By Robson, Matt | New Zealand International Review, November 2000 | Go to article overview


Robson, Matt, New Zealand International Review

Matt Robson outlines New Zealand's role in promoting the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Disarmament and arms control are central to the government's foreign policy. To put it simply, we want to galvanise the international community to come forward, with New Zealand, in seeking the eradication of nuclear weapons.

We are under no illusion that progress with disarmament is going to be easy. Or that nuclear weapons' elimination is going to happen soon. Yet we are committed to taking the opportunities that are available to prevent a new nuclear arms race and to work for disarmament. I will focus on two main areas of initiative.

The recent NPT Review Conference in New York delivered against all expectations. To summarise, the nuclear weapon states have made an unequivocal commitment to eliminating their weapons and they have signed on to a set of significant new steps that will be monitored and measured in the next five-year review period. The strategy leading to this result, and the significance for New Zealand's wider foreign policy interests, will be outlined below.

The New Agenda Coalition emerged after the second preparatory meeting for the 2000,NPT Review Conference had ended in disarray in mid-1998. In itself this failure was, with hindsight, of limited significance, but it marked a turning point. The countries, including New Zealand, which had supported the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995 in the context of a package of new nuclear disarmament undertakings and strengthened accountability measures took stock of the progress against the commitments that had been made. What had been achieved fell well short of reasonable expectations. Worse, the failure of the 1998 meeting indicated a sorry lack of commitment on the part of the nuclear weapon states to follow through on the agreements they had entered into with the wider NPT membership.

In mid-1998 first India, then Pakistan tested nuclear weapons and announced to the world a claim to nuclear weapon state standing. The prescience of the Canberra Commission, reporting in 1996 that `the possession of nuclear weapons by any state is a constant stimulus to other states to acquire them', was revealed.

Convinced that the world was sinking into complacency in the face of the continued threat of around 30,000 amassed nuclear weapons and new aspirants to the club, the New Agenda Coalition came together to issue a wake up call. New Zealand joined Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa and Sweden in a coalition which crossed the traditional North/ South divide, and escaped the Cold War East-West/non-aligned groupings that act as a kind of `freeze-frame' on disarmament talks. The coalition's agenda was put to the international community through UN resolutions in 1998 and 1999. We received overwhelming support but faced strong resistance from the nuclear weapon states and the countries allied to them.

The Labour-Alliance coalition government was formed after the general election in November 1999. Viewed from the perspective of our broad foreign policy interests, the New Agenda Coalition had both a track record and strong potential. Our partners in this group are countries that think creatively and act independently. Each of them carries influence in their regions, including in the regional organisations which address political and security issues such as the Organisation for African Unity, the Organisation of American States, and the European Union. Ireland and Sweden have strong nuclear disarmament credentials shared by the rest, which are also leading members of the nuclear weapon free zones in Africa and Latin America. Individually these coalition partners are leaders in their region and leaders specifically in the field of nuclear disarmament.

Natural partners

They are in these respects natural partners for New Zealand when it comes to pursuing our nuclear disarmament and, indeed, our wider foreign policy goals. …

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