NZ nuclear and peace activism

Today’s ODT editorial looks back at New Zealand’s nuclear free stand, and notes far less activism now on peace and nuclear issues.

Most activist attention is now on internal issues.

ODT: Giving peace a chance

The 30th anniversary of a defining moment in New Zealand’s recent history is being marked this week.

On June 8, 1987, “God’s Own Country” became a nuclear-free zone, after Parliament passed the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act.

It was a national statement that put our small and isolated country on the modern map. It heralded a proud, independent and values-driven stance, and a willingness to stand up to the “big boys”.

It became a label that unified New Zealanders and has continued to do so through the years.

It was one small stand for the world but a giant stand for New Zealand.

The US downgraded New Zealand’s status from ally to friend,  but National eventually got on board with the policy. France eventually halted its nuclear testing in 1996.

The US didn’t send another naval ship to our shores until last November, when it did so as part of the NZ navy’s 75th anniversary celebrations. It was widely seen as an official symbol of reconciliation.

It took 30 years for the US to accept New Zealand’s position as firmly entrenched.

There was some protest when the USS Sampson visited last year but that was quickly muted when it joined the assistance to Kaikoura after the earthquake there.

NZ Herald:  Fleet of international warships to help out with earthquake response

A fleet of international warships is bypassing Auckland’s historic naval celebrations and heading for Kaikoura to assist with the earthquake response.

The fleet includes the first United States warship to visit New Zealand in 33 years. The USS Sampson was due to enter Auckland Harbour today for the International Naval Review as part of celebrations for the 75th anniversary of the Royal New Zealand Navy.

The historic visit is the first since the Anzus rift in the 1980s sparked by New Zealand’s landmark anti-nuclear policy. However Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee confirmed that New Zealand had accepted offers of help with the quake recovery from five nations attending the International Naval Review – the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan and Singapore.

Protests against the USS Sampson are unlikely to have been much more than token anyway.


Today, there seems much less of the activism that led to such significant political change, less too of the leadership on such issues, and less in the way of forthright challenges to our powerful friends.

Yet the challenges remain. The US Trump Administration is involved in a nuclear standoff with North Korea, as the United Nations attempts to negotiate a ban on nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination. History is still in the making.

But how big a deal is the threat of nuclear war now? There’s not much we can do about it from here.

What about promoting peace? It just doesn’t seem to be much of a priority here now.

Leave a comment


  1. David

     /  June 12, 2017

    Some Kiwis need a little perspective on the nuclear issue which may have been a thing here but the rest of the world shrugged and cared not one jot about a tiny country in the middle of nowhere with zero international profile. Living 5 miles away from British Aerospace I can tell you that nuclear weapons were incredibly popular locally and after losing 2 elections on the issue the British Labour party flip flopped and became a supporter.

    • Blazer

       /  June 12, 2017

      just like the alternate flip flop,by the Natz in…NZ…

    • Gezza

       /  June 12, 2017

      I supported the ban when I was a callow youth.
      Never saw us as leading an anti-nuclear charge around the world. The world doesn’t work like that where you’re a country directly threatened unless everybody with them got rid of them. Not likely.
      No hurry to see it overturned.
      No risk of a nuclear accident in our ports is still better than very very low risk.
      The risk of being a nuclear target also a consideration, but chances are now remote, imo.

      Saying all that, I am aware that if an enemy ever threatened to, or actually did, seriously attack NZ, & they were still talking to us, you can bet we’d bloody quickly suspend or overturn it if our defence relied on US (or anybody’s) nuclear powered & armed vessels. So, feel a bit conflicted about the real *morality* of our stance, tbh.

      • David

         /  June 12, 2017

        Last paragraph sums it up, Lange went anti nuke by accident. For anyone who would have noticed it was a bit rich of NZ who had other nuclear armed countries pledges to protect it to get all sanctimonious when attacking those same folks for protecting themselves against what was a real and imminent threat.
        Shameful behaviour done for domestic expediency reasons.

  2. Gezza

     /  June 12, 2017

    Rainbow Warrior. Never trust the frogs.

  3. Ever noticed as to how those protesting against our (the wests) nuclear capabilities are very quiet about any others nuclear capabilities ?
    Almost like they have an agenda….

