Aotearoa/New Zealand: From Nuclear Ally to Pacific Peacemaker

by Kate Dewes and Alyn Ware*


Until the mid-1980s Aotearoa/New Zealand[1]based its national security on active participation in military alliances, firstly with the United Kingdom (UK) and after World War II with the United States (US) and Australia. However, the past two decades have witnessed a radical change in New Zealand’s security policy, in particular to reduce its reliance on traditional alliance relationships and to increase its emphasis on multilateralism, the United Nations, international law, peacemaking, peacekeeping and a wider concept of security – embracing human security and the environment – in the Pacific region.

In June 1987, under Prime Minister David Lange, Aotearoa/New Zealand became the first Western-allied state to adopt legislation banning nuclear-armed and powered warships from its territory. In so doing, it rejected nuclear deterrence and signalled the end to its traditional, subservient role as a junior member of the Australia/New Zealand/ United States (ANZUS) Treaty alliance.This was followed over subsequent years by the gradual restructuring of defence forces to phase out offensive capabilities such as strike aircraft and frigates, in favour of forces more suited to territorial defence and UN peacekeeping roles. In 1999, for example, a new Labour government, led by Prime Minister Helen Clark, cancelled a deal brokered by the outgoing conservative National government, to lease F-16 fighter-bombers to replace its obsolete Skyhawks. Instead of upgrading the Air Force strike capability, the government disbanded the Air Force’s fighter-bomber wing and cancelled the planned upgrade of its Orion maritime patrol aircraft anti-submarine capability. For the Navy, instead of purchasing a third Australian frigate it was decided to acquire a multi-role vessel, two offshore patrol vessels and four inshore patrol vessels. The Army received new armoured personnel carriers, communications and light defensive weapons.

New Zealand has maintained a close military relationship with Australia, working alongside them in peace support operations in Bougainville, East Timor and the Solomon Islands under the auspices of the United Nations and the Pacific Forum. However, unlike Australia, New Zealandresisted pressure to join the US and UK in their coalition action against Iraq, opposes the development of the US Ballistic Missile Defence programme and takes a leading role on a number of international initiatives for disarmament and cooperative security.

These foreign and defence policy changes reflect a New Zealand shift in identity from ally of the US and UK to more neutral peacemaking nation and partner of other South Pacific Island states - with responsibilities to its smaller neighbours and a strong commitment to the United Nations, multilateralism and international law.

To understand why this small South Pacific island state of Aotearoa/New Zealand shifted its allegiance, it is necessary briefly to examine its history and the history of nuclear colonialism in the Pacific.

From Independence to Colonisation

Aotearoa was first settled by different groups of Polynesians, who once in the country, established their own laws (tikanga Maori) and independent political structures (rangatiratanga). These mostly revolved around extended family (whanau), sub-tribe (hapu) and tribal (iwi) authority. With the arrival of European settlers in the late 18th and early 19th Century, tribal leaders recognized that they would need another level of authority – a national authority – through which to interact with foreign States and the settlers from them. This led to a number of initiatives including the establishment of a King Movement (to mirror the royalty structure of European countries), the signing of a Declaration of Independence by the Confederated Chiefs of New Zealand, and negotiation of a treaty between the Chiefs of New Zealand and the Queen of Britain.

The signing of a Declaration of Independence in 1835 by many of the Maori leaders of Aotearoa was the first statement to other sovereign states that its indigenous people intended to be recognised as a separate nation state. This was confirmed five years later when the Treaty of Waitangi was agreed by two separate nations: Britain as represented by the monarchy, and the tribes of Aotearoa as represented by the Maori chiefs.[2] The treaty recognised the sovereignty (rangatiratanga) of Maori and also the rights of non-Maori to settle. At the time there were approximately 3,500 Pakeha (Europeans), and the Maori population (around 110,000 when the Europeans first arrived) had been reduced by 40 per cent as a consequence of diseases and the tribal wars fought with muskets in the 1820-30s. By 1900 the Maori population had dropped to around 40,000. [3]The British claimed power over all the inhabitants and instituted the Westminster system of government, thereby undermining the Treaty’s commitments. It is often overlooked that for at least nine-tenths of Aotearoa’s history, there was a system of Maori sovereignty. [4] Then the British colonisers sent New Zealand troops (including Maori) to the Boer War (1899-1902), and later lost a fifth of the 103,000-strong New Zealand force in World War I.The close relationship between Australians and New Zealanders was cemented in the carnage at Gallipoli, site of one of the most devastating battles of the war.

