Prohibiting nuclear weapons: Phil Twyford lauds the coming into force of an important arms control measure.

AuthorTwyford, Phil

The entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on 22 January was a moment many feared would never come, but would rather remain forever an aspirational goal to be pursued by future generations of dreamers and idealists. It was a moment for celebration, for reflection and, above all, for hope. It was the culmination of efforts across generations; efforts which have spanned the globe. It was a reward for the activists, academics, religious leaders, politicians and officials who never lost faith in the promise of a world without nuclear weapons.

For those who have been involved in the campaign against nuclear weapons--some for decades--the coming into force was their celebration fully as much as it was for those 50-plus governments whose ratification of the treaty has now brought life to it. What has been achieved is remarkable: I hope it will serve as a source of inspiration for tackling other seemingly insurmountable challenges ahead of the world right now.

For most of us, there is no need for advertisements for Steinlager or for McDonald's Kiwiburger to remind us of the part nuclear disarmament has played in the evolution of New Zealand's national identity and our independent foreign policy. The leadership role we continue to play on nuclear disarmament has its foundation in the ground swell of public opposition to nuclear weapons, triggered by nuclear testing in the Pacific. Flotillas of private vessels sailing to disrupt the French at Mururoa; tens of thousands of signatures on the petitions presented to Parliament by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (NZ); and the rolling out of self-declared nuclear weapon free zones across private properties, churches and marae, as well as suburbs and entire cities. As should be the case in a democracy, New Zealand foreign policy followed closely--with Norman Kirk's dispatch of HMNZS Otago (with Minister Fraser Colman on board) to French Polynesia in 1973, and the first of our cases against France at the International Court of Justice in the same year.

Growing strength

The peace movement gathered strength in the 1980s and 1990s. As a 19-year-old quite a number of my Friday nights were spent on anti-nuclear marches on Queen Street, and when then Prime Minister Robert Muldoon invited US naval vessels to Auckland we were there in sail boats and all manner of water craft to give them a Kiwi anti-nuclear welcome. The shocking bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985 seared anti-nuclear sentiment into the Kiwi psyche. It was followed by the welcome establishment by treaty of a nuclear-free South Pacific in 1987; and the passage of the iconic New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act also in that same year. In the 1990s we tried to take France again to the International Court. With rather more success, we voted at the United Nations in favour of securing an advisory opinion from the court on the legality of nuclear weapons--and then, supported by a strong showing of New Zealand civil society, lodged strong arguments with the court on their illegality.

Our advocacy for nuclear disarmament has continued at the United Nations, at all meetings of parties to the...

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