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12th Annual CNN World Report Conference

Embargoed Until 1.00 am
Wednesday 30 May 2001

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister


12th Annual CNN World Report Conference

by satellite link to

Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Wednesday 30 May 2001

Thank you for the invitation to participate in this CNN Conference.

As one of CNN's devoted viewers in New Zealand, I thank CNN for what it does to bring the news as it happens around the globe into our homes and offices wherever we may be. Your global television service is a key component of the information age.

The 21st century is also the age of globalisation and of interdependence between nations. Events affecting even the few more often than not have implications for the many. That makes the news coverage of CNN and other international news services indispensable for the informed citizen on this planet.

I do appreciate this opportunity as the leader of one of the world's smaller nations, and, indeed, of a nation geographically on the periphery, to give you my perspective on the issues posed by nuclear weaponry today.

First, a step back in history. Recently I visited Hiroshima in Japan for the first time. We all know of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima fifty six years ago. After laying a wreath as New Zealand Prime Minister in the peace park, I visited the museum. Like all of us interested in nuclear issues I knew a great deal about what had transpired in Hiroshima in 1945. But that could not insulate me from the shock I felt from seeing the exhibits ¡V the charred bicycle of a child, the fragments of a sandal found by a mother, and those terrible photos. As I left, I wrote in the visitors' book, "this must never happen again". But can we stop it?

I am well aware of the widespread relief felt among my parents' and grandparents' generations in the allied nations when the nuclear bombing of Japan abruptly ended the war. Alas, it also generated a new form of arms race. For, following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons became an established part of the international context. The doctrine of nuclear deterrence developed alongside growing nuclear arsenals which brought global nuclear weapons stockpiles to nearly 70,000, a figure reached only fifteen years ago.

At the end of the Cold War in the 1990s the world had the opportunity to get rid of nuclear weapons, but for the most part, that opportunity was squandered. While some progress has been made, for example in removing tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, in bilateral reductions by the two major nuclear weapons states, and in the negotiation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the view is still held in the capitals of the nuclear weapons states that nuclear weapons are "essential" to security.

Now at the beginning of the 21st century, I have a sense that people are less mindful of the threat of nuclear weapons. We have become complacent. Other issues have come to the fore. Yet there are still over 30,000 nuclear weapons in the hands of the five nuclear weapons states : China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Other weapons are in the hands of the so-called "nuclear capable" states : India, Pakistan, and Israel. Then there are Iraq and North Korea who aspire to that status and who have been found in breach of International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards with respect to nuclear material.

Thus the risk of the use of nuclear weapons is as real as it ever was.

But there is still hope and, for now, still time to eliminate nuclear weapons before they eliminate us. The five nuclear weapon states did make an unequivocal commitment to the total elimination of their nuclear weapons at last year's review conference of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. We now look to them to keep this promise, and to all non nuclear weapons states to maintain the pressure on them to do so.

New Zealand's history of nuclear disarmament advocacy

You might ask why a small nation like New Zealand, so remote from major conflicts, takes disarmament issues so seriously and involves itself so wholeheartedly in the multilateral systems offered by the United Nations and other international agencies.

In the first place the islands of New Zealand are in the Pacific Ocean - the only region in the world to have experienced both the testing and the use of nuclear weapons. Britain, France and the USA have tested their nuclear weapons in the Pacific Ocean, and nuclear weapons were used against Japan on the Pacific Rim in 1945.

It is in this context that advocacy of nuclear disarmament has been a strong theme in New Zealand foreign policy for much of the past thirty years.

In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, New Zealand took a number of unilateral initiatives for nuclear disarmament. We went so far as to declare ourselves nuclear free as a nation. We did so because of our belief in the immorality of nuclear weapons and because we knew that nuclear war would be a catastrophe for our planet. Perhaps as a small nation without enemies, in a benign strategic environment, we have had a greater freedom to raise these issues.

New Zealand spoke out strongly against French atmospheric and underground testing at Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls in French Polynesia. We sent Royal New Zealand Navy vessels near the test zone in protest in 1973 and 1995. We took a case to the International Court of Justice in the Hague in 1973 to seek an end to atmospheric nuclear testing and in 1995 we sought to extend that case to underground testing. New Zealand is a key adherent to and promoter of the South Pacific Nuclear Weapon Free Zone.

In 1987, the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone Act came into force, banning entry of all nuclear weapons and nuclear powered vessels. It was a unique and powerful action, notwithstanding international pressures against it, and the effects it had on our hitherto strong alliance relationship with the United States. The Act entrenched New Zealand's nuclear free status in law. There has been overwhelming public and political support for it.

What New Zealand appreciates is that its individual actions for disarmament must be backed up by dedication to hard, slow, painstaking work at the multilateral level. Every state, large and small, has a voice. It is up to each nation how it uses that voice.

We choose to use ours to call for strong, binding rules and conventions to make the world a safer, healthier, more socially responsible, and prosperous place in which to live.

For that reason we strongly supported the United Nations General Assembly's request to the International Court of Justice in 1994 for an advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons. That led to the historic ruling by the Court that the threat or use of nuclear weapons was generally illegal and that there exists an obligation "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".