Until 1950, New Zealand relied on the British system of collective imperial security and dependence on a 'great' power. The first Labour Prime Minister, Michael Savage, summarised these sentiments in 1939:

Behind the sure shield of Britain we have enjoyed and cherished freedom and self-government.Both with gratitude for the past, and with confidence in the future, we range ourselves without fear beside Britain. Where she goes, we go. Where she stands, we stand.We are only a small and young nation, but we are one and all a band of brothers, and we march forward with a union of hearts and wills to a common destiny . [5]

Tacit Support for Nuclear Weapons: 1945-1972

In the aftermath of World War II, New Zealand maintained its connections with the UK, but looked more to the US as its major security partner – a shift arising from the emerging dominance of the US and its role in defending Japanese aggression in the Pacific. The colonial past, and a sense of being a small defenceless island in a dangerous world, were major factors in formulating how New Zealanders viewed their security relationships until recently. For almost thirty years after World War II, New Zealand was an unquestioning supporter of Western security concepts based on adversarial alliance systems such as the NATO, SEATO[6]and ANZUS Treaties. An indication of this support was the fact that New Zealand joined all the British and US led wars in the region including the Korean, Malayan, and Viet Nam wars.

The threatened use of nuclear weapons was implicit in these alliances, as a ‘necessary evil’ for the defence of Western values. Viewed by the USSR as the ‘piccolo of the Western orchestra’, New Zealand dutifully voted within the United Nations (UN) in support of the UK, US and France, rarely raising an independent voice.

With the signing in 1951 of the ANZUS Treaty, New Zealand consolidated its close relationship with Western states, and accepted the ‘protection’ of its so-called ‘nuclear umbrella’. Throughout the 1950s, New Zealand supported Western nuclear testing in the South Pacific and in 1957 accepted the British assurance that its nuclear tests on Christmas Island were safe and supplied transport, observation and monitoring facilities. Prime Minister Holland supported Britain because its aim was ‘the security of the Commonwealth and the free world, and our safety lies in that security.’ [7]

Nevertheless, New Zealand was also a strong supporter of multilateralism, international law and the UN, an approach that became increasingly at odds with the positions of its allies. The earliest instance was New Zealand’s opposition to granting the UN Security Council the power of the veto, led by Labour Prime Minister Peter Fraser at the San Francisco conference to establish the UN in 1945.[8] As a vociferous supporter of the League of Nations and a strong participant in the formation of the UN, New Zealand also advocated ‘that all the powers joining the United Nations would agree to submit any quarrels to the International Court of Justice’ and be bound by its decisions. [9]New Zealand frequently called on the UN General Assembly to avail itself of the advisory function of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to help resolve disputes, such as the treatment of Indians in South Africa and the question of Palestine.

In addition, as information about the serious health and environmental consequences of the nuclear testing began to become known in the late 1950s and early 1960s, public sentiment in New Zealand began to swing against the tests and the nuclear policies of the countries exploding nuclear weapons in the Pacific. An indication of these devastating effects was reported by Darlene Keju-Johnson, a Director of Family Planning in the Marshall Islands:

Now we have this problem of what we call ‘jelly-fish babies’. These babies are born like jelly-fish. They have no eyes. They have no heads. They have no arms. They have no legs. They do not shape like human beings at all. When they die they are buried right away. A lot of times they don’t allow the mother to see this kind of baby because she will go crazy. It is too inhumane . [10]

In 1959, responding to rising public concern following the British H-Bomb tests in Australia, New Zealand voted for a resolution condemning further nuclear testing while the UK, US and France voted against, and Australia abstained. This significant shift illustrated the personal commitment by the Labour Prime Minister Walter Nash to nuclear disarmament and a more independent foreign policy. He travelled widely and met Soviet and West German leaders, calling for the 1958 de facto moratorium on nuclear testing to be formalised into a permanent ban.

