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Helen Clark Speech - School of Medicine

1.00 pm
Friday 4 August 2000

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister


Auckland Branch
International Physicians for the
Prevention of Nuclear War

School of Medicine
University of Auckland

Today’s event marks the fifty-fifth anniversary since the use of nuclear weapons on Nagasaki. Hiroshima was bombed days earlier. In a matter of seconds both cities were erased, there was a terrible toll in human suffering and death, and nuclear weapons became a new part of the international context.

The world as it was then seems a distant place. In the aftermath of global war followed a long period featuring the doctrine of nuclear deterrence, and a nuclear arms race which brought global nuclear stockpiles to a peak of nearly 70,000, a figure reached only fourteen years ago. It was an age of ‘living by threats’, as Rob Green in his new book exposing The Naked Nuclear Emperor succinctly put it.

But fifty-five years on from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how does the nuclear threat look?

Back in November, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade produced briefing papers for our new government.

They acknowledged that the security environment in the first years post-Cold War allowed for important gains in arms control and disarmament including the negotiation of START I and II, for new adherents to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its permanent extension, and for adoption of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the Ottawa Convention banning landmines. Then the brief took a sombre turn. It said that:

“The environment has deteriorated over the past eighteen months and progress is currently stalled, particularly in the field of nuclear disarmament. Contributing factors include:
1. The nuclear tests by India and Pakistan and their claim to nuclear weapon state status.

2. The failure of the Russian Duma to ratify START II and consequent delays in negotiations on further US/Russian bilateral reductions.

3. US plans to mount National Missile Defence (NMD) and possible Theatre Missile Defence (TMD) with consequent fall-out for US/Russia and US/China relations.

4. The recent United States Senate vote against CTBT ratification was a blow to confidence in this long-sought disarmament and non-proliferation measure.

5. Multilateral processes such as the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva are inevitably affected by this uncertain international environment: the next step on the nuclear disarmament agenda, negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty, has yet to get underway and the nuclear weapon states continue to veto wider discussions on nuclear disarmament in that setting."

Matt Robson, Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control, saw first-hand evidence of this environment of stagnation and deadlock when he visited the disarmament capitals of Geneva and Vienna in March. At the Conference on Disarmament – the world’s standing disarmament negotiating body which has talked but not worked for four years – he said that New Zealand was under no illusion that progress might be easy. But he strongly asserted the New Zealand position: that the world must not retreat to the days when the Cold War doctrine of nuclear armament and deterrence seemed unchangeable. Instead we must take the opportunities that are available to prevent a renewed nuclear arms race and to work for disarmament.

Our new Labour-Alliance Government believes that New Zealand has made and can and should make a difference on nuclear disarmament issues. Disarmament and arms control are a major foreign policy priority for us. We have a long history on these issues.

 Norman Kirk’s and David Lange’s Labour Governments distinguished themselves by the strength and determination of their opposition to nuclear testing generally, and specifically to French nuclear testing in the Pacific at Mururoa.

 Norman Kirk’s sending of New Zealand naval vessels to the test zone communicated New Zealand’s opposition directly and visibly to France and the world.

 Martin Finlay took a case to the International Court of Justice at The Hague to seek by legal means an end to atmospheric nuclear testing.

 David Lange’s Government passed historic legislation which made New Zealand a nuclear free zone. It was a unique and powerful action which, notwithstanding international pressures against it, entrenched New Zealand’s status as being nuclear free. Overwhelming public support for this stance saw even the National Party forced to reverse its former position opposing the law.

 In opposition, Labour strongly supported the World Court Project which resulted in the historic finding by the International Court of Justice in 1996 that an obligation exists “to pursue in good faith and to bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control”. In February this year, Parliament adopted unanimously a resolution which affirmed New Zealand’s support for that objective. Our intention is to galvanise the international community to press forward, with New Zealand, in seeking the eradication of nuclear weapons.