A Southern Hemisphere free of nuclear weapons

Presently New Zealand is working with Brazil on the concept of a Southern Hemisphere free of nuclear weapons. Already there are four nuclear-weapon-free zones which are in, or include parts of, the Southern Hemisphere : those of the South Pacific, South East Asia, Africa, and Latin America. We also count de-militarised Antarctica as a de facto nuclear weapon free zone.

In promoting a nuclear weapon free Southern Hemisphere, we are not looking for new legally binding commitments, but rather for an expression of common purpose between the zones. Through political pressure and dialogue and perhaps a major conference and a declaration, we can advance a common vision of the zones' members and carry forward the momentum of nuclear disarmament.

The New Agenda and the NPT

One of the most important groupings in promoting nuclear disarmament in recent years has been that around the New Agenda initiative. New Zealand is a member, along with Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, Ireland, Sweden and South Africa. The New Agenda crosses the traditional north/south divide, and has escaped the old straightjackets of the Cold War groupings of East, West and Non-Aligned.

Our group of nations came together in 1998 on a platform to inject new momentum into the pursuit of the total elimination of nuclear weapons. We sensed that there was overwhelming support from the majority of United Nations members for this. That action required, in the New Agenda countries' view, an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear weapon states, to the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals and an accelerated process of negotiations delivering nuclear disarmament.

The nuclear weapon states responded at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in May 2000 with an historic, unequivocal undertaking to the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals. That heightened our hopes for future disarmament negotiations. The nuclear weapon states have also agreed to a set of practical steps which go far beyond earlier specific commitments.

They include:

„h further unilateral cuts to nuclear arsenals

„h providing more information on nuclear capabilities

„h reducing non-strategic nuclear arsenals

„h a diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies

„h work in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on ways and means to move towards complete nuclear disarmament

„h early signature and ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and a moratorium on nuclear-weapon-test explosions, pending entry into force of the CTBT

„h an early start to negotiations on a "cut off" treaty to prevent manufacture of fissile material, used to make nuclear bombs

„h endorsement of the US/Russia START process

„h the principal of irreversibility ¡V once taken out of active arsenals, nuclear weapons must be dismantled, and not recycled.

It is fair to say that New Zealand and its New Agenda partners did not achieve all that we jointly wished at the NPT Review Conference. There is still, for example, no set time for progressing the measures agreed to at the Conference, although progress will be monitored over the five year review period. And some of the new commitments are explicitly or implicitly conditioned on existing arms control treaties which initiatives like the United States' proposal for a national missile defence system are bringing into question. New Zealand has expressed concern about the proposed missile defence system for this reason.

We understand the United States' concern about being attacked by chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, but we want an effective international response to proliferation which does not put disarmament efforts, treaties, and progress at risk.

We believe a better defence for all nations could be mounted through enhancing support for the various agencies, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the proposed biological weapons verification regime, which seek to control, eliminate, or raise barriers against proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Probably the more realistic threat to the United States than an inter-continental ballistic missile sent by a rogue state is the threat of terrorism within or at its borders using nuclear, chemical, biological, or other devastating weaponry.

I believe that we would all be enthusiastic about embracing joint efforts to address terrorism and its roots and causes. None of us can be complacent about the threat of terrorism within our own borders.

But, notwithstanding our concern about the United States' missile defence plans, those plans most definitely should not be used as an excuse for other nuclear weapon states to start another nuclear arms race. As indicated above there are a number of constructive steps we could all take together to promote our common security.

There is much that all states can do to promote international confidence in their commitment to disarmament. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty needs ratification by all. An early start to negotiations banning the production of fissile material should be supported, along with the existing missile control regime and the biological and chemical weapons conventions. We would like to see all countries join the ban on landmines too.

In thinking about any new defence or security proposal, we come back, time and again, to the unequivocal commitment made at the NPT Review Conference to the total elimination of nuclear weapons. Those undertakings were made by Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, and were welcomed by all the other states party to the NPT. All non nuclear states should continue to hold the nuclear weapon states to their promise.

New Zealand will continue to work in the United Nations, in the Conference on Disarmament, with our New Agenda partners, with the nuclear weapons states, and with whoever we can and wherever and whenever we can, to press for a world free from nuclear weapons.

I come back to my starting point about complacency. Civil society cannot afford to be complacent about the threat of nuclear weapons. They are still with us. They are still dangerous. The fear of imminent Armageddon that frightened young people in the 1980s has passed for now. The urgency of the task seems to have been surpassed by the apparent immobility of national power politics. Yet the threat remains.

The news media can play a major role in support of disarmament by refusing to ignore the issue and by not sanctioning the continued nuclear threat with silence. News media played a vital role in highlighting the horror of landmines. What we witnessed with the campaign to ban landmines was that when non-governmental organisations, media, and governments work together, issues can be tackled and goals achieved where previously expectations of progress were slow. Can we not now use the same process with nuclear weapons?

The challenge is to keep the cause of disarmament relevant. We need to keep ever present in the public mind the real and ongoing threat to our planet from nuclear weapons.

Eliminating that threat is an achievable goal. The New Zealand government will pursue it vigorously. We hope others will join us.

For no nation can achieve nuclear disarmament on its own. Together, governments, NGOs, media, concerned citizens, we can. This must be our vision as an international community of peoples in the 21st century.


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