Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On New Zealand’s Anti-Nuclear Posturing

April 13th, 2010

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New Zealand’s national identity is very much based on our sense of virtuous purity – and the feeling that we can provide a shining example to an outside world riven by conflict and greedy self interest. If only people were more like us. If only they were more willing to throw themselves open to the free market, and were more willing to let the wealth-generating sectors of their economies stand or fall on their own merits. If only the world was as willing as we are to say ” No” to nuclear weapons.

It is something of a fantasy. The reason we were finally able to get away with saying “No” to nuclear weapons is not because we were a fearless example of moral virtue. It was because we are remote and virtually irrelevant to global conflicts, and because the Americans were satisfied that our continued willingness to provide them with secret intelligence was more important than the public spat over nuclear ship visits. The Waihopai base – and through it, our willingness to spy on our Pacific neighbours – became the virtual trade-off for our nuclear policy. Regardless, our reputation for virtue on nuclear issues has had a workout over the last couple of days. Prime Minister John Key got invited to attend Barack Obama’s conference on nuclear proliferation in Washington, and met with US vice-President Joe Biden. Reportedly, Key responded in these terms :

We are clearly a country that has got a strong history in this area and that could be used longterm actually to sway international opinion.”

Mr Key said the long term ambitions of the Obama Adminstration were “aligned with New Zealand’s position – that is they want to see the world free of nuclear weapons – that has been our position since 1986 and well before that.”

“New Zealand has shown it is possible – sure the situation is different and there are difference circumstances but I do believe we could potentially get to a world that is free of nuclear weapons if you can get the buy-in of a whole lot of other countries.”

On RNZ this morning, Key repeated this theme of New Zealand being an example to the rest of the world on nuclear issues. Why is this, on balance, something of a fantasy? Well, it is a matter of public record that both the US and New Zealand have either voted against or abstained from international moves to make the Middle East a nuclear free zone – in New Zealand’s case, blaming “poor process’ and a ‘ lack of consultation” and other diplomatic weasel words for our reluctance. The underlying reason is that such moves have been seen as a tactic to highlight the fact that Israel has a large nuclear arsenal, and is not a signatory to the non-proliferation process that Key and Barack Obama have been so keen to promote at the Washington conference this week.

In other words, New Zealand has been as willing as anyone else to play politics with the issue of nuclear proliferation and disarmament. When I asked Key at a post Cabinet press conference last year whether his government planned to change the Clark government’s policy of not actively supporting a Middle East nuclear free zone, he replied that if this was an attempt to get him to criticize Israel, he wouldn’t. A virtuous example to the rest of the world? In our dreams.

The same selective morality has long been evident in the way that successive US administrations have handled the issue of nuclear proliferation on the sub-continent. The nuclear stand-off between India and Pakistan is dangerous enough in itself. In addition, Pakistan nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan has been the most well-documented case of the export of nuclear materials to rogue forces elsewhere in the world. So if nuclear terrorism is the greatest risk to global security – which Obama maintains it to be – then perhaps the Obama administration could begin by examining the historical American role in creating and fostering the nuclear programmes in both Israel and Pakistan, in both cases outside the non-proliferation process.

The reality of course, is that the Americans routinely pick and choose the countries at whom they wave the non-proliferation stick. The Washington conference, one can safely predict, will end up denouncing Iran’s nuclear aspirations. If New Zealand really wishes to be virtuous and consistent it could point out to the Washington gathering that Iran – even if one puts the very worst interpretation on its nuclear programme – would be doing no more than Israel has been allowed to get away with for decades. Or that Pakistan was enabled to do, without threat or major sanctions being applied.

One can only applaud the steps being taken by the Obama administration to pursue reductions in the size of the US and Russian nuclear arsenals – even if technological advances probably render a smaller arsenal no less potent. The riskier prospect is that the noble cause of non-proliferation may now be invoked to justify military action against Iran. If so, the biggest threat to global security may not be nuclear terrorism – but the selective morality of the non-proliferation club itself. It is a club for which New Zealand seems more than willing to be a happy little cheerleader.


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    1. 8 Responses to “On New Zealand’s Anti-Nuclear Posturing”

    2. By Josephine on Apr 14, 2010 | Reply

      Key is an embarrassment.
      “a buy-in of a whole lot of other countries”?
      Does he think he’s still on the trading floor?
      He is our own personal George W Bush, none too bright.

      Thank you, Gordon for addressing the hyprocisy. Israel is allowed nuclear weapons (funded by the US) and to unilateraly invade Lebanaon and Gaza and yet Iran is criticized for developing nuclear power. Will the real “terrorists” please stand up?