That’s why New Zealand is a member of the New Agenda Coalition. It is a group of countries crossing the traditional North/South divide and escaping the straitjacket of the Cold War groupings of East, West, and Non-aligned. It is comprised of Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, Ireland, Sweden, New Zealand and South Africa. These countries came together in mid-1997 on a platform to inject new momentum into the pursuit of the total elimination of nuclear weapons. The United Nations resolutions promoted by the coalition in 1998 and 1999 received support from the overwhelming majority of UN members demonstrating that there was a new level of demand for action – and action now – by the nuclear weapon states. That action required, in the New Agenda Coalition’s view, an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear weapon states to the total elimination of their nuclear weapons, coupled with an undertaking to an accelerated process of negotiations delivering nuclear disarmament to which all states are committed under the NPT.

The elimination of nuclear weapons requires new thinking, both among the acknowledged nuclear club, and among states which aspire to be nuclear weapon states and which in many respects already are. In the New Zealand view, these countries are mistaken to believe that their security is enhanced by taking up nuclear weapons, when that can lead to an escalating nuclear arms race, the risk of nuclear confrontation, and the fundamental instability that must breed.

There are five countries – the United States, the Russian Federation, France, United Kingdom and China – which are permitted under the NPT to hold nuclear weapons on condition that they pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament. Their nuclear weapons holdings and programmes are still of concern.

 Those five states possess in total more than 30,000 nuclear weapons, both strategic and tactical. The inventories of the five nuclear weapon states vary greatly in size, and those of the United States and Russia are being reduced under the START I and II treaties. But neither of these agreements requires the destruction of the weapons removed from active duty, and they do not address tactical nuclear weapons;

 France and the United Kingdom have taken welcome measures unilaterally to trim their nuclear stocks, but both resist engagement now with other nuclear weapon states on arms reduction talks;

 the United States seems to be putting existing disarmament agreements at risk by developing a defence system against a missile threat which, while it certainly exists, many in the world believe is exaggerated and could be better addressed through the enforcement and strengthening of existing control and disarmament regimes;

 China is modernising its nuclear arsenal and threatening to review its entire nuclear posture if the United States decides to deploy a national missile defence system.

Notwithstanding the fact that we live in a world whose security architecture has been transformed, the military doctrines of the five nuclear weapon states retain a role for nuclear weapons. Four of them will not rule out the first use of nuclear weapons against an aggressor, although the members of nuclear-weapon-free zones have mostly received assurances against their threat or use.

The good news is that the climate for progressing nuclear disarmament initiatives has definitely improved. On the eve of the NPT Review conference in April, Russia ratified START II, with conditions, and the CTBT. These were both welcome steps which, in terms of the NPT Review Conference dynamics, turned the spotlight on the remaining four nuclear weapon states party to the NPT, especially the United States and China which have yet to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty. The pressure was on the five nuclear weapon states parties to breathe new life into the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which stands as the cornerstone of arms control and disarmament. And they did respond. Matt Robson set out the achievements of the NPT Review conference in a recent speech as follows:

1. “The five nuclear weapons states have agreed to make an “unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their arsenals” in terms which heighten hopes for future disarmament negotiations especially in the next five year review period.

2. The US/Russian bilateral START process was endorsed including negotiation of START III. To complement those efforts, the Conference also agreed on the need for further unilateral efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals. The United Kingdom, France and China have accepted that they must, in time, join the largest nuclear weapons states in disarmament efforts.

3. The five acknowledged nuclear powers also agreed to provide more information on their nuclear capabilities and the implementation of disarmament agreements. They must reduce non-strategic nuclear weapons arsenals. These are the tactical weapons that remain deployed in Europe and Russia.

4. The five must take concrete measures to further reduce the operational status of nuclear weapon systems. On 1 May those nuclear weapon states announced that none of their weapons remain targeted, but they have now promised to go further.

5. Nuclear arms reductions and disarmament are also to be governed by the principle of “irreversibility”. That means, for example, that weapons which are taken out of active arsenals and dismantled under disarmament agreements are not just stockpiled and so available for future re-assembly, but instead are rendered unusable forever. This should help lock in an end to the nuclear arms race.

6. Non-nuclear weapon states have raised strong concerns about the option retained by NATO countries and Russia to use nuclear weapons in a “first strike” – this is known as a “first-use” policy. There have also been worrying attempts to find a new role for nuclear weapons as a deterrent for chemical or biological weapons. A particular prize then, was the Conference’s agreement that nuclear weapons should play a diminishing role in security policies.

