NZ's nuclear-free legislation wins top disarmament award
New Zealand’s ground-breaking nuclear-free legislation wins top disarmament award
Hamburg/Geneva/New York – 23 October 2013: In 1987, against the backdrop of rising Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, New Zealand passed its ground-breaking Nuclear-Free Act, which banned nuclear weapons and meant US nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered ships were no longer allowed in New Zealand ports.
Today, more than 25 years later, the policy has been announced by the World Future Council as winner of the Silver Future Policy Award. This year’s award seeks to highlight disarmament policies that contribute to the achievement of peace, sustainable development and human security. This evening, a formal awards ceremony will be convened at UN Headquarters.
The horrific health and environmental consequences of nuclear testing in the South Pacific, growing concern about the risks of nuclear war, and government plans to develop nuclear energy led to a surge in anti-nuclear sentiment in New Zealand in the 1970s. Among the campaigns employed by the anti-nuclear movement was the declaration of Nuclear Weapon-Free Zones (NWFZ) in classrooms, work places, towns and cities. By the 1984 general election, over 66 percent of New Zealanders lived in such NWFZs.
Although New Zealand had never possessed nuclear weapons or had an active nuclear weapons programme, it was a member of the ANZUS alliance that effectively provided New Zealand with US extended nuclear deterrence. In addition, until 1984, New Zealand welcomed the visit of nuclear-armed warships into its ports. A critical moment came in 1985, when the New Zealand Government refused a request from the United States to allow the visit of the non-nuclear destroyer USS Buchanan on the grounds that it was potentially capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The US subsequently suspended its obligations to New Zealand under the ANZUS Treaty.
In 1987 the nuclear-free policy was firmly cemented in the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Arms Control, And Disarmament Act, which prohibits the emplacement or transport of nuclear-powered and armed vessels (including aircraft) from New Zealand territory and prohibits the manufacture, acquisition, possession or control over nuclear weapons as well as aiding and abetting any person in doing so by New Zealand citizens or residents.
The policy’s Silver win further reinforces the words of former New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange, who said: “Our nuclear free status is a statement of our belief that we and our fellow human beings can build the institutions which will one day allow us all to renounce the weapons of mass destruction. We are a small country and what we can do is limited. But in this as in every other great issue, we have to start somewhere.”
Former New Zealand Disarmament Minister, Matt Robson, commented on the policy’s win: “It is said that big things from little acorns grow. The former acorn of nuclear free New Zealand is now an oak as the Award recognises and will one day be part of the nuclear free oak forest across the world.”
“New Zealand’s policy started as a radical and utopian gesture, and has become part of our national identity – our DNA,” says New Zealander Alyn Ware, winner of the 2009 Right Livelihood Award for his work on nuclear disarmament, and a participant in the Future Policy Award ceremony at the United Nations on 23 October. “It inspires other countries, and empowers us kiwis to take nuclear abolition global.’
The Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco) won the 2013 Future Policy Gold Award, while Argentina’s “National Programme for the Voluntary Surrender of Firearms” also received Silver. Four additional disarmament policies from Belgium, Costa Rica, Mongolia and Mozambique/South Africa were recognized as Honourable Mentions.
The Future Policy Award is the only award that honours policies rather than people on an international level. The World Future Council convened this year’s Award in partnership with the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).