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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 50, September 2000

Speech by New Zealand Prime Minister

Speech by Prime Minister Helen Clark, State of the World Forum 2000, New York, September 5, 2000.

"... I have been asked to participate today as the leader of one of the seven nations in the New Agenda grouping which has taken a key role in pushing forward the agenda for nuclear disarmament. Our nations are a group of countries which cross the traditional North/South divide and have escaped the old straitjackets of the Cold War groupings of East, West and Non-Aligned. We are Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, Ireland, Sweden, South Africa and New Zealand. We came together in mid-1998 on a platform to inject new momentum into the pursuit of the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

Support from the overwhelming majority of United Nations members indicated that there was a new level of demand for action - and action now - by the nuclear-weapons states to disarm. That action required, in the New Agenda Countries' view, an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapons states to the total elimination of their nuclear weapons, coupled with an undertaking to an accelerated process of negotiations delivering nuclear disarmament to which all states are committed under the NPT.

The New Agenda grouping set its sights firmly on the opportunity of the recent Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference to progress its agenda for a nuclear weapons free world. The pressure was on the five nuclear-weapons States Parties to breathe new life into the NPT, which stands as the cornerstone of arms control and disarmament. The good news is: they did respond. The five nuclear-weapons states have agreed to make an 'unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their arsenals' in terms which heighten our hopes for future disarmament negotiations especially in the next five year review period. The nuclear-weapons states have agreed to a set of practical steps which go far beyond any earlier specific commitments. They include:

An agreement by the five acknowledged nuclear-weapons states to provide more information on their nuclear capabilities and the implementation of disarmament agreements. They must also reduce their non-strategic nuclear weapons arsenals. The five are also to take concrete measures to reduce further the operational status of their nuclear weapons systems. On May 1 they announced that none of their weapons remained targeted, but they have now promised to go further. It was also agreed that nuclear arms reductions and disarmament are to be governed by the principle of 'irreversibility'. Where weapons are taken out of active arsenals and dismantled under disarmament agreements, they would not just be stockpiled and available for future reassembly, but rather would be rendered unusable forever. That should help lock in an end to the nuclear arms race. Another encouraging result was the endorsement of the United States/Russian bilateral START process, including negotiations on START III. To complement those efforts, the Conference also agreed on the need for further unilateral efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals. The United Kingdom, France and China have accepted that they must in time join the largest nuclear-weapons states in disarmament efforts.

Non-nuclear-weapons states have been raising concerns about the option retained by Russia and NATO to use nuclear weapons in a first strike. There have also been worrying attempts to find a new role for nuclear weapons as a deterrent for chemical and biological weapons. It was especially pleasing therefore to have the review conference agree that nuclear weapons should play a diminishing role in security policies. The conference outcome was also designed to break the long-running stalemate at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. It has been told to get down to work on the 'Cut Off' negotiations to end the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. It must also begin formal talks on wider issues of nuclear disarmament. Finally, the Review Conference endorsed the moratorium on nuclear testing in the period before the coming into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, thus strengthening the norm which we have urged Pakistan and India to meet.

It is fair to say that New Zealand and its New Agenda partners did not achieve all that we jointly wished at the NPT Review Conference. There is still, for example, no set time for progressing the measures agreed to at the conference, although progress will be monitored over the five-year review period. And some of the new commitments are explicitly or implicitly conditioned on developments which could yet prove negative. Among these are the United States' proposals for a national missile defence system and the extent of opposition to it, most significantly from Russia and China, themselves nuclear-weapons states. Russia has threatened to tear up the START I and II treaties, and walk away from START III negotiations, if its concerns about US missile defence are not addressed. China is worried that a US missile shield will render its smaller nuclear force irrelevant, and may respond by new efforts to enlarge its arsenal.

New Zealand's concern about deployment of the National Missile Defence System is that it could retard or even unravel nuclear disarmament efforts. We believe that front line defence against the delivery of long-range missiles of weapons of mass destruction lies in strengthened implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its supporting regime; in full implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention; in an effective verification regime for the Biological Weapons Convention; and on strict control on access to missile technology and components.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty contains the obligation to negotiate nuclear disarmament. New Zealand strongly cautions against any act which could bring current bilateral and multilateral efforts to a halt, and harm existing arms control treaties. While all countries have a stake in global security, we believe that the most powerful nations have a special duty to act with care and prudence, and with a strong sense of responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

Not withstanding these concerns, we do believe that the NPT Review Conference broke new ground. The outcome exceeded expectations, invigorating the NPT at a time when pervasive pessimism about the nuclear disarmament agenda threatened to weaken the Treaty's credibility and play into the hands of the nuclear proliferators. This is obviously not a time for complacency. Implementation of the new NPT commitments is likely to take time. There will be obstacles. The nuclear-weapons states will want progress to be dictated by their assessment of their own security environment. Current military doctrines foresee the retention of nuclear arms well into the future. Unfortunately, commitment to rapid reductions in nuclear stockpiles is not strong.

New Zealand will continue to play a leadership role on these issues. Disarmament and arms control initiatives must be constantly pushed, and we will keep pushing. New Zealand will continue its strong involvement in the New Agenda efforts at the United Nations and in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva to ensure that there is follow-through on the NPT commitments. But the efforts of a small nation like New Zealand and its New Agenda colleagues on their own are not enough. All countries must fulfil their commitments to the elimination of weapons of mass destruction.

Public opinion worldwide must be mobilised again as it was in the 1980s. Non-governmental organisations must play a vital role, working alongside committed governments. I know that the State of the World Forum has been active in this area for many years. You supported the Six Nation Peace Initiative in the 1980s in an early effort to stimulate a change of mind-set in the last years of the Cold War. The Middle Powers Initiative is the newest network supporting the New Agenda governments, and it has a wealth of expertise and experience in the field of nuclear disarmament. Civil society organisations are demonstrating that they are more effective than ever. The Ottawa Convention banning landmines was driven by the work of many NGOs which forced governments to tackle what they thought was unachievable. New tools, such as the Internet, break down traditional barriers between people, and help mobilise public opinion not just nationally, but internationally. The world must not retreat to the days when the doctrine of nuclear armament and deterrence seemed unchangeable. Perhaps our greatest challenge is complacency. We must take the opportunities that are available in this new century of globalisation to prevent a renewed nuclear arms race and to work for disarmament. ..."

Source: New Zealand Government, http://www.executive.govt.nz. For coverage of the State of the World Millennium Forum 2000 (September 4-10), see http://www.worldforum.org.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.