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Speech: Robson - Arctic Nuclear Weapons Free Zone

Monday 10 August 2009

Towards an Arctic Nuclear Weapons
Free Zone

Towards a Nuclear Weapons’ Free World

Hon Matt Robson

Address at

Copenhagen Pugwash Conference
10-11 August 2009

We live in an unbalanced world in terms of what humanity needs and what humanity gets. That means we live in a world of contradictions.

Billions of our fellow citizens live without adequate, shelter, food or clothing. Over 2.5 billion human beings, 40% of the world’s population, have to try and live on less than US$2 per day. They lack adequate health care, if they get it all, and have little quality education. The great majority in this situation live in the so-called developing world. But a sizeable number who go without also live in the richest countries.

The world’s richest individuals have a combined income greater than that of the poorest 416 million.

Yet those whom Bob Dylan called ‘the masters of war’ have determined that rather than meeting these basic needs of humanity ,that military spending will take priority and that that spending needs indeed to increase.

The internationally respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported in June 2008 as follows:

World military spending grew 45 percent in the past decade with the United States accounting for nearly half of all expenditure. Military spending grew 6 per cent in 2007. And that growth continues.

In 2007 $1.338 trillion was spent on arms and other military expenditure, corresponding to 2.5 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product, or GDP – or $202 for each of the world’s 6.6 billion people.

The United States spends by far the most toward military aims, officially dishing out $547 billion last year, or 45 percent of global expenditure. Britain, China, France and Japan, their next group of big military spenders, lag far behind at just 4 to 5 percent of world military costs each.

In 2008, eight nuclear weapon states possessed almost 10,200 operational nuclear weapons. Several thousand of these nuclear weapons are kept on high alert. When all nuclear warheads are counted – operational warheads, spares, those in both active and inactive storage, and intact warheads to be dismantled, the nuclear armed states have 25,000 warheads.

So we know where the weapons of mass destruction that George Bush went looking for in Iraq are located. Those WMD's were right under the noses of George and Tony. Not with rogue states and terrorist groups but in the military installations of the largest and most powerful states and a number of them in the fragile ecosystem of the Arctic region.
SIPRI concludes that the 5 nuclear states defined by the NPT in 1968 - China, France, Russia, the UK the USA - are all in the process of deploying new nuclear weapons or have announced their intention to do so.

The de facto nuclear weapon states of Israel, India and Pakistan, and probably North Korea, are proceeding apace to develop missile systems that can deliver nuclear weapons.

In the decade to 2008 military spending in Eastern Europe went up 62 per cent. North America 65 per cent, the Middle East by 62 per cent, South Asia by 57 per cent and Africa and East Asia by 51 per cent each.

This escalation has of course been a bonanza for the Merchants of Death. Sixty-three of the hundred top weapons firms are in the USA and Western Europe. In 2006 their sales were reported as $292.3 billion. In the economic recession, they are not reported as having any great financial problems.

Joseph Stieglitz and Linda Bilmes in their wonderful research for the “Three Trillion Dollar War”, published in 2008, estimated that the USA had spent three trillion dollars on George Bush and Tony Blair’s war against Iraq. They asked how this enormous sum could have been used beneficially in the USA and the wider world.

For the USA alone, they say:
A trillion dollars could have built 8 million additional housing units, could have hired some 15 million additional public school teachers for one year; could have paid for 120 million children to attend a year of head start; or insured 530 million children for health care for one year; or provided 43 million students with four – year scholarships at public universities. Now multiply those numbers by three.

They then go on to calculate the effect if the money or even a fraction of it, for the war had been devoted to development goals for the poorest countries:

For sums less than the direct expenditures on the war, we could have fulfilled our commitment to provide 7 per cent of our gross domestic product to help developing countries – money that could have made an enormous difference to the well-being of billions living in poverty today ... two trillion dollars would enable us to meet our commitments to the poorest countries for the next third of a century.

How to redress this imbalance of expenditure?

If a referendum was held of the world’s peoples on whether military expenditure should be greatly decreased and for the abolition of all nuclear weapons in favour of the goals set out by Stieglitz and Bilmes my money would be on the bet that a thumping majority would vote yes.

Our task at this conference is to be part of a movement to mobilise humanity so that that referendum becomes a reality and a movement of solidarity across the globe grows and its voice becomes one that cannot be ignored.

Nuclear weapon free zones are a vital tool in developing that voice so that that voice becomes a powerful political force.

Creating an Arctic nuclear-free zone will be an important part of building that political force will redress the imbalance with the Antarctic and will provide an important impetus to the goal of the total abolition of all nuclear weapons.

The Southern Hemisphere

When all the countries of Africa below the equator are committed to the Treaty of Pelindaba, and that is almost complete, then every country in the southern hemisphere will be free of nuclear weapons.

This means the Pacific countries, those in Asia, Latin America and now Africa have committed themselves to rid not only their own territories of nuclear weapons but also to being part of the overwhelming number of countries committed to their total abolition.

We in New Zealand, at government level, and among the people, have long supported the call not just for a southern hemisphere nuclear weapons free zone but one that incorporates adjacent areas as well.

We are well aware that the indigenous peoples of the Pacific, in the north and south, have led the way in our region to be nuclear-free. Their territories and waters were the testing ground for the nuclear powers and they suffered terribly and continue to suffer from the effects of radiation and forced relocation.