    • Gezza

       /  June 12, 2017

      I dunno whether they have an agenda or are just idealistic dreamers about how the world works, George.

      Nobody in their right mind in a country potentially, or being, seriously threatened by another nuclear-armed power, seems to want to disarm. They, understandably, want to get their own & have the protection of the MAD defence.

    • High Flying Duck

       /  June 13, 2017

      Are these the same liberal purveyors of tolerance and acceptance who stand up for the rights of Muslims – While Muslims have very little tolerance of anything liberal (such as equality, women’s rights, homosexuality), and in certain countries enforce intolerance very violently?

  4. NOEL

     /  June 12, 2017

    Remember when those concerned scientists were always adjusting the doomsday clock and one wondered if there was a future,.

    Well its still around but it seems climate change is now been thrown into the mix.

  5. An excerpt from a cable to the State Department by then US Ambassador Swindell is of interest in this area of policy:

    “I am writing to request that U.S. Government agencies
    nevertheless conduct a quick review of our policies here,
    specifically with regards to New Zealand’s anti-nuclear
    legislation. Conducting a review at this time could pay off,
    as I believe that this country’s upcoming elections and its
    desire for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United
    make 2005 the best opportunity we have had in twenty years to
    convince New Zealand to reconsider its ban on
    vessels. At the very least, a review would develop a clear,
    comprehensive, and consistent message to set the stage for
    next four years of the Administration as well as the new
    Government of New Zealand.

    ——————————————— ————-
    A review should examine what we want from the relationship
    ——————————————— ————-

    2. (S/NOFORN) The nuclear ban has since its inception
    and limited our relationship with New Zealand. Over time,
    United States has lifted some of its limits on bilateral
    military and intelligence cooperation we imposed after the
    ban was implemented in 1984. Our sense is that we have gone
    as far as we can go on our own. A review should determine,
    first and foremost, whether we should accept this status quo,
    and if so, whether we should broaden the relationship in
    ways or make it clear to New Zealand that no deepening of
    ties are possible if the ban remains in place. And we must
    decide how best to convey our message.

    3. (S/NOFORN) As of now, New Zealand officials effectively
    determine the issues for discussion in our bilateral
    relationship. An example is their aggressive “forum
    among USG agencies and Congress to press for a US-New Zealand
    FTA. At the same time, these officials argue that the
    issue is too sensitive even to discuss; that as the world’s
    only superpower we should just get over it and stop
    this small country. The past is the past, they say. The
    problem is, this is not about the past. Were other countries
    to adopt policies similar to New Zealand’s and forbid our
    nuclear-powered ships to enter their ports, our efforts to
    create a more mobile military would be seriously impaired
    in Asia and beyond.

    4. (S/NOFORN) Other red herring arguments that New Zealand
    officials use to keep the nuclear issue off the table can be
    similarly rebutted. For example, when I recently raised the
    ban with Foreign Minister Goff, he argued that the New
    government is unable to revisit its nuclear policy because
    public “will know we are only doing it because you asked us
    to.” This message makes painfully clear that the government
    does not consider a U.S. request in itself a reason for
    action, a stance that both springs from and feeds into
    deepening anti-Americanism here.

    5. (S/NOFORN) A Foreign Ministry staffer later clarified
    that Mr. Goff really meant that the public would oppose any
    “bullying” from the United States on this issue. Those of us
    familiar with New Zealand know that in this context “to
    bully” means “to publicly call for.” But if the government has
    already said publicly and privately it will not conduct any
    review of the ban, what alternative remains for us if not an
    overt call for them to reconsider?

    ——————————————— —————
    A review should examine the cost to us and others of
    New Zealand’s Nuclear Ban and its declining
    willingness/ability to work with us
    ——————————————— —————

    6. (S/NOFORN) Other countries in the region, notably Japan
    and Australia, have invested considerable political capital
    in their alliance with the United States and do not bar our
    nuclear-powered vessels despite formal anti-nuclear policies
    and significant domestic opposition. We should not reward
    our Kiwi friends at the cost of undercutting these important
    allies. They and others in the region — even tiny Fiji —
    also contribute far more to support our military capabilities
    around the world than does New Zealand.

