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Matt Robson: A New Agenda Perspective

Hon Matt Robson Speech Notes

A New Agenda Perspective
On the 2000 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference: Implementation and follow-up


Delivered at “Ka hao te rangatahi: a Pacific way to disarmament”

United Nations Asia Pacific Regional Disarmament Conference
Wellington 27 –30 March 2001

Kei runga tenei.
Te whare tu mai nei, tena koe.
Ko nga aitua maha kua whetu-rangi-tia, haere haere, hoki atu ra.
Ki nga mataroa, koutou katoa, nga rangatira o te ao i huihui mai i te moka nei, tenei te mihi atu ki a koutou nei katoa.
Nau mai, haere mai, hui mai i raro i te maru o te marie.
Pai Marire.

[I stand before you. I acknowledge the great house in which we gather. To those who have gone before us, travel in peace. To those from near and far who have gathered here today, come and be welcome, knowing we assemble under a mantle of peace. Peace be with you.]


Today I shall speak as Minister of a country that is a member of what we have called the New Agenda Coalition, group, and Initiative. What I shall say will fit, I hope perfectly, with New Agenda policy. But I am not speaking today on behalf of our group. This is not a coordinated statement of the New Agenda.

In her welcome remarks Prime Minister Helen Clark said New Zealand had put our heart into the New Agenda. We are a group of countries with heart: Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa, Sweden and New Zealand.

We joined together in 1998. We were dismayed at the faltering in nuclear disarmament and at the lost opportunity at the end of the Cold War. Nuclear tests by India and Pakistan were a new affront to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the NPT. We worried that we would soon see further proliferation and an unravelling of the norms which the NPT put in place.

In setting out our New Agenda for nuclear disarmament we knew we would not be alone. We relied already on the good work of others. For example, the International Court of Justice and its Advisory Opinion in 1996.

This held that the threat or use of nuclear weapons was generally illegal. The International Court held too that the international community was obliged to pursue in good faith - and bring to a conclusion - negotiations leading to disarmament in all its aspects, under strict and effective international control. We acknowledge again today the contribution of Judge Weeramantry, a member of the Court at that time. Judge Weeramantry will speak to us tomorrow.

Early last year our Parliament lent its weight to this view of the International Court, endorsing without dissent a motion by the Prime Minister. Parliament resolved, and I quote:

"…as a mark of the dawning of the year 2000, to appeal to all fellow member states of the United Nations, and especially the nuclear weapon states, to join with New Zealand in fulfilling the obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control”.

Also in 1996 the Canberra Commission, an initiative of the Australian Government, made its report. The thinking of the Canberra Commissioners was crucial to our New Agenda. We should acknowledge this contribution of Australia to our work.

Under-Secretary-General Dhanapala was a member of the Commission. We have been very pleased to work with him as joint host of this conference.

So we aimed to build a new constituency for an approach to accelerate progress to eliminate nuclear weapons.

We sought to cut across the old boundaries, which can block action in our world. Barriers between West and East. North and South. Nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapon states. Those who believe they can find shelter under nuclear umbrellas, and those who stand out in the open. We tried to challenge old dogma, on all sides. Not just the dogma of nuclear deterrence. Also the perfectionism which calls for nuclear disarmament today, or perhaps tomorrow. That poses as an alternative to crude realism.

We found early on that there was a broad interest in the New Agenda. This was obvious in the support for our resolutions in 1998 and 1999 at the General Assembly.

But it was obvious in the UN voting that we had to look beyond the 124 supporters we gained in our first year. In 1998 some 18 countries voted against. 38 abstained. Some said we implied bad faith on their part. Others questioned our credentials.

We knew that to move forwards from this broad support to any realisation of our goals we needed to connect better to the nuclear weapon states and their allies. If we wanted acceptance of our views, we had to listen a bit harder and bend a bit too.

The NPT review process - which holds rigidly to consensus - proved less transparent. So even after taking part in the Preparatory Commission in 1999 we entered into the NPT Review Conference in April last year less certain than the numbers at the UN might have suggested.

The Foreign Minister of Mexico, speaking for all seven countries, signalled the flexibility of the New Agenda. It was “pragmatic and realistic” she said, in bringing together steps for the international community to take towards nuclear disarmament.

But fundamental to our initiative was the requirement for an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear weapon states to the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.

One by one the Ministers of the New Agenda - me included - took up this call. Our diplomats followed through in the Conference over the next weeks. They argued again and again for the full ambition of the New Agenda. They engaged widely, with our co-sponsors and friends, with the Non-Aligned, in the Western Group, and with the nuclear weapon states.

As Chair of a subsidiary body on nuclear disarmament, New Zealand's Ambassador from Geneva, Clive Pearson, assisted by our Permanent Representative in Vienna, Joan Mosley, played a very full part in leading the Conference towards a result.

The negotiation in the Enid Blyton Group (the Famous Five and the Secret Seven; nuclear weapon states and New Agenda) moved it forwards.

In the end, the Conference delivered.

The five nuclear weapon states recognised by the NPT gave their unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.

As was said in the last moments of the Conference, in New York, what had been implicit - in their legally binding commitments under the Treaty - had become explicit. We are grateful that they took this new step. We have welcomed the new commitments to practical steps agreed by all. It gives us greater faith in the prospects for nuclear disarmament.

What has happened since the NPT Review Conference has underlined the need for the New Agenda countries to persist with our efforts.

First, at the Millennium Summit, heads of state and government resolved to strive for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, in particular nuclear weapons.