In 1963, the New Zealand branch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) presented the biggest petition since the successful campaign for votes for women in 1893, calling for a Southern Hemisphere Nuclear Free Zone in a campaign with the slogan ‘No Bombs South of the Line’. In an attempt to appease both Western allies and domestic critics, a conservative National government reiterated that its security depended on ‘the deterrent effect arising from the possession of nuclear weapons by our allies’,[11] yet affirmed a commitment to a South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone (SPNFZ) - but did nothing to further it.

Pressure Builds to Use the World Court: 1970-74

In 1966 France commenced a nuclear testing programme in the South Pacific, having had to relocate from Algeria following independence. By this time, the delayed health effects of US and British testing in the Pacific were becoming even more evident. Cancers, birth defects and other health problems were soaring in areas ‘close’ to the tests. New Zealanders, seeing themselves increasingly as part of the Pacific community, felt these impacts as happening to their own family members. Thus, France’s nuclear test programme – a total of 44 atmospheric nuclear tests at Moruroa and Fangataufa between 1966 and 1974 – outraged the New Zealand public, stimulating them into a variety of protest actions.

New Zealand had fought alongside France, the UK and US in both World Wars, losing more citizens as a percentage of its population than each of those three countries even though the wars were mostly on the other side of the world. Thus, the testing by France, the UK andUS of the most deadly of their weapons in New Zealand’s back yard felt was seen by the public as a betrayal from their allies.

The fact that France was conducting its tests as far from mainland France as possible – to protect the European French at the expense of the Pacific Islanders – and that it illegally closed off huge areas of ocean for the tests, added to New Zealanders’ outrage and ensured that nuclear testing became an election issue in 1972. Auckland CND launched another petition and an international Peace Fleet sailed to the test site. When the French Navy rammed one of the boats, the resultant worldwide publicity and growing international opposition helped embolden the Labour Party to make resolute anti-nuclear election promises. [12]

In 1973, New Zealand under new Labour Prime Minister Norman Kirk joined Australia’s new Labor government and took France to the International Court of Justice (or World Court), seeking a legal ruling against atmospheric testing and an immediate injunction to stop them while the case proceeded. The ICJ accepted the case and approved the injunction request.[13]When France indicated it would continue testing, Kirk immediately announced that a frigate, with a Cabinet Minister on board, would sail to the test site to mobilise world opinion to help persuade France to comply with the ICJ’s order.[14]

Kirk sent cables to leaders of one hundred countries seeking acknowledgment of the ICJ’s decision. He reiterated the importance of the rule of law, especially in relation to security threats to small states. Within a week, he farewelled the frigate Otago on the official protest voyage saying:

We are a small nation but we will not abjectly surrender to injustice. We have worked against the development of nuclear weapons. We have opposed their testing anywhere and everywhere… No self-respecting nation with right on its side can meekly acquiesce to the intransigence of others. ….Today the Otago leaves on an honourable mission. She leaves not in anger but as a silent accusing witness with the power to bring alive the conscience of the world. [15]

France refused to appear at the World Court for the hearings and claimed the case would have no impact on its nuclear testing programme. However, in 1974, while the case was still being heard, France announced it would halt atmospheric testing and only test underground in future. The ICJ thus discontinued the case and New Zealand’s primary objective of ending atmospheric testing in the Pacific was achieved.