7. The Conference on Disarmament, which opened its second session in May in Geneva, has been told to get down to work on negotiations to end the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons – these are known as “Cut Off” negotiations. The Conference must also begin formal talks on wider issues of nuclear disarmament.

8. A moratorium on nuclear testing in the period before the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty comes into force has been endorsed, strengthening the norm which we have urged India and Pakistan to meet.”

It is fair to say that New Zealand and the New Agenda Coalition did not achieve all that we jointly wished at the Conference. There is, for example, no set time-line for progressing the measures we agreed to, although progress will be monitored over the next five year review period. Then, some of the new commitments are explicitly or implicitly conditioned on developments which could yet prove negative. Russia’s and China’s opposition to US plans on missile defence and the amendment of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty is undiminished. Russia has threatened to tear up the START I and II treaties, and walk away from START III negotiations, if its concerns about US missile defence are not addressed. China is worried that a US missile shield will render its smaller nuclear force irrelevant, and may respond by new efforts to enlarge its arsenal.

But there is no doubt that very significant progress was made. New Zealand’s Disarmament Ambassador, Clive Pearson, played a significant role in achieving that progress through his chairmanship of a key conference negotiating committee. The outcome exceeded expectations, invigorating the NPT at a time when pervasive pessimism about the nuclear disarmament agenda threatened to weaken the credibility of the Treaty and play into the hands of the nuclear proliferators.

This positive turn of events and period of optimism must not provide grounds for complacency. Implementation of the new NPT commitments is likely to take time. There will be obstacles. The nuclear weapon states will want progress to be dictated by their assessment of their own security environment. Current military doctrines foresee the retention of nuclear arms well into the future. Commitment to rapid reductions in nuclear stockpiles is not strong. The START I and II treaties do not require the weapons to be eliminated, do not yet encompass tactical nuclear weapons, and are often hostage to political fortunes.

I am convinced New Zealand can and should continue to play a leadership role. Disarmament and arms control are processes that must constantly be pushed.

 We will remain strongly involved in the New Agenda coalition which is working at the United Nations and in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva to ensure follow-through on the NPT commitments;

 we are looking at ways of developing the concept of a southern hemisphere free of nuclear weapons, as a further step towards a nuclear-weapon-free world;

 we are also putting efforts into getting the CTBT’s international monitoring system up and running in our part of the world, in the hope that even if the Treaty takes some time to enter into force, the network can still be switched on and act as an obstacle to any temptation to resume explosive testing.

 and we are putting new efforts into stemming the proliferation of missiles capable of carrying nuclear, chemical or biological warheads.

It is clear, however, that New Zealand’s pushing alone will not be enough. Other countries must fulfil their commitments to the elimination of weapons of mass destruction. There will need to be more of the bold steps that New Zealand took in the mid 1980s. We need public opinion world-wide mobilised again.

 Non-governmental organisations such as the IPPNW play a vital role in mobilising this public opinion, both in New Zealand and internationally.

 Non-governmental organisations are demonstrating that they are more effective than ever. The Ottawa Convention banning landmines was driven by the work of many NGOs that forced governments to tackle what they thought was unachievable.

 New tools, such as the Internet, break down traditional barriers between people, and help mobilise public opinion not just nationally, but internationally.

The challenge is to keep the cause of disarmament relevant. The fear of imminent Armageddon that frightened young people in the 'eighties has passed for now. The urgency of the task seems to have been surpassed by the apparent immobility of international power politics. Yet the threat of the use of nuclear weapons remains.

Here in New Zealand there has long been a strong citizens’ movement for nuclear disarmament of which IPPNW is part. The Labour Party has long worked closely with these groups. Today I lead a social democratic government which wants effective partnerships with the community-based organisations which make up civil society. I am convinced that the abolition of nuclear weapons will come within reach when the tide of international opinion turns decidedly against any role for nuclear weapons.

As students, as practitioners, and as teachers of medicine, your voice is very relevant to the challenges that lie ahead. It is not going to be an easy path. But preventing the use of nuclear weapons ever again is an achievable goal that our government will seek with vigour.

The age of nuclear weapons has made the transition with us into a new century. That is a cause for considerable regret. Yet a bridge to a nuclear-free-world can and must be built, and New Zealand under my government will play its full part.


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