    7. (S/NOFORN) New Zealand’s nuclear ban is concurrent with a
    20-year failure to invest adequately in its military
    infrastructure. In just the latest example, both of the
    New Zealand Air Force C-130 aircraft that the government
    generously sent to help carry aid and personnel to tsunami
    victims broke down and were forced to undergo repairs before
    resuming operations. While New Zealand officials point
    proudly to the large numbers of peacekeeping and other operations in
    which their military participate, in most cases these
    deployments consist of one or two liaison officers.
    New Zealand benefits from our deterrence as much as do
    others in the region, yet has been unwilling to be anything
    approaching a true partner in the effort.

    8. (S/NOFORN) In fact, the policies that have caused
    New Zealand to avoid pulling its weight internationally
    reflect ideological drift and lack of vision. The government
    articulates no clear definition of non-economic foreign
    policy interests other than a stated commitment to international
    organisations and peacekeeping, especially in the region.
    Even on these stated interests, New Zealand’s practical
    contributions often fall short of the mark.

    ——————————————— —————-
    A review should examine whether and how to raise our desire
    for a review of the nuclear ban
    ——————————————— —————-

    9. (S/NOFORN) I simply do not consider credible New Zealand
    officials’ insistence that the public will not tolerate any
    discussion of a repeal of the ban. It is true that if you
    asked them today, a majority of New Zealanders probably would
    oppose a reversal of the nuclear policy. But I have found
    many senior citizens and younger Kiwis are actually open to
    the idea. To the extent others are not, it is largely
    because the Government has for its own ideological and political
    reasons been unwilling to discuss the issue honestly.

    10. (S/NOFORN) After U.S. aircraft carriers were called into
    assistance after the recent tsunami, readers’ letters to a
    major local newspaper highlighted the fact that because of
    the country’s nuclear ban similar U.S. assistance would not
    be possible here in the wake of a natural disaster. These
    readers called for the ban to be lifted.

    11. (S/NOFORN) In fact, there has been some preliminary
    debate about the ban here. Two previous reviews — one
    commissioned by the National Party-led Government in 1992
    and one by the National Party in early 1994 — found there
    was no scientific basis on which to bar nuclear-powered
    vessels from New Zealand. As Dr. Andrew McEwan, the
    country’s foremost nuclear scientist has pointed out in a recent book,
    New Zealand’s “nuclear free” status is something of a
    fiction, given that there are about 2500 importations of nuclear
    reactor-produced material into New Zealand each year for
    x-rays, radiation treatments, and other purposes. (This
    does not include imports of things such as smoke detectors
    and certain watches that also contain radioactive materials.)

    12. (S/NOFORN) Although the National Party has been the only
    party to examine seriously the possibility of ending the
    country’s nuclear ban, in my view Labour is best placed to
    reverse the legislation. When in power in the ’90s, National
    failed to take any action on the ban, preferring not to spend
    political capital to do so. As an opposition party, they can
    do even less. At this time, polls continue to show Labour as
    the likely victor in the general election that will probably
    be held this September. But the real reason we should urge
    the Labour government to reexamine the ban is that, as the
    original authors of the law, it is their party that would be
    most likely to win a public mandate to change it. Many of
    the original players who created the ban in all its
    inflexible glory are in power today, including Prime Minister Clark.

    16. (S/NOFORN) In their approaches to the Embassy, to
    Administration officials, and the Congress, New Zealand
    Government officials stress that because of their country’s
    efforts in areas of interest to us, New Zealand should be
    considered for a trade agreement. We are likely to soon hear
    that New Zealand is to extend its contribution to Operation
    Enduring Freedom, for example. We are of course grateful for
    all of New Zealand’s contributions. But in my view
    New Zealand has benefited already from its actions.
    For example, New Zealand’s own interest in WTO talks is
    obvious, given the country’s dependence on exports and its
    low domestic trade barriers. Sending combat engineers to
    Iraq has enabled the giant New Zealand dairy exporter,
    Fonterra, to bid on lucrative Iraq-related contracts. New Zealand and
    U.S. troops in Afghanistan can participate in joint training
    and exercises that we have not otherwise allowed since
    New Zealand pulled out of ANZUS.

