Friday, June 08, 2007



Proudly nuclear free

Twenty years ago today, Parliament passed the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987. The law did more than just ban the manufacture, deployment, or use of nuclear weapons in New Zealand, or the entry of nuclear powered vessels into New Zealand waters - it was also a decisive statement of our principles, our independence, and our commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons. For people of my generation, it was the struggle to be nuclear free, rather than the massacre of Gallipoli, when New Zealand really came of age.

Twenty years on, that statement of principle and that coming of age are well worth celebrating. It's also worth protecting. A couple of years ago, Tony Milne floated the idea of holding a referendum on entrenching the anti-nuclear legislation to prevent it from being sold out from under us by future politicians who owe greater allegiance to Washington than Wellington. After twenty years of being proudly nuclear free, i think it is an idea whose time has come.

10 comments:

Yes that legislation did so much to bring down the Berlin Wall and end the Cold War, after all I am sure the USSR would have realised the arms race was unwinnable had the US, France and the UK given up their nuclear deterrents. It was an act of onanism basically.

We can thank our way of life that this was seen as a minor blip from a country that is virtually irrelevant in international affairs, while North America, Japan/South Korea and Western Europe ignored it and got on with deterring the evil empire.

Posted by libertyscott : 6/08/2007 08:43:00 PM

The left campaign against the National party is gathering steam with almost daily rants against them on their blogs.

Sounds like the left is worried about Labour losing the next election. Where is the faith (going the same direction as the Warriors in the NRL) ????????????

Any perpetual nuclear free enshrining law that Labour as a last graps effort to sway the public implements, will be seen as just that, an effort to sway public opinion.

When they had 7 years to make it a reality. Even the most anti-nuclear activist will see that for what it is.

Any legislation like that is impossible to be written so that it cannot be discarded in the future, that is just a pipe dream. Your great grand children may just totally ignore the law and do it anyway.

It will be seen in the same light as the lifetime paper driving licences. A niave attempt to think they can influence the future without being in control.

Dreams are free.

Posted by Gerrit : 6/09/2007 06:31:00 AM

Libertyscott: do you have any argument with the post that was actually written, or just this imaginary one you'd prefer to argue with?

Posted by Psycho Milt : 6/09/2007 08:30:00 AM

I personally would rather have the nz bill of rights act entrenched or the constitution act - surely the acts that set about our rights and freedoms as citizens in a democratic country are more important to be protected..

Surely there are more important things to worry about then this legislation.

INterestingly, what other countries have passed such laws>

Posted by Anonymous : 6/09/2007 09:41:00 AM

Libertyscott said:
" It was an act of onanism basically."

I can't agree, although there's certainly a dash of self-abuse in the present initiative.

The original anti-nuke stance was about national sovereignty. Of course NZ is insignificant on the world stage. If we'd spent the last 20+ years in suppository-mode to one of the major powers it wouldn't have made a shit of difference. It certainly wouldn't have brought the Berlin Wall down any quicker.

What it has proved is that a small, relatively insignificant country can pursue an independent foreign policy course. I suspect that Key and English are smart enough to realise this. They're hardly likely to revive the supine and bankrupt Prebble/Muldoon approach of outsourcing foreign policy. Let's consolidate it by entrenching the bill of rights. Milne's initiative is a stunt.

Posted by woppo : 6/09/2007 10:34:00 AM

Psycho Milt- The philosophy behind the legislation is that nuclear weapons are bad and that there should be unilateral nuclear disarmament. The legislation was aimed at the USA, France and the UK, and those who protested nuclear weapons didn't protest outside the Soviet/Russian embassies. That fact can't be evaded.

Yes the policy showed NZ can have independent foreign policy. NZ rightfully opposed atmospheric nuclear tests in the South Pacific for public health reasons, but to, in effect, move towards neutrality in the Cold War was a moral stance that was effectively saying both sides are as bad as each other.

Clearly the USSR was the evil empire, the Western nuclear deterrent kept the peace in Europe (and most of Asia) since the war. NZ preferred to condemn that, free riding on those on the front line of the Cold War.

To me the anti nuclear legislation is childish and counterproductive. What good does it do besides make some people feel better?

Posted by libertyscott : 6/09/2007 09:49:00 PM

A couple of points - the idea that NZ hitched any sort of free ride by pursuing an independent foreign policy is nonsense.
The nuclear free legislation was passed in the decade in which Thatcher and Reagan opportunistically supported the Pol Pot regime against Vietnam. There was also the equally opportunistic support of Saddam Hussein as a counter to Iran by the US.
It was a time when this country distinguished itself by cutting contact with the apartheid regime, while Thatcher continued to act as a vocal apologist, and Dick Cheney voted against a US motion calling for Mandela's release.
I'm proud of these achievements, as far as I'm concerned they're part of our heritage. If you'd rather have a Reagan memorial then do something to further stem cell research - it's what his surviving family are working for.