    3. By Andy on Apr 14, 2010 | Reply

      Come on Gordon and Josephine

      Lets be positive for a change , at the end of the day , Key , because of our past history has been invited to be inside the tent of a pretty powerful gaggle of world leaders , surely this is something to be positive about , because you can’t influence much being on the outside of that tent I’m afraid …

      Also , I direct you to an article written by G Palmer to dispel your myths about the Waihopai “Spy Base” –

      “In the campaign against driftnet fishing some of the nations whose fishing fleets were operating in the South Pacific were prone to deny the problem was serious or at least as serious as New Zealand argued. But the king hit for New Zealand was specific and detailed intelligence provided by GCSB concerning the activities of those fishing boats, which disclosed the extent of their catches. That meant the New Zealand Government had correct facts upon which to base its campaign. The facts could not credibly be denied”

      Point is , the “spy base” , if you beleive Geoff Palmer (and we have no reason not to) was and probably still is being used to support civilian agencies to carry out the important war against IUU fishing in the Pacific Ocean , thus also helping out our Pacific Island friends from their resources being plundered .

      Is this not a good thing ??

    4. By mike on Apr 15, 2010 | Reply

      “Is this not a good thing ??”

      Andy, this is definitely a good thing and if Waihopai was only used for “good things”, fine. But unfortunately the base is used for other more sinister activities, about which the NZ government has never been upfront.

      Where there is a lack of transparency, we need to be suspicious. Nicky Hager’s book ‘Secret Power’ provides a solid basis for doubting successive governments’ good intentions.

    5. By Andy on Apr 15, 2010 | Reply

      Mike –
      “Where there is a lack of transparency”

      Didn’t the head of the GCSB and SIS just not recently make a rare press statement to explain what the Waihopai base is used for in general terms ? , and they can only ever explain it in general terms because if they are too explicit then any technological advantage we may have against our adversaries (NZ does have adversaries who don’t act in our self interests) are instantly lost.
      The main conflict NZ are involved at the moment (and it would seem likely the main use for Waihopai at the present) is where NZ is supporting a UN sanctioned regional security assistance program in Afghanistan , for more background see –

      The ISAF to me isn’t just about Afghanistan , its about the whole unstable region and the ramifications of this , Obama, Nato and the UN have inherited Bush’s (both of them) stuff-ups , ISAF is one way of fixing those litany of mistakes. Should NZ not part of this attempt ?

    6. By mike on Apr 15, 2010 | Reply

      Andy, It’s interesting, your phrase “rare press statement” kind of sums it up for me.

      I’m not sure the technology aspect is so crucial as the basic questions of who is being surveilled, for what reasons, for whom, and where is the information spreading to.

      It is one thing for an eye to be kept on illegal fishing boats (you bet they know the risk they run) and quite another for surveillance of “security threats” defined by undisclosed overseas security agencies, the agendas of which are probably largely unrevealed to the GCSB.

      It has also been shown that in the past, intelligence sharing has often been a “one way street” at crucial times: eg. our so-called allies’ foreknowledge of the Rainbow Warrior bombing.

    7. By Andy on Apr 15, 2010 | Reply

      Mike –

      The GCSB and the SIS are both subject to oversight by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Paul Neazor QC. During their annual reporting period , Paul Neazor visited the Bureau and conducted inspections of their warrents and authorisations. It would be at this point that if any irregularities , including ‘un-disclosed’ agendas would be bourne out. Both the PM and leader of the opposition have access to this report . As far as intelligence agencies go , the GCSB and SIS are open to more scrutiny than most other countries , hence our high ranking in the Transpearancy International league tables .

    8. By Elderlybloke on Apr 15, 2010 | Reply

      I am in agreement with the article as far as our Nuclear Policy goes.
      Most of the world even if they have heard of us , don’t know where we are.

      The egos of Clark and Key make them believe they are important and can effect the policy of USA,UN and everything.

      If this so called spy base keeps the USA thinking kindly about us , then that will help on trade deals.

    9. By Jeremy on Apr 20, 2010 | Reply

      I find the Key position on our anti-nuclear position most interesting in light of our current thinking. When we are getting so much recognition for our principled stand 25 years ago, does that not suggest that even though we may at first be chastised, outcast, for making a radical stand to exercise our own sovereignty, that maybe we should be making more? i.e. Not mining our natural reservations, not allowing factory farming, not chasing commodity peanuts, not allowing GMO crops, not dismantling democracy to allow for corporate ‘efficiency’ exploitation.

      Cuba had a crack at a new way of doing things and got some pretty cool stuff done under extremely aggressive sanctions. Imagine a democratic project in New Zealand to show the world how it can be done instead of just trying to reproduce others failed attempts?

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