    17. (S/NOFORN) I don’t mean to imply that New Zealand has
    participated in these efforts solely for its own gain. But
    I believe that pushing them harder on the nuclear issue would
    have little impact on New Zealand’s already limited
    to engage with us around the globe. The cost to us if
    New Zealand were to pull out from these efforts would be
    another thing an interagency review would need to consider.

    ——————————————— —————
    A review should examine what we could offer in return for a
    credible review/lifting of New Zealand’s nuclear ban:
    ——————————————— —————
    18. (S/NOFORN) U.S. officials have strenuously avoided
    linking New Zealand’s proposal for an FTA with our desire
    that the nuclear ban be ended. And indeed, the two are
    linked only in the sense that if our countries are truly
    friends, New Zealand should not expect it can press hard
    for an FTA and prevent us from even mentioning the nuclear
    ban. But in practical terms I have observed that our
    preferences for FTA partners are often made along a continuum
    of countries’ economic and trade potential and our overall
    foreign policy interests. Certainly, if there were
    significant economic benefits I would strongly support a
    U.S.-New Zealand FTA, and have told this to the government
    here. An interagency review might consider whether it
    would make sense to conduct a feasibility study for an
    FTA if New Zealand removes its nuclear ban.

    20. (S/NOFORN) We must be realistic. Even if New Zealand
    lifted its nuclear ban, it will not return any time soon to
    being the ally it once was. For example, political officials
    here fear a loss of popular support if New Zealand returned
    to ANZUS, and those at the senior levels worry about the
    budgetary and personnel requirements needed to rejoin the
    alliance. But New Zealand’s agreement to take a second
    look at its nuclear ban would at least open the door to
    exploring where both sides want the relationship to go. ”

    We know the Trump administration’s America First approach has killed the TPPA and a US-NZ FTA will now need to be looked at . It seems to me given the tenor of the above comments by the then US Ambassador, that permitting the port visits of NUCLEAR POWERED vessels could have significant benefits for NZ in the event of a major disaster eg the Biggie in Wellington. This would permit a major US involvement in first response because they would be able to deploy their Aircraft Carriers/Helicopter support ships to the region. Something they can not do at present. Note the scientific advice about the risks of nuclear powered ships given by the scientific adviser.

    The whole message is here courtesy of Wikileaks:

    • Gezza

       /  June 13, 2017

      Very interesting reading indeed colonel. I wouldn’t object to nuclear ships harbouring up any more, in return for trade benefits. But my concern is getting sucked & bullied into more of America’s unwise & unnecessary FA bungling & wars if we are not very careful.

      • Well, I share your concerns realistically our Defence Force has been decimated and would need 10 years and about $1 Trillion to produce an effective deterrent. We do not have it, and neither do we have the political will to support the investment needed. We have gone “soft” and are so focussed on the good life, we have forgotten that the only route to peace and freedom is eternal vigilance. This why e need to focus on Intelligence, Security, National Cyber and Reconnaissance offices and National Geospatial capabilities.

  6. Zedd

     /  June 13, 2017

    The only ‘nuclear issue’ NZ should focus on; a missile defence shield/interceptors.. in-case Mr Kim decides to test one in our direction ?

    I still think ‘nuke armed/powered’ ships should be excluded from our ports. They can park them off shore & use other vessels to ‘ferry people’ to/from land.. if necessary sez I&I

    • Gezza

       /  June 13, 2017

      How far offshore?

      • Zedd

         /  June 13, 2017

        how wide is a nuke explosion ? 10 miles ??

        • Gezza

           /  June 13, 2017

          Dunno. Let one off. Down your way. Report back? 😳

          • Zedd

             /  June 13, 2017

            I dont have to Gezza, my Dad was a UK-RAF vet who was stationed at Maralinga (Aust. desert) in 1950s, he told me they were over 5 miles from the ‘centre of detonation’ (6 times in a year) & they could still feel a hot wind (blast wave/radiation) pass over. I’m guessing 10 miles would be better.. bigger bombs now

            • Zedd

               /  June 13, 2017

              really.. its not a f@cking joke mate

            • Gezza

               /  June 13, 2017

              Thinking they’d probably use a tactical nuke on a ship or harbour, not A PREZ TRUMP or TSAR BOMBA. Had a quick look for blast radiuses but couldn’t be bothered working out how many kilotons & then various effects – there’s all sorts of nuclear warhead & delivery sizes & options now – a bloody supermarket by the looks.

