by Kennedy Graham
I am pleased with the recent report of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee to Parliament, which calls for the New Zealand Government to support a Global Nuclear Weapons Convention.
I have a draft member’s bill along these lines as part of my Global Affairs portfolio on which I have been speaking around the country in the past few months.
There was some pressure on the Committee to lessen the level of action we recommended, and at one stage I circulated a draft Green minority report. But in the end this proved to be unnecessary and it is a testament to the ability of this committee to work together constructively that we were able to produce a report that is in standing with New Zealand’s international capability on progressing towards a nuclear-free world.
Being nuclear-free has been a defining feature of New Zealand’s global standing. We have demonstrated our ability to be independent in spite of pressure from ‘big powers’, and ability to maintain constructive international relationships without relinquishing our values.
Our 1987 Nuclear-Free Zone Act begins with the statement that part of its purpose is to “promote and encourage an active and effective contribution by New Zealand to the essential process of disarmament and international arms control…”
An active and effective contribution does not mean passively voting ‘yes’ at the UN when political currents suit. An active and effective contribution means to pursue what the International Court of Justice concludes of Article VI of the Non-Proliferation treaty: “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.”
Not only is New Zealand obliged to pursue, and conclude; we have already taken a lead in the past on being nuclear-free, and we must continue to act accordingly.
In recent years it has been Costa Rica and Malaysia leading. In December ’07 they submitted the model Nuclear Weapons Convention to the UN General Assembly. Last year, they co-sponsored a draft resolution (A/66/142) entitled “Follow-up to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons”. New Zealand voted in favour of the resolution, which passed by 127 to 25, with 22 abstentions. We showed a quiet display of independence in our passive ‘yes’ vote: the UK and the US voted against.
The select committee report recommends that rather than languish quietly and passively amongst the crowd of 127 ‘yes’ votes, New Zealand takes itself to the forefront. Fifty-four member states co-sponsored the ICJ resolution with Costa Rica and Malaysia. New Zealand should make that fifty-five, and should actively engage with Costa Rican and Malaysian efforts to advance the cause of an effective Nuclear Weapons Convention.
The nuclear-weapons states (the NPT five) currently possess over 11,000 nuclear weapons. The US and Russia have a pact to reduce their respective stockpiles to 1,550 each. The New Start (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) pact is premised on transparency and gradual, simultaneous, disarmament.
The Model Nuclear Weapons Convention would take this cautious, hand-held approach, and make it universal. Only when all are on board will nuclear disarmament stand a chance. Because many still hold deterrence to be a viable option (and so an external threat). A step-by-step universal convention will dismantle the idea that possessing weapons that indiscriminately kill and destruct is a viable and responsible way in which to hold power.
Kazakhstan has already figured that out. Kazakh President Nazarbayev closed the Semipalatinsk test site in 1991, just prior to gaining full independence after the fall of the USSR. The Central Asian Nuclear-Weapons Free Zone, encompassing Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan entered into force in 2009, in spite of the US’s vocalised worry that it would disturb ‘existing security arrangements’. Security, for Kazakhstan and its neighbours, evidently does not depend on the possession of nuclear weapons. Rather, Nazarbayev’s motivation in 1991 was security, to be secure from nuclear weapons and the destructive effects of their development and testing.
President Obama has made some scant but significant steps in moving toward disarmament. The US began enacting the START treaty before it was ratified, and in Korea earlier this year, Obama spoke of envisioning a world free of nuclear weapons.
The select committee report asks the New Zealand government to take a lead in making the most of this momentum. It asks New Zealand to adhere to the principles of our 1987 legislation, and it recommends that this government step up from general support to action on the international stage.
Let’s now translate that into action.
Tags: Central Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Global affairs, International Court of Justice, Non-Proliferation Treaty, nuclear free, Nuclear Weapons Convention, START Treaty