If anything can be described as feel-good and childish, it's the simplistic nonsense of the good guys versus the 'evil empire.'

Posted by woppo : 6/10/2007 12:54:00 AM

libertyscott's second post is about right I think (woppo's observations seem beside the point: NZ-ers 1980-2000 attitude towards defense issues, and certainly strategic defense issues does seem rightly characterized as a mixture of free-riding and denial that there are actual aggressors in the world one should resist/deter, if necessary at great cost)... I'd add just that the disgust at all things nuclear that the 1987 Act expressed absolutely covered all nuclear power, with Chernobyl and Three Mile Island being particular reference points for that....

But of course *that* side of things no longer applies. The original policy was rooted in the thought that nuclear power was wrong in principle - not just wrong for NZ, but wrong everywhere, and that sooner or later people elsewhere would come to their senses about that.... Well, nobody who's concerned about global warming thinks that way any more, and NZ-ers in particular are no longer opposed to nuclear power in principle. They may not think it's right for us, at least for the conceivable future, but, for example, they *wish* China would get its act together pronto and go thoroughly nuclear rather than burning all that coal etc.. Perhaps NZ still is "proudly nuclear free" as i/s's headline suggests, but we no longer believe that that's an ideal everyone should share. At best it's our entrenched preference, not an embodied moral insight we're hoping all will emulate.

Reason not to entrench: it's the wrong sort of thing for that. It's paradigmatic very specific policy on which reasonable people can and do disagree. (The over-reaching S 5(2)(b) would arguably require us to cease military ties with Australia if they decided, say in a horrible crisis time, to arm with some nukes. Reasonable people might want to drop that clause rather than go effectively ally-less if it came to that.) And if a majority in NZ comes to think poorly of it, then they absolutely ought to be able to change it (hence Woppo's "stunt" remark above is correct). More narrowly, in my view it's a poorly thought out, misleadingly-argued-for-at-the-time (Woppo's attempt to tar and feather of all disagreement as "supine out-sourcing of foreign policy" is a good example of some of what I have in mind by this remark), already logically partially-repudiated piece of legislation. A piece of red meat populism thrown to the left of the Labour party and to some extent to the country as a whole to get them to swallow all of the Lange govt's wrenching monetarist economic policies, the 1987 Act is strongly of it's time and should receive no protection beyond the agreement of the majority that it's in the national interest to continue it.

Posted by plague : 6/10/2007 03:36:00 AM

plague - I believe that the major provisions of the anti-nuke legislation have been effectively endorsed in the years since its introduction. Don McKinnon was more or less forced to recognise this during the Bolger era. While dismissing it as a 'piece of red meat populism' shows something of a contempt for the electorate, you're absolutely right when you describe the way in which it was introduced as a cynical way of diverting the left from scrutinising the Douglas agenda. I believe it was Tom Scott who described Lange's role at the time as a 'front man for a bunch of vicious little knee-cappers.'
You're absolutely correct in highlighting the need to clarify the distinction between domestic and military nuclear energy, and to amend the 1987 act accordingly. It's an area where we ignore ongoing developments at our peril. It's also a deliberate confusion employed by those who'd like to see the act's provisions dismantled altogether.
One final point - I'd have thought that it was plain enough that my use of the term 'supine' was aimed at the rump attitude which insists that small nations have no option but to unconditionally and uncritically align themselves with major powers. A local version of Tony Blair would have been a disaster at any time during the past two decades.

Posted by woppo : 6/10/2007 11:55:00 AM

Woppo, I'll believe you'll find that New Zealand also supported the triumvirate coalition of Democratic Kampuchea let by the Khmer Rouge (which had been overthrown before Thatcher and Reagan) against the Vietnamese occupation/liberation (it was liberation) forces in Cambodia as well. Of course so did China. You may recall that Pol Pot overthrew a corrupt US backed regime, and was worse.

Lange embraced Mugabe, and he was hardly less a blood thirsty murderer then (as was pointed out at the time) than he is now.

NZ could hardly hold its head up high for being so moral when it embraced closer relations with China and Iran for trade reason. South Africa was defended somewhat by Washington and London because it said it would declare itself a nuclear power if it was completely isolated. In that case, the USSR may well have decided that it could advance the fall of apartheid through its proxies, and perhaps inflame nuclear war in southern Africa.

Oh to be a small country far away from everything, have your foreign policy mean next to nothing in the world, and proclaim the moral highground.

Posted by libertyscott : 6/12/2007 09:02:00 PM