              If NZ were attacked by a hostile power with tactical nukes & conventional weapons and all we had to fight them off with was a couple of patrol boats & frigates, some dinghys with outboards a tiny few choppers & some military transport aircraft that were always breaking down so no flocking use anyway – and a nuke powered & armed ship or two was available to help defend us, but wanted to get into port here, Yes or No?

            • Gezza

               /  June 13, 2017

              Get a sense of humour Zedd. 2nd hand if you have to.

            • Gezza

               /  June 13, 2017


            • Gezza

               /  June 13, 2017

              Downticks? Have some of these and stop blubbering.


            • PDB

               /  June 13, 2017

              Zedd: “my Dad was a UK-RAF vet who was stationed at Maralinga (Aust. desert) in 1950s, he told me they were over 5 miles from the ‘centre of detonation’ (6 times in a year) & they could still feel a hot wind (blast wave/radiation) pass over.”

              My guess is you were conceived sometime after this event?

            • High Flying Duck

               /  June 13, 2017

              Gezz – it’s not Frigates we need to stop them – it’s a bunch of surly immigration officials with an agenda.

            • Gezza

               /  June 13, 2017

              Have you given me any upticks? I’m falling a bit behind.

  7. Blazer

     /  June 13, 2017

    ‘America does not have friends or enemies…only interests’…H.K.

    • Gezza

       /  June 13, 2017

      Pretty much true of every country I reckon. Are Australia our friends? UK? France? China?etc

      • Blazer

         /  June 13, 2017

        a better question…who are our enemies?

        • Gezza

           /  June 13, 2017

          Everbody you don’t like?

        • PDB

           /  June 13, 2017

          “who are our enemies?”

          The Green party, followed by Labour.

          • High Flying Duck

             /  June 13, 2017

            The biggest enemy is the enemy within…and the Greens want to have a good crack at taking us back to the stone age.
            Remember though, when they aren’t aren’t making scurrilous false personal attacks on other MP’s they are “Engaging respectfully, without personal attacks”

  8. Zedd

     /  June 13, 2017

    i guess if i ignore most of this b-s.. it will all go away.. like cl-chg

    • Gezza

       /  June 13, 2017

      Didn’t you pack a sad & piss off once last year? Did it go away for you then?

    • Gezza

       /  June 13, 2017

      Sorry Zedd. That was uncalled for & I apologise.

      The only ‘nuclear issue’ NZ should focus on; a missile defence shield/interceptors.. in-case Mr Kim decides to test one in our direction ?

      That’s a good point, as is your argument against overturning the nuclear ships ban. But I guess, looking at cable Bj posted, if we were to get a missile defence shield, the thing is – who would we get it from & what would they expect in return?

  9. Gezza

     /  June 13, 2017

    @ Blazer

    a better question…who are our enemies?

    I don’t think it’s a better question, just another one. I think it’s a good question though.

    At the moment, from a strictly defence point of view – nobody. Nobody is threatening us militarily & I’m not even sure whether down here, away from all the major sea & air routes of the Northern Hemisphere, Eqatorial & Tropical nations who like to wave sabres at & fight each other from time to time – either directly or through proxy wars – anybody is likely to in the foreseeable future.

    Indonesia might become a worry at some point, perhaps, or maybe the Japanese resurgent & rampant might want another earthquake-prone conquest for ease of tourism, but even those idle fantasises seem to be only very remotely likely to happen.

  10. It is amazing to me to read the ignorance of the fear mongers who can not separate the difference between nuclear propulsion engines to create the steam to drive the turbines and the devastation of “atomic bombs”. The Naval and Marine Forces on board the warships using nuclear propulsion are able to sleep well with the fissile material safely contained behind the specially designed bulkheads. Do you not concede they are intelligent beings who realise the minimal risks involved? The best solution is if the ship can come alongside so it can hook up the electrical grid and provide potable water in the quantities needed for survival. Also, they can cook bread and other survival vittles and have first class hospital facilities used to dealing with combat casualties. We should have three of them here in NZ.


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