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Matt Robson Speech: Nuclear Weapons Free Zones

Matt Robson Speech: Nuclear Weapons Free Zones

Speech delivered to:

Parliamentary Network for Nuclear Disarmament conference Liu Institute for Global Issues University of British Colombia

Senator Douglas Roche of Canada

His Excellency Mr Nobuyasu Abe, UN Under-Secretary General for Disarmament

Fellow Members of Parliament from around the world

Representatives of civil society and the many other distinguished attendees at this important conference on Disarmament

My greetings to you all from nuclear-free New Zealand. That last statement “ nuclear free New Zealand” means that we are a good friend of the United States but are no longer an ally. I wonder why that makes me and most New Zealanders very relieved? Could it be that we have moved from “ might is right” and actually cherish not occupying the position of loyal vassal to imperial interests, a position that Tony Blair and John Howard so cheerfully accept? My speech will reveal all.

I am also pleased to see among our guests US Congressman Christopher Shays, Co-chair of the Bi-Partisan Task Force on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Ambassador Robert T. Grey whom I had the pleasure of working with as Minister of Disarmament and Arms Control when he was the US Ambassador on Disarmament in Geneva for President Clinton but now gives President Bush helpful advice from the outside looking in. I understand that they had a hazardous journey being smuggled out of the United States into Canada through Cuba.

Friends I am to speak to you today on how to advance parliamentary collaboration towards achieving a Southern Hemisphere and Adjacent Areas free of nuclear weapons. This proposal has been before the United Nations, sponsored by New Zealand and Brazil- two members of the New Agenda countries, for a number of years. Only three countries vote against it. No prize for guessing which- United States, Great Britain and France.

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But my contribution will also cover the parlous state of disarmament, the threat to New Zealand’s own nuclear free status and indeed sovereignty as the Empire Strikes Back and how the proposal for a Nuclear Free Weapons Zone in the Southern Hemisphere and adjacent areas can help to revivify the world movement for nuclear disarmament.


I have been helped in providing information on the zones that exist because of the fact that New Zealand has a dedicated Disarmament and Arms Control division. So what I am able to tell you here is lifted directly from their files.

There are four established Nuclear Free Weapons Zones now in existence. They straddle both southern and northern hemispheres. All are established by Treaty – Rarotonga covering the South Pacific, Ttatelolco covering Latin America and the Caribbean, Pelindaba covering Africa and Bangkok the South East Asian area

Then there are single state zones created by national legislation, declaration or constitutional mandate. Mongolia and Austria have passed legislation to effect their nuclear weapon free status. This legislation prohibits the manufacturing, storage, transport and testing of nuclear weapons within their territory. Mongolia’s legislation also prohibits the transportation, dumping and storage of weapons grade nuclear waste within its territory, and obligates the National security Council of Mongolia to coordinate the institutionalizing of its NWF status.

New Zealand’s Nuclear Free Zone legislation prohibits any foreign ship that is nuclear powered or carrying nuclear weapons from entering its internal waters or any foreign aircraft landing in its territory. This goes beyond New Zealand’s obligations under the south Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty which permits port visits of nuclear ships. The Philippines, a member of the south east Asian nuclear Weapon Free zone has declared its territory free of nuclear weapons through a change in its constitution.

There are also proposals for new regional zones - in Central Asia, Middle East, south Asia, North east Asia and Central Europe. The Middle East proposal would of course not only be an important step towards isolating the nuclear weapon states and narrowing the areas of the world where these weapons exist but a large contribution to the fundamental problems of the Middle East including the continuing problems that have flowed from the dispossession of the Palestinian people. Unfortunately Israel, an undeclared nuclear state, which has been built into a nuclear armed power by the United States, will not accept this proposal and has the blessing of its patron.

One beautiful example of a complete nuclear weapons and conventional weapons free zone is the Antarctic Treaty 0f 1959.. Recognising the environmental fragility of the continent and its importance to the world, humankind voluntarily agreed to prohibit all military pursuits on the land mass of Antarctica and in the surrounding waters. It prohibits nuclear explosions of any kind, the disposal of radioactive waste materials, and the establishment of any material bases and fortifications in Antarctica. to the parallel. All the Nuclear Weapons States, except two close allies of the United States Israel and Pakistan alarmingly, have signed. Now all we have to do is transfer further north this act of commonsense !


Our dream in New Zealand, at least those political parties that are not craving to drag us back under the nuclear umbrella of the United States (and I will come to them as they are a real threat to New Zealand’s strong anti-nuclear stance), is to extend that concept first right to the equator and then throughout the northern hemisphere. We know that this is the dream of many others as well. Our nightmare is that our rightwing parties will put us back under the umbrella.

In 2000 at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva I used the phrase that just as in the days of the frontier in the United States gunslingers were required to check in their weapons with the sheriff, that I envisaged that any vessel, on sea or in the air, with the existence of a Southern Nuclear Free Weapons Zone would be required at the equator to disarm before proceeding south. Of course those adjacent areas that are part of nuclear free weapons zones would be welcome to be part of the arrangement.

But before moving to the implementation of such an ambitious, but totally necessary scheme for the advancement of nuclear disarmament and the survival of the human race, I need to move to the greatest obstacle of all – the total disregard of the United States for any policy that moves to nuclear disarmament and the clear policy of the Bush Administration to sabotage the framework, no matter how weak, that had been established to move towards nuclear disarmament.


And with this policy most clearly set out in Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources For A New Century, New Zealand has found that by not falling into line with the new arms race being launched, and indeed ploughing ahead with schemes such as the SHWFNZ that they are being placed in the “you are not with us therefore you are against us camp”. The Americans, both in Washington, through visiting diplomats and their Ambassador in Wellington are almost daily berating New Zealand for exercising its sovereign right to remain nuclear free. Their deputy sheriff in Canberra takes part in a pincer movement Both are courting the right wing parties ( who don’t actually need much encouragement), National and Act, to push for New Zealand dropping its strong anti-nuclear position and its determination not to enter military adventures such as the war against Iraq.

Leading figures from the right –wing parties are taken to Washington and Canberra and encouraged to change the nuclear policy and to become part of the new American military strategy and who knows that favorable trade deal might eventuate. Undoubtedly Washington and Canberra are drawing on their long experience of replacing troublesome governments, regime change did not begin with Saddam Hussein, to help the right wing parties as the next election draws near. The leader of the most extreme of the right wing parties, Mr. Prebble of Act, is now on a State Department funded trip to seek such assistance.

Noticeably with a change of leadership by the biggest of the right wing parties, National, the Disarmament portfolio has been dropped. The American Embassy will be encouraged by that as they have a more decisive leader to lead the way to dropping our nuclear policy. All those “ working lunches” with the coup plotters have paid off.

And the proposal of the SHNWFZ and adjacent areas runs smack into the policy advocated in the bible of the Bush Administration, Rebuilding America’s Defenses, that “ with the remains of the Soviet fleet now largely rusting in port, the open oceans are America’s, and the lines of communication open from the coasts of the United States to Europe, the Persian Gulf and East Asia”.

This “ in your face” we are going to run the world our way is premised on “ four core missions for US Military forces: defend the American homeland; fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars perform the “ constabulary” duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions transform US forces to exploit the “ revolution in military affairs”.

To implement this global dominance on land sea and air it is clear that there will be no place for a SHNWFZ and adjacent areas.

Instead the United States must “ Maintain Nuclear Strategic Superiority, basing the nuclear deterrent upon a global, nuclear net assessment that weighs the full current and emerging threats, not merely the US-Russia balance.”

As Hicham ben Abdallah El Alaoui wrote in the October Le Monde Diplomatique about the National Strategic Document of the US published in 2002, and drawing from Rebuilding America’s Defenses, “This document is a blueprint for preserving the US as the sole superpower, for ensuring its unparalleled military strength, and there by enforcing its political will in any region of the world. It seeks to forestall the emergence of states with enough local power- especially nuclear arms – to block US imperatives in any region. Iraq is a key country in a key region. The NSS also seeks to ensure that already powerful, nuclear capable and potentially competitive nations – Russia or China – can never challenge the global hegemony of the United States”.

A statement in RAD that ; “ Moreover, there is a question about the role nuclear weapons should play in deterring the use of other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological with the US having foresworn those weapons “ development and use. In addition there may be a need to develop a new family of nuclear weapons designed to address new sets of military requirements, such as would be required in targeting the very deep underground, hardened bunkers that are being built by many of our potential adversaries.”

The adoption of the above strategy explains why President Bush has continued with the 1996 Clinton directive revoking the commitment made by all the official nuclear powers in 1972 never to use nuclear weapons against the non-nuclear powers. The slide has gone even further. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty has been rejected, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 to make way for the Missile Theatre Defense System, the rejection of the treaty banning mines and the compliance protocol for the biological and toxic weapon convention.

And while putting Nelson’s eye to the long time Israeli nuclear weapon programme India and Pakistan are much-praised allies and their nuclear programmes condoned.

Against this background it is fair enough to ask “ what use would a feeble attempt to bring together the quite weak instruments of existing NWFZ into one comprehensive SH and adjacent areas NWFZ’s ?”

Because the only power to beat the new arms race being led by the United States, with willing partners in Blair and Howard and the new Europe, is that of the people.

Despite the maneuverings in New Zealand politics by the US and Australian representatives with the right wing parties of National and Act the population by a large majority want us to be nuclear free and to actively work for universal disarmament. Furthermore, we are not a country that wants to see the world’s resources dominated by any one power.

In countries around the world the people when polled actually want disarmament. They want the money that goes to the arms industry to go into economic development and to fund education, health and housing.


The New Agenda is finding it difficult to move the nuclear disarmament agenda forward. In the 1990’s with the multilateral framework in place encouraging resolutions had their place. But now as the American strategy of smashing that framework takes effect the nods towards disarmament by the Nuclear Weapons States, as required under the NPT and the 196 Advisory Opinion of the ICJ, have turned into vigorous shakes of the head. Moreover, many of the New Agenda countries are having to find ways not to offend Washington. New Zealand, unfortunately, is not exempt from that. Thus the New Agenda is no longer the source of inspiration for nuclear disarmament. It does not have the will to loudly proclaim that the emperor has no clothes.

Advancing the Southern hemisphere and adjacent areas proposal for a nuclear free weapons zone, alongside vigorous denunciation of the rearmament policies of the Bush Administration and their allies, is a way forward.

The countries in the four established NWF zones and the vast majority of countries that have supported the UN resolutions need to meet at one conference to negotiate a statement that all countries can sign up to respecting a total ban of nuclear weapons, their transport and deployment within the zones. This declaration should of course include a ban on all weapons of mass destruction. It would put in place a verification system.

Mexico recently submitted a UN resolution seeking UN endorsement and support for a Conference of State parties and signatories to treaties by which nuclear – weapon free zones have been established.


As a coalition partner in the New Zealand government my party the Progressives, will be submitting to our partner in government, the Labour Party, that our capital Wellington be offered as the venue of such a conference to put in place a declaration that the whole of the southern Hemisphere wishes to be nuclear free, both land masses and oceans, as do those adjacent zones in the Northern Hemisphere that are signatories to NWFZ treaties.

Such a declaration could then be put before the United Nations and countries asked to respect those zones. It would be a rallying point for people the world over. The countries without nuclear weapons – all of the southern hemisphere countries- would be asking why they have to be out at risk. There are no nuclear weapons on their soil, on their waters or in the sky. So why could countries not respect that as they offer no threat of nuclear or conventional war to the nuclear powers.

Such a conference and such a declaration could spark action by the people of the world. It could revivify the New Agenda which day by day appears more and more toothless as the United States and its close allies grind down Geneva with stalling tactics and meaningless amendments. The adherents to multilateral disarmament and the mechanisms put in place to achieve that are more and more played for fools as the United States prepares for wars on many fronts to secure the “ American peace” with nuclear weapons if necessary. And to enforce the threat testing is required of fearsome new destructive nuclear weapons.

The overwhelming majority of peoples and the overwhelming majority of countries support the consolidation of nuclear free weapon zones. And within the nuclear weapon states, declared and undeclared, there is also a desire by the majority to join us.

September 11 did not cause the rush away from disarmament. It was the excuse to achieve a predetermined aim. Our task is not to allow that to succeed. We need to build the bridge to the people of the world and to encourage them to support the policies and parties that will work for peace not war.

I am hopeful that we will get this conference in Wellington and that it will act as a rallying point to move towards genuine nuclear disarmament.

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