Later, at the General Assembly, we gained huge support for a fresh New Agenda resolution. This carried forward and consolidated the negotiated package from the NPT Review. Britain, China and the United States agreed as did many NATO members; France and Russia abstained.

We acknowledge the efforts made towards implementing these commitments.

More countries - including from the Pacific - have signed and ratified a key disarmament and arms control treaty, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. We welcome the Provisional Secretariat of the CTBT organisation here in Wellington for our Conference. Preparation of the verification system for the treaty’s entry into force is well advanced.

But we worry that key countries stand in the way of the CTBT. China and the US need to complete ratification. Do India, Pakistan and North Korea intend to join up?

The international safeguards regime is getting stronger, slowly, as countries sign up to the International Atomic Energy Agency Model Additional Protocol. The IAEA is very welcome in New Zealand, and it is here with us today.

Work has continued for the safe disposal of fissile material in Russia. Russia has made many proposals for arms control in recent months.

And then again, not much has happened. The Conference on Disarmament remains unable to agree on a programme of work, let alone do any work itself. This cuts against the agreed NPT agenda which called on the Conference on Disarmament to do two important pieces of work. For example, to begin negotiations on the Fissile Material Cut Off treaty.

Russia has put forward proposals for further bilateral cuts in their and US weapon numbers under START III. But START II remains incomplete, and negotiations for START III have not begun.

President Bush has spoken of possible deep cuts in the US arsenal, on a unilateral basis. We welcome this possibility. But the shadow of US plans for a National Missile Defence, NMD, hangs over international disarmament diplomacy.

As the Prime Minister said, we have concerns about NMD from our New Zealand point of view. But we also see the NMD debate as a spur to doing more, and better, with the existing regimes of disarmament and arms control. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty stands at the centre of that.

When the NPT review process gets underway again - formally at the first Preparatory Commission in the first half of 2002 - we shall be pointing to the implementation of the practical steps which the states party to the Treaty agreed upon in 2000 as the next steps to nuclear disarmament. We won’t be alone. We expect to be in excellent company, from across the full range of countries. Including, we hope, the nuclear weapon states, measuring their own performance against the benchmarks set last year.

And we’ll have NGOs such as the Middle Powers Initiative working away towards the same goals. We acknowledge the commitment of Senator Roche to this, helped by some very dogged New Zealanders.

As we have heard from Under-Secretary-General Dhanapala, Rebecca Johnson and other speakers, there’s plenty to be getting on with. The New Agenda, as it has emerged from the process I’ve described, remains flexible and realistic. It has been blessed with a degree of political support. It needs nourishment by political and practical action.

I find it helpful to reflect from time to time on what the money spent on military expenditure, if spent on needs such as health and education, could do for international security in a broad sense.

There is a lot of work to be done.

By the nuclear weapons states - the very few - who have the problem of eliminating their nuclear weapons.

By the diplomats who are skilled at translating broad political aims into precise legal commitments in bilateral and multilateral treaties.

By people with a strong technical bent.

We in New Zealand have renounced nuclear weapons. We have decided against nuclear power. So we don’t have much capacity to help with the technical detail of implementation of verification schemes, dismantling of production facilities, reducing the operational status of weapons.

But we do have a determination to see the elimination of nuclear weapons, and to do this in partnership with our New Agenda group, and with the support of the overwhelming majority, of non-nuclear states.

We’ll stay alert to change and to new opportunities. While we shall press for implementation of what has been agreed we’ll want also to be at the leading edge on what remains to be done. We’ll try to listen and learn as we go.

This Conference is already showing value for that. Our ambition is to complete the job. Our New Zealand heart is in that.

What role might there be for Pacific countries in NPT follow up, from a New Agenda perspective?

First I should remind us that Pacific countries have been generous co-sponsors of the New Agenda from our early days. Fiji, Samoa and Solomon Islands were there for the launch of the first New Agenda resolution at the UN General Assembly in 1998. Papua New Guinea joined co-sponsors in 1999. All four signed up again last year. We are grateful to you all, and to others from the region who voted for the resolutions in the First Committee and General Assembly.

Secondly, Pacific countries play a part in the delivery through international disarmament diplomacy. All are states party to the NPT. The coverage of IAEA safeguards is not complete. And the IAEA Additional Protocol is still in its early days. Some catch up here would be a fine extra contribution from the Pacific.

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty has good support from Pacific countries. We have as a region a long experience on nuclear testing, by three of the nuclear weapon states. Opposition to testing gave Pacific countries an informed interest in the CTBT. Several are organising to contribute also to the CTBT International Monitoring System: the Cook Islands (kia orana); Fiji (Nisa Bula), Kiribati (Kam na Mauri), Samoa (Talofa) Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea (Apinun tru olgeta).

The South Pacific Nuclear Weapon Free Zone is a real contribution from the Pacific and a lasting one. We urge the United States to complete its ratification of the Protocols to the Treaty of Rarotonga. The Treaty is open to new adherents from the region.

The 2000 NPT Review Conference showed a new courage in “naming names” of countries standing outside the international norms. It would be a pity if the few who defy these norms might shelter among the many who struggle to complete the treaty processes. Like countries of this region, who threaten no one.

The theme for this Conference is "Ka hao te rangitahi", taken from a Maori proverb, and translated as "the new net goes fishing". There is another Maori proverb, "Ka puta kite whai ao, ki te ao marama, ti hei Maoriora" which translates as "From the world, to enlightenment". There is further to go along this Pacific way to disarmament and this Conference is a part of that journey.

Ends

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