each other in peace.


Nagasaki Global Citizens Assembly, Nagasaki, Japan