Emerging Nuclear Allergy: 1974-1984 The heady days of the Kirk Labour government were short-lived. Kirk died suddenly in August 1973, before the Court’s verdict. However, with his oratory, passion and courage he set a precedent for similar bold actions by Prime Minister David Lange in the 1980s. Aware that ‘New Zealand is too small to frighten anyone, but politically it is big enough to be able to give a constructive lead...’,[16]Kirk initiated the transition from traditional dependence on Western military ideology to a more South Pacific-oriented identity and independent foreign policy. Alongside the anti-nuclear initiatives, he had withdrawn troops from South Viet Nam, established diplomatic relations with the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam and China; increased economic aid to the Third World; stopped sporting contacts with South Africa – then still ruled by an apartheid regime - and promoted a SPNFZ via a UN resolution. He strengthened New Zealand’s role in the South Pacific Forum following the inaugural meeting of seven members in Wellington in 1971.The Forum was seen as a means of building regional cooperation and a vehicle for the joint expression of newly won national sovereignty. [17]

With National’s re-election in 1975 under Robert Muldoon’s conservative leadership, New Zealand foreign policy reverted to a more subservient, pro-ANZUS position. One of Muldoon’s first acts was to mothball the SPNFZ initiative, and to welcome visits by US and UK nuclear-powered and possibly armed vessels. During the late 1970s, public anger at Muldoon's defiant promotion of such visits spilled over into waterborne protests by the Peace Squadron, attracting international media interest.[18]People took to the streets demanding a ban, and in 1980 began declaring homes, schools and local councils nuclear free zones. A network of over 300 small neighbourhood peace groups mushroomed around the country. They were not bound by political ideology or a ‘party line’, and took whatever creative action was appropriate for their particular style. Their running costs were minimal as there were few paid staff: most activists worked from home within their local community and took responsibility for lobbying their local politicians. This resulted in widespread public participation, and created a form of accountability in nearly every electorate to which all political parties became extremely sensitive.

Education about the human impact of nuclear weapons was stepped up throughout the country during this time, including in schools, through the efforts of the community peace organisations, specific peace education organisations and teachers’ groups. The anniversaries of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were commemorated with community education and media events.

Opinion polls reflected the growing awareness in the community. In 1978, 51% of the population supported visits by US nuclear-powered ships with 39% agreeing to the use of US nuclear weapons in New Zealand’s defence. [19] Prior to the 1984 election, only 30% supported visits with a clear majority of 58% opposed,[20]and 66% of the population lived in locally declared nuclear-free zones. In all these polls there was a clear gender and age difference, with women and youth strongly opposed to the visits. When three of the four main political parties adopted strong anti-nuclear policies in response to this shift in public opinion, the emerging New Zealand nuclear allergy appeared to have become endemic. [21]

The ‘Kiwi Cure’: 1984-1987

In July 1984, the Labour Opposition introduced a nuclear-free New Zealand bill calling for the prohibition of nuclear weapons from its territory. It attracted support from two courageous National politicians who threatened to cross the floor to vote in support of Labour. Rather than face defeat on such a crucial foreign policy issue, Muldoon dissolved parliament and called a snap election.During the election campaign, the Labour Party pledged to pass nuclear-free legislation, promote a South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone and renegotiate the ANZUS Treaty to accommodate this. The policy was seen as a test of democratic process and of New Zealand’s sovereignty.[22]It found favour nationwide, and Labour’s landslide victory owed much to the anti-nuclear vote.

For the next few years the government came under intense pressure from the US, UK and Australia, who feared the spread of what they dubbed the ‘Kiwi disease’ to other important states such as Japan, Denmark and the Philippines. The Australian Labor government, elected into office a few months prior to the New Zealand Labour government, had also campaigned on a nuclear-free policy. However, political pressure from the US convinced the Australian government to drop its policy and accept US extended nuclear deterrence. The US, confident that political pressure on New Zealand would have a similar effect, took a hard line, and informed the government that they could not maintain a nuclear-free policy and remain part of the ANZUS alliance. However, the US underestimated the anti-nuclear resolve of New Zealanders, who looked to their new, 40-year old Prime Minister David Lange to maintain the nuclear-free policy and also to promote it globally.

Lange was a charismatic, witty orator who spoke with strong moral force and understood the importance of underpinning a potentially fragile policy with the law.[23]Moreover, he had earned the peace movement’s respect when, prior to entering politics, he defended activists and Labour politicians in the domestic courts following high-profile Peace Squadron actions against visiting US nuclear-powered, and possibly armed, vessels.

