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David Miller Online. Why NZ Will Stay Nuclear Free

David Miller Online

Why New Zealand Will Stay Nuclear Free

Maybe it is the approaching 20th anniversary marking New Zealand’s first steps to becoming nuclear free, or maybe simply opposition parties' belief that they can get some mileage out of it, but the issue of nuclear power is back in the spotlight again.

As always, the Government stance on nuclear power is under attack from the United States, Australia and the political parties on the right although this time the critics are claiming that New Zealand could lose $1 billion in trade revenues.

The government has acknowledged this is a possibility but it will not be altering its stance. After all, if there is one issue that can lose an election then this is certainly it, and there is no need to change the current legislation.

The problem for those who advocate change is that this is not simply a case of earning or losing revenue.

No country can afford to lose the opportunity to invest and trade with such a lucrative market as the United States, especially a small state like New Zealand that relies heavily on trade and overseas investment.

However this is an issue that goes much deeper than trade or the prospect of financial gain. This is an issue that sparks much emotion and feeling within New Zealanders and one where many feel there is principle involved.

One reason that people do not wish to see a change in policy is that it could damage New Zealand’s image as a clean, environmentally friendly image.

Supporters of the status quo argue that this brings more benefits that a free trade agreement with the Americans and that we cannot afford to compromise that in any way.

Others claim that now is the time to stress the push towards disarmament and that by not allowing nuclear vessels into the country we are reducing the risk of being targeted by terrorists.

However, the main reason that New Zealanders would not support a change in the nuclear free stance is that it would be seen to be giving in to the United States and falling in line with what Washington demands.

The government is relying on public support by claiming that it is not compromising its principles for the sake of pleasing Washington and this is definitely where it will succeed.

Over the past twelve months there has been a trend in world opinion that has seen sympathy for the US in the wake of September 11 develop into one of frustration and hostility over a more aggressive foreign policy.

The Bush Administration has developed a doctrine whereby it believes it has the right and the strength to act unilaterally and outside of any international legal framework.

This is the case with Iraq and it is this policy of saying to other countries, ‘you are either with us or against us’, that is costing the US much needed support.

The US has now demonstrated this approach in regard to New Zealand. The US embassy has stated that New Zealand's nuclear policy is blocking future trade deals and that Australia has benefited from its pro-nuclear stance and the strategic relationship it has formed with the US.

What is happening is that the Bush Administration is using trade as leverage to try and influence the policy of other countries. Until now, New Zealand was disadvantaged in a military sense however there are signs that this scope is widening.

The government is hopeful that this will not be the case and that a trade agreement can be reached without placing the issue of nuclear power on the table. This is likely to be nothing more than wishful thinking.

The Bush Administration is adopting a much tougher line on its allies and other countries to gain support for its international agenda and New Zealand will not escape that.

Despite the costs involved, the question for New Zealand is whether trade and revenue are more important than being nuclear free and whether we should compromise this principle.

As much as this column has advocated free trade and even supported globalisation, New Zealand would lose much by altering its nuclear policy.

The image New Zealand presents to the world has been built upon this and New Zealand is respected for this as much as it is criticised by Australia and the US. Is it worth bargaining that away?


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