Combating Nuclear Proliferation: Labour's Perspective: Phil Goff Discusses New Zealand's Contribution to Achieving a World Free of Nuclear Weapons

By Goff, Phil | New Zealand International Review, September-October 2010 | Go to article overview

Combating Nuclear Proliferation: Labour's Perspective: Phil Goff Discusses New Zealand's Contribution to Achieving a World Free of Nuclear Weapons


Goff, Phil, New Zealand International Review


New Zealand is a small country. It has neither the military nor the economic power to impose its views on the world. It has nevertheless shown time and again that it can play a constructive role politically in addressing issues of international concern, be they matters affecting trade, environment, peacekeeping or disarmament. When we have shown leadership, independence and integrity in the views that we have advocated, we have won respect for our views and have influenced outcomes.

The role we played in peacekeeping in Timor, the Solomons, and Bamyan in Afghanistan; our leadership in the WTO Green Room and in promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership in trade; and our role in the banning of cluster munitions and de-alerting of nuclear weapons in 2007 and 2008 are a few examples. New Zealand has over time played a significant role in the area of non-testing and nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and disarmament.

As a baby boomer, I grew up under the shadow of the nuclear arms race and the Cold War. At school, we read John Hersey's book Hiroshima as a prescribed school text, and as a young activist I showed the film The War Game to audiences around the country. The warning that Einstein left us that 'splitting the atom changed everything except the way we think, and hence we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe' has sunk deeply into the political consciousness of my generation of political activists.

We were the children of the 20th century. Our parents and grandparents went through two world wars. It was the bloodiest century in human history. And for the first time in the history of humanity, humans had the power literally to destroy themselves. Having survived for 65 years since the dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the real danger is that we have become complacent about the threat that nuclear weapons pose.

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We survived the Cold War but there are many reasons why the danger posed by nuclear weapons has increased rather than reduced. Countries possessing or in the process of acquiring nuclear weapons have grown in number. Beyond the five nuclear weapon powers, control over nuclear weapons has expanded to India and Pakistan, two countries with a history of recurrent conflict since partition; to North Korea, a country with an appalling human rights record and history of aggressive action; Israel and now potentially to Iran, countries which regard each other with suspicion and enmity.

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Wide knowledge

There is wide knowledge of how to make a nuclear bomb, increasing availability of materials from which bombs can be constructed and a lack of inventories of fissile materials. Perhaps most disturbing is the growth of terrorist groups which have indicated their readiness to use such weapons if they could acquire them and a track record of extremism to back that up. And for a decade or more there has been a stalemate and a lack of resolution among countries to do anything about the threat of nuclear weapons--reflected in the failure of the Conference on Disarmament and the 2005 NPT Review Conference, which broke down without any progress.

It is perhaps ironic that one of the countries to have taken the strongest stance to advance non-testing, non-proliferation and disarmament is the most geographically isolated, New Zealand. At the height of the Cold War in 1959, Prime Minister Walter Nash at the United Nations stood apart from ANZUS partners to support a treaty to ban nuclear testing. In 1973 Norman Kirk as prime minister sent a frigate up to Moruroa to protest French nuclear testing and Martyn Findlay took a case to the International Court of Justice to end atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons.

In 1987, the fourth Labour government passed the Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act, which set out in statute a prohibition on nuclear weapons in New Zealand and visits by nuclear powered ships. …

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