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Archive for the ‘disarmament’ Category

NZ and the disarmament agenda – where are we?

Posted by on December 19th, 2013

The nuclear disarmament agenda has been gathering pace internationally in 2013 but our government has been ignoring, or just missing, every opportunity to do anything to advance it.

We had a great statement on it read at the UNGA recently by our disarmament ambassador, but that was despite Murray McCully, not because of him. She has been withdrawn from Geneva and sent back to Wellington, and the poor sole rep in Geneva is left there defending our interests and trying to advance the agenda without any instructions from government in Wellington.

The humanitarian rationale for non-proliferation and dismantling of nuclear weapons is gaining traction internationally. The impact of even one nuclear bomb being detonated (they are so much more powerful now than in 1945) will have catastrophic implications for the global environment and climate, food production and security, economics and politics, that winding back our collective arsenals and decommissioning nuclear warhead production is the only sensible way forward.

There are more or less 17,270 nuclear weapons in the world right now, of which 4,400 are on high alert, or ready to be used immediately. $1.75 trillion USD is spent annually on military expansion. Just 9 countries spend $100billion USD per annum, that is nearly $300million USD daily, on nuclear weapons. Just imagine what we could do if……

NZ had an opportunity to assist Obama and the US in his ambitious programme for the de-escalation of this threat to humanity, but John Key only saw it as a photo op. What a waste. It’s time he moved over and let someone who actually cares about NZ’s role in the world take over. David Cunliffe will do nicely.

Red Cross takes up anti-nuke agenda

Posted by on November 5th, 2012

Last Saturday I spoke at the Australian Red Cross conference in Adelaide called “Towards Eliminating Nuclear Weapons”. You can read my speech here.

It is a wonderful thing that the International Red Cross movement has chosen to take up and advance the nuclear non-proliferation agenda. Here is an organisation with well over a century’s history and experience in every modern theatre of war you can imagine, bringing its substantial reputation and credibility to the advancement of peace, on the grounds of humanitarianism. They are wading into the mixed international political agenda on grounds which are entirely irrefutable.

This is the first century of human existence when people have had the ability to destroy ourselves globally. This is the first century which has begun with nuclear weapons as a fact of life. The imperative to advance non-nuclear proliferation and the reduction of nuclear weapons to zero is greater now than it has ever been. Listening to one of the speakers talk about the impact of even a limited regional nuclear conflagration on the atmosphere, environment and crop production was enough to scare you witless.

We launched the NZ Red Cross branch of the campaign “Make nuclear weapons the target” earlier this year in Parliament. I was pleased to see so many young people getting in on this campaign. It is about their future after all. Try #targetnuclearweapons for starters.

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Turning up

Posted by on June 28th, 2012

It was disappointing to see my Depleted Uranium Prohibition Bill go down last night. With a 60-60 vote it doesn’t proceed.

And it was a shame that although support from Labour, the Greens, NZ First, Maori Party, Mana, and United Future should have delivered a one vote majority, the Maori Party cast only two votes instead of their full three.  The party has explained that Pita Sharples was away at the tangi of Hoani Waititi but casting only two votes meant they can only have had one of their three MPs in the House. Rules allow three votes if they have two or three of their MPs in the House, and two votes if only one is present.

Pita Sharples’ office has since apologised to me, saying they didnt realise the vote would be so tight. I appreciate that, but I did email their Whip and his assistant yesterday to say that we were relying on them voting their full quota to deliver the bill majority support.

First rule of democracy: you have to turn up.

Uranium weapons bill a chance for NZ to lead

Posted by on June 27th, 2012

My Depleted Uranium Prohibition Bill is likely to get a first reading tonight. It is a chance for New Zealand to take a lead on banning the Agent Orange of the 21st century.

Depleted uranium is the by-product of processing uranium ore for use in nuclear reactors or bombs. It is incredibly hard and is used in armour piercing munitions. It ignites on impact and disperses a radioactive smoke which is also chemically toxic causing heavy-metal poisoning.

The US and UK used depleted uranium munitions in the 1991 Gulf War, in the Balkans in 1999, and in Iraq in 2003. They may have also been used in Afghanistan since 2001 although this is denied by the US. You might have seen a story by Michael Field in the Sunday Star Times reporting that NZ soldiers are urine-tested on return from Iraq and Afghanistan to check their exposure.

There is growing international concern about depleted uranium weapons. About one-third of the 800,000 US veterans of the 1991 Gulf War now claim disablity benefits for mystery illnesses, and depleted uranium has been suggested as one of the risk factors for the syndrome. There has been a sharp upsurge in cancers and birth deformities in Iraq after 1991 and 2003, most recently in Fallujah which was the scene of heavy US bombardment in 2004.

Medical studies conclusively linking depleted uranium weapons to health effects on civilians and combatants have not been done. The military powers using these weapons are secretive and obstructive. But there is growing concern and enough medical evidence that depleted uranium is a potential hazard to warrant a precautionary approach.

My bