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Our Anti-nuclear Policy is a Vital, Living Policy
4 April 2002
Our former US Ambassador, Denis McLean sees our anti-nuclear policy as redundant and impeding fully productive relations with the US. We expect our Ambassadors to support government policy, so how did McLean speak about this policy and our legislation, the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act to his American colleagues? It would be interesting to know. To support his claim about our anti-nuclear stance, McLean presents a number of arguments. But these are based on selective use of material as will be shown.
In discussing the purpose of the policy and the Act he refers only to the sections of the Act dealing with prohibitions on visits to our ports by nuclear armed our powered vessels. But the Act does much more. It bans us from manufacturing, acquiring, possessing or having control over nuclear weapons within our nuclear free zone, and bans our forces from involvement with nuclear weapons outside the zone. Nuclear weapons may not be stationed or tested within the zone.
Our anti-nuclear policy says clearly to the world that New Zealand rejects defence by nuclear weapons, as Helen Clark, David Lange and many other New Zealanders have said many times. This is in direct opposition to the stance of the nuclear powers and some of their allies, the NATO countries and Japan for example, which have long seen nuclear weapons as an important element in their defence. The US in particular has long relied on nuclear weapons in its defensive and offensive military strategies, and this is even more the situation now following the recent US nuclear strategy review in its so-called Nuclear Posture Review. So far from being redundant, our anti-nuclear policy is a vital, living statement that we will not be part of the nuclear weapons camp as long as it continues to survive.
McLean is correct is saying that in about 1992 the US Navy completed the removal of nuclear weapons from its surface ships and smaller submarines, weapons that were in fact largely old and obsolete. Since then US Navy conventionally powered ships could have visited us at any time. It is only the obduracy of that navy that has prevented such a visit. The US claims it cannot split its Pacific Fleet into conventionally and nuclear powered classes just for us, to allow vessels in the first class to visit. But as has been stated often before, they did this for Denmark for many years and may still so do.
McLean then argues at length for a review of our ban on nuclear powered vessel visits. He claims that the 1992 New Zealand study of the safety of such vessels found such visits to be 'safe' in the case of US and British naval vessels. This is not correct. Even the study group, largely led it would seem by a very pro-nuclear member, only said that the risk of a nuclear accident on one of these vessels in port was very low. But here I agree with Owen Wilkes, who McLean quotes, in considering that our peace movement concentrated too much on the safety aspect of these vessels to the neglect of another very significant aspect of their presence anywhere.
Nuclear powered warships were developed as elements in the nuclear strategies of the nuclear powers. These mighty warships when seen anywhere have always symbolised the presence of nuclear weapons, and for most people still say here is a manifestation of the presence of a nuclear power. For us to accept visits by one of these behemoths would be widely seen as a complete abandonment by us of our anti-nuclear stance. McLean tells us that there are now only 9 nuclear powered surface ships in the US Navy and these are too big to enter our ports. True, but he chooses not to mention the over 20 nuclear powered attack submarine in the US Pacific Fleet (26 in 2000, the last year I have data for and an attempt to update this from the Pacific fleet website was blocked). These vessels visited us prior to 1984, and would presumably do so again if our ban were lifted.
As for the 1992 study, in a 'superb analysis', having demolished many common nuclear myths, readers are referred to submissions on the study, from the Centre for Peace Studies and many others, that effectively demolished the study itself. And regarding McLean's nonsense about the anti-nuclear policy not addressing the use of radioactive materials for medical purposes, this is just a red herring long used to try to discredit the anti-nuclear movement. Our policy and Act were never intended to ban the medical use of such materials. After all, we are all full of nuclei. Do McLean and his ilk claim the Act tries to ban these as well in New Zealand, to ban all things nuclear? Rubbish.
McLean then argues that we have had little impact on other countries through our anti-nuclear stance, referring again to the port visit question. He either does not know of, or deliberately chooses to ignore the very high standing our policy has won us in the UN as a truly anti-nuclear and nuclear free nation. This is currently manifested in New Zealand being one of a seven member group of countries in a very influential coalition, the New Agenda Coalition, considered to be the leading group in the UN at present working for nuclear disarmament. Again the wider implications of our anti-nuclear position have to be considered to assess the impact this has made, and continues to make internationally.
Turning finally to the new US nuclear strategy, US Representative Dennis Kucinich had this to say very recently. 'Some of our leaders have been thinking and talking about nuclear war. In the past week there has been much news about a planning document which describes how and when America might wage nuclear war. The Nuclear Posture Review recently released to the media by the government
1. Assumes that the United States has the right to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike.
2. Equates nuclear weapons with conventional weapons.
3. Attempts to minimize the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons.
4. Promotes nuclear response to a chemical or biological attack.
Some dismiss this review as routine government planning. But it becomes ominous when taken in the context of a war on terrorism which keeps expanding its boundaries, rhetorically and literally. The President equates the "war on terrorism" with World War II. He expresses a desire to have the nuclear option "on the table."'
Do we want to be seen as part of this frightening nuclear policy? This is how we will be seen if we bow to those like Ambassador McLean who see 'a hard headed assessment of our national priorities' as more important that continuing to honour the principles that have kept us an honoured and respected nuclear free nation since 1984.
R E White,
Opposition to nuclear weapons index