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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 43, January - February 2000

New Zealand Government Vows to Prioritise Nuclear Disarmament; Debate Heats up in Australia

The newly elected, Labour-led coalition Government of New Zealand has vowed to prioritise nuclear disarmament issues. On December 23, four weeks after the November 27 general election, Prime Minister Helen Clark (Labour) issued a statement declaring: "In the 21st Century, New Zealand will increase its efforts to lobby other countries for the elimination of nuclear weapons… New Zealand has a proud record in the vanguard of the nuclear disarmament movement." On January 11, the new Minister of Disarmament and Arms Control, Matt Robson (Alliance/New Labour), issued the following strongly worded statement:

"As disarmament talks stall internationally, New Zealand's role in creating a world free of nuclear weapons is once again vital… [T]he [arms control] environment has deteriorated over the past eighteen months' and progress is currently stalled, particularly in the field of nuclear disarmament. Several factors have contributed to the stalemate: nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, delays in negotiations on further US/Russian bilateral relations, and a certain amount of foot-dragging at the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament. … New Zealand must make its voice heard. Prime Minister Helen Clark has already made it clear that the new Government will 'vigorously pursue the cause of nuclear disarmament.' I am proud to have the mandate to continue New Zealand's passionate advocacy to get rid of nuclear weapons. Our next step must be to build co-operation between nuclear-weapon-free zones, and to strengthen our own nuclear-free zone in the South Pacific. The new Government will continue to forge strong alliances between New Zealand and other non-nuclear states in order to create a world free of nuclear weapons…"

The high-profile commitment of the Clark Administration to nuclear abolition is likely to have an impact on the nuclear debate in Australia. On January 17, the Labour Opposition spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Laurie Brereton, complained: "Last week…Matt Robson affirmed the [New Zealand Government's] intention…to vigorously pursue the cause of nuclear disarmament. Sadly, the Australian Government shows no sign of doing likewise." A spokesperson for Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer responded tartly the same day: "The only person seeking relevance and credibility is Mr. Brereton, on any issue…" On February 4, Brereton issued a detailed critique of the Australian Government's position:

"The Howard Government [has] made no real effort to promote the work of the Canberra Commission…and has walked away from any advocacy of efforts to achieve a nuclear-weapons-free world. Most recently Australia conspicuously declined to support the New Agenda Coalition of small and middle powers working at the United Nations to encourage the nuclear-weapon states to take positive steps to fulfil their obligation to move towards nuclear disarmament. Speaking on nuclear issues in October last year, Foreign Minister Downer bluntly rejected suggestions that the nuclear-weapons states were failing to live up to their nuclear disarmament obligations, saying 'This is the message of the New Agenda Coalition… The Australian Government does not accept this proposition.' … The Howard Government's approach could not be more short-sighted."

Reports: New Zealand vows anti-nuke crusade, Associated Press, December 24; Disarmament talks must be 'unstalled', says Minister, New Zealand Government Executive Press Release (http://www.executive.govt.nz), January 11; Labor urges no-nuke stance, Melbourne Age, January 17; Nuclear arms: warning by UN Secretary-General, Press Release from Laurie Brereton, Australian Shadow Foreign Minister, 15/00, February 4.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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