All of Latin America, Central and South, and the Caribbean are nuclear weapons free zones.

And at the Antarctic, that area so important for the whole planet, a nuclear weapons free zone, a military free zone, has been in place since the Treaty of Antarctica of 1959. It is unimaginable now that humanity would accept nuclear weapons or any military activity in this precious heritage area for the earth.

The Madrid Protocol of 1991 to the Treaty of Antarctica has reinforced the Antarctic’s peaceful status by proclaiming that it is a natural reserve and the only activities permitted under international law are those devoted to peaceful purposes, scientific research and protection of the environment. Mining exploration is prohibited.

It is more than time, 50 years later that Antarctica is balanced by its polar opposite at the Arctic, equally important for the survival of life on this planet. The Arctic must be declared a nuclear weapons free zone for the sake of humanity for the sake of the world’s ecosystem. The wheel does not have to be reinvented. The model to achieve this goal exists in the Treaty of Antarctica and over 50 years of adherence by the whole world to its provisions.

And that NWFZ for the Arctic is what this conference will set its sights on

Checking in all nuclear weapons at the Equator

Earlier this year I had an enforced stay in a hotel in Hong Kong. To pass the time I watched a John Wayne special – 5 westerns. In one of the B-grade (or possibly C-grade) films, John Wayne, as sheriff, and Dean Martin as his deputy, battled lawlessness in a frontier town. One of their key methods was to ensure that all and sundry at the precincts of the town handed in their guns. They could pick them up on the way out.
This reminded me of my suggestion as a Minister to the, inaptly named, Conference on Disarmament at Geneva in early 2000.

Remembering the westerns I had seen on so many Saturday afternoons as a child, where they practised the John Wayne method, I suggested to the nuclear powers represented at the conference that it would be a big step forward for disarmament if they committed to check in their nuclear weapons at the Equator before entering the Southern Hemisphere.

Exactly how this would work in practice, and how the weapons would be stored and safeguarded, I had not worked out at that stage. But I am sure that those mere details could have been prescribed.

Needless to say my proposal did not receive a warm welcome from the five declared nuclear powers of the NPT, in particular the United States. One representative accused me of trying to undermine NATO with my proposal. I replied that I hadn’t had that intention but now that he mentioned it i thought that was probably a good idea.

I can advise however, that in talks with the representative of China he did state that China would commit to such a policy and that China would respect the NWFZ status of the Southern Hemisphere if all other countries did.

How do we get to our goal for the Arctic?

First of all we should remember what a step forward it would be to the goal of the NPT of abolishing all nuclear weapons if the Arctic gained the status of Antarctica.

Then we should remember the patient building and mobilising of public opinion that went into creating the NWFZ that now exist, including the most recent one in 2006 in the central Asian States.

The key is mobilising public opinion, by committed parliamentarians, peace groups, environmental groups and the mass organisations. Support can then be built nationally, regionally and internationally.
Modern technology, as events in Iran have demonstrated once again, can give the wings of Mercury to this movement. To say that someone was twittering was once an insult. Now it makes the most powerful politician quake to hear the word.
Enormous support is also building for such zones in Central Europe, East Asia and the Middle East.

In regard to the Arctic, the only Arctic states that are not already nuclear-free are the United States and Russia. That of course presents a huge obstacle. These two super powers are expanding both their military, commercial and exploratory activity as global warming relentlessly frees up large areas that were previously frozen and made access difficult or impossible.

Norway’s Foreign Minister was reported in the Guardian newspaper recently as saying that:

“The rise in temperature across the Arctic is twice the world average. Soon there will be no summer ice – that will open up new routes and new strategic issues for the world...”

And those strategic issues include the greater military presence in the Arctic, including a nuclear armed presence on submarines, aircraft and bases, as countries position themselves to take advantage of newly accessible mineral resources and a new sea route at the top of the world.

Fortunately we do no have to start from zero to try and make the call of the 2007 Canadian Pugwash group for an Arctic NWFZ a reality.
Already a Seabed Treaty forbids the stationing of nuclear weapons on the Arctic Ocean floor. The majority of Arctic states are nuclear weapon free. The majority of states are trying to work cooperatively on the key environmental questions.

But as international lawyer Donald Rothwell has pointed out:

“The current Arctic environmental protection regime is based around a collection of customary international law, fragmented multilateral and bilateral legal instruments dealing with some arctic issues, and global international instruments that have an impact in the arctic. Currently there is no unifying connector for these various components of international law which have specific and general application in the arctic. Unlike Antarctica, there is no regional infrastructure based on international law to facilitate or promote cooperation and the development of new international law.”

Our job is to work towards getting that unifying connector and to develop that new international law.

We need to work closely with all the ecological activists , as so many of us do, who are highlighting the fragility of the Arctic, the disaster that is global warming and the need to give the Arctic the type of protection that Antarctica already has.

The declaration that comes from this Conference needs to be a mobilising document that goes out by every conceivable means so that the twitter becomes a clarion call for action.

Our parliaments across the world, our mass organisations, our scientists and youth leaders and the organisations of indigenous people can take up this demand to add the Arctic, which is the heritage for all humanity and pivotal to the survival of life on the planet, to the existing and growing zones which are free of that blight on humanity – nuclear weapons.


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