At the same time, with the resurgence of Maori nationalism and a growing Pacific Island population, the country was undergoing an identity re-evaluation. Were we citizens of Aotearoa, a small South Pacific state tied to the region by geography and shared ancestry; or of New Zealand, still clinging to the apron strings of Mother England? Was it time to assert some independence from Western allies, including Australia, and to stand beside other vulnerable island states which also saw their security threatened by nuclearism? Economically more secure, was it again New Zealand’s role to take the nuclear issue to the world stage?

To US surprise, Lange decided to enact the nuclear-free policy despite the US position that such a policy would be incompatible with the ANZUS defence relationship. This increased political pressure on New Zealand, including demotion from US ally to ‘friend’, curtailment of military cooperation, threats to trade with the US and UK, attempts to destabilise the Labour government and diplomatic ostracism from the Western group.

Lange was assisted by a massive mobilisation of the peace movement, both in New Zealand and the US.[24]Ironically, the sinking in 1985 by French government agents of the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour followed by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion helped strengthen the government’s resolve, and undoubtedly swung the majority of the public behind it.

A 1986 opinion poll confirmed that 92% now opposed nuclear weapons in New Zealand and 69% opposed warship visits; 92% wanted New Zealand to promote nuclear disarmament through the UN, while 88% supported the promotion of nuclear-free zones.[25]One explanation for this, as Lange noted about the Rainbow Warrior atrocity, was that ‘the leaders of the West expressed not a moment’s outrage about terrorism directed by a government against opponents of nuclear deterrence.’[26]

In the struggle to enact nuclear-free legislation, thus cementing in the nuclear free policy, Aotearoa/New Zealand emerged with a new sense of identity and pride as an independent small state. Lange gained strength from overwhelming public support for the policy, and guided the country through the minefield of the Western backlash, whose crude ferocity paradoxically ensured that the policy became law.

Lange made many attempts to placate the US, UK and Australia, short of abandoning the nuclear-free policy – including taking the unusual step of sendingthe nuclear-free zone billto the allies for comments prior to submitting it to parliament. The refusal of the US to accommodate New Zealanders’ desire to be nuclear-free, and its attempts to undermine the democratically elected government, were instrumental in a public opinion shift to being more critical and suspicious of the US.

When the Nuclear Free Act, dubbed the ‘Kiwi Cure’, was finally passed in June 1987, it formally established New Zealand territory and coastal waters as a Nuclear Free Zone, and uniquely banned visits by both nuclear-powered and armed vessels. By the 1987 election, five of the six most significant political parties had adopted the nuclear-free policy. Again, Labour’s re-election could be partially attributed to the success of this policy. Prime Minister Lange acknowledged the importance of the public’s role in maintaining its integrity:

There is no doubt that the anti-nuclear movement is, in New Zealand, a mainstream cause. Successive governments have been helped to be honest or kept honest by the commitment of sincere people who started out as the shocktroops to shift thecentre of gravity and who remain vigilant as the trustees of what has now become a New Zealand characteristic.[27]

The Act included provision for an eight-member Public Advisory Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control – known as PACDAC - as formal ‘trustees’ of the policy. [28] So far, it is the only such body in the world. It has the statutory responsibility to ‘advise the Minister of Foreign Affairs on such aspects of disarmament and arms control matters as it thinks fit; advise the Prime Minister on the implementation of the Act, and to publish from time to time public reports’ in relation to the above. From 1987-90 PACDAC advised government on the formulation of a consistent anti-nuclear policy by scrutinising UNGA voting, reviewing membership of military alliances and agreements, and activities within US spy bases such as the New Zealand node of the Echelon satellite communications interception system at Waihopai. [29]

The Struggle over Nuclear Deterrence: 1987-1990

However, on the major issues relating to nuclear deterrence, New Zealand continued to oppose resolutions calling for the non-use and no-first-use of nuclear weapons, negative security assurances and a Convention on the Prohibition of Use of Nuclear Weapons. The Ministry’s Explanations of Vote revealed ongoing support for nuclear deterrence.[30]Lange candidly confirmed this powerful stranglehold by the bureaucracy on the policy process:

Left to themselves, our diplomats would certainly have surrendered the nuclear- free policy. Their perspective was the perspective of the State Department, Whitehall, and every other foreign ministry whose government counted itself part of the Western Alliance.The test of membership of the alliance was belief in the doctrine of nuclear deterrence. As New Zealand found out, there wasn’t any other test. Being a democracy wasn’t enough, being well disposed towards NATO and the United States wasn’t enough. You had to subscribe to deterrence to be in the alliance, and to prove it, you had to share in its risks.[31]

So while the government was hesitant to push the anti-nuclear policy too strongly internationally, on the domestic front New Zealanders remained consistently supportive of the policy – so much so that just before the 1990 general election, political expediency forced the National Opposition to adopt Labour’s anti-nuclear policy. Don McKinnon (now Commonwealth Secretary General), resigned as National’s Defence spokesperson in protest at this policy shift.[32]In 1992-93, as Foreign Minister, he was at the forefront of moves to appease the US administration by attempting to change the Act to allow visits by nuclear-powered warships as the price for a reactivated ANZUS Treaty.[33]This failed, and by the mid-1990s anti-nuclearism was firmly entrenched within the New Zealand psyche.

Although there was another attempt by the National Party to amend the legislation in 2002 in exchange for a preferential trade deal, it too failed because the policy is still seen by the public as sacrosanct.Changing the policy would not necessarily have secured a trade agreement with the US, and it would not be the only concession demanded for a return to a fully operational ANZUS relationship. Moreover, there are new concerns about the safety of UK nuclear submarines, which are currently banned from visiting UK commercial ports. [34] Coincidentally, the same year the Green Party unsuccessfully attempted to strengthen the nuclear free policy by extending the legislation to prohibit the transit of nuclear-armed or propelled warships and transport of nuclear waste through the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. [35]

New Zealanders Pioneer the World Court Project: 1986-1996

Another initiative which helped cement New Zealand’s anti-nuclear position internationally was the World Court Project which began in Christchurch in 1986, proposed by retired magistrate Harold Evans and promoted internationally by key New Zealand activists. It sought to obtain an advisory opinion from the ICJ on the legal status of nuclear weapons. Exploiting the improved climate for disarmament initiatives following the end of the Cold War, in May 1992 the World Court Project was given its international launch in Geneva, led by an unprecedented coalition of three leading international citizen organisations: the International Peace Bureau, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms.

Through the mechanism of a resolution in the World Health Assembly in May 1993, support was generated among particularly the 110-nation Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which sponsored a UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution later that year requesting an advisory opinion from the ICJ on the question: ‘Is the threat or use of nuclear weapons in any circumstance permitted under international law?’ Heavy intimidation from the NATO nuclear weapon states prevented a vote. However, in 1994, the National New Zealand government, bowing to strong public pressure, broke ranks as the only member of the Western alliance to vote in support of the re-tabled UNGA resolution, which was adopted by a comfortable majority. The resumption of nuclear testing by France in 1995 caused a public outcry in the Pacific forcing the reluctant Australian government to join New Zealand and other Pacific countries in making strong anti-nuclear presentations at the ICJ Oral Proceedings in November 1995. [36]

The resumption of French testing in the Pacific also led New Zealand and Australia to reopen the 1973 ICJ contentious case against France. The ICJ rejected the request on technical grounds, mainly because the earlier case had dealt with atmospheric testing. The New Zealand government felt justified in having tried, in order to appease domestic public anger and build international pressure against France – which stopped testing earlier than planned, and in due course closed the test site. This in turn helped generate the political will for the final push to establish a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996.

ICJ Advisory Opinion on Nuclear Weapons

On 8 July 1996, the ICJ delivered a 34-page Advisory Opinion on the UNGA question. In a crucial subparagraph, the Court decided that ‘a threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law’. The judges also unanimously agreed that ‘There exists an 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.’

The Court’s opinion vindicated New Zealand’s position. It also helped stimulate a rethink of nuclear deterrence in other circles including amongst military leaders. In 1990 General Lee Butler, former Head of US Strategic Command, observed:

Deterrence was our shield, and by extension our sword. The nuclear priesthood extolled its virtues and bowed to its demands. Allies yielded to its dictates. We brandished it at our enemies and presumed they embraced its suicidal corollary of mutual assured destruction. We ignored, discounted or dismissed its flaws and even today we cling to the belief that it remains relevant in a world whose security architecture has been transformed.[37]

Although the nuclear weapon states have mostly ignored the opinion[38] , it has inspired a stream of subsequent initiatives to secure the abolition of nuclear weapons. Annually since 1996, theUN General Assembly has adopted a resolution calling for the implementation of this obligation by the ‘commencement of multilateral negotiations leading to an early conclusion of a nuclear weapons convention prohibiting the development, production, testing, deployment, stockpiling, transfer, threat or use of nuclear weapons and providing for their elimination’. The resolution effectively calls for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, an enforceable global treaty containing a plan for the abolition of nuclear weapons similar to the widely acclaimed one for chemical weapons. The European Parliament passed a similar resolution in 1997. A model Convention was drafted by citizen group experts and circulated by the UN.[39]

In June 1998, coincident with the breakout by India and Pakistan as nuclear weapon states, an informal coalition of seven influential ‘middle power’ states from ‘across the blocs’ – Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden - referred to the ICJ’s Advisory Opinion in their ‘New Agenda’ initiative calling for the nuclear weapon states to commit to immediate practical steps to reduce nuclear dangers and commence negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons. This group has become the leading force in nuclear disarmament, and was credited with saving the 2000 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference from failure.

Aotearoa/New Zealand is in a unique position to continue to take effective leadership on nuclear disarmament. It has the respect of Western countries, due to its historical ties with the UK and the US and its continuing membership of the Western Group at the UN. It also has the respect of non-aligned countries, due in part to its independent anti-nuclear policy. It has considerable technical and political experience in the field, and it is viewed as a sensible and principled member of the international community due to its positive input in many international fora and initiatives. There is also strong domestic support for these policies. Public opinion polls taken in 1995 indicated that 78% supported the World Court Project and over 90% supported New Zealand working for nuclear disarmament. [40]

Consolidation of Independent Foreign and Defence Policy Shift: 1999-2004

Following the election of a Labour government in 1999, Prime Minister Helen Clark consolidated the shift to more independent foreign and defence policies focused more on regional security, multilateralism and international law rather than traditional military alliances. During the 1990s the National government increasingly acknowledged that New Zealanders were identifying more strongly with neighbouring Pacific Island states than with the US. They did not want to be involved in other people’s wars, and they did not like being bullied by Australia, the US and UK. In 1989, 76% of the population opposed the purchase of four Australian frigates which were interoperable with Western allied forces. A strong public campaign called for money to be directed to social needs and away from defence equipment. The public also supported the shift from the nuclear-based ANZUS Treaty to a more cooperative relationship with Australia and other South Pacific Forum members working together to help solve regional conflicts. [41] New Zealand’s voting in the UN reflected this shift towards like-minded states such as Sweden, Ireland, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Egypt. The UN voting patterns evolved as New Zealand exerted its growing independence and withstood pressure from its allies to vote with them on a range of security-related issues.

With Helen Clark at the helm of the new Labour government, it was inevitable that there would be a re-orientation of defence and foreign affairs.As a junior Member of Parliament she had worked closely with the anti-nuclear and peace movement, and had played a prominent role in achieving New Zealand’s nuclear-free policy. She had chaired the Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committee which had drafted the legislation, and had taken an active role in Parliamentarians for Global Action in its campaign to promote negotiations on a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty through the convening of a conference to amend the Partial Test Ban Treaty. Like her predecessors Walter Nash, Norman Kirk and David Lange, she has spoken out fearlessly about global issues, especially nuclear weapons and the role of the military-industrial complex.

New Zealand has responded to the break down in the ANZUS alliance by placing a greater emphasis on the development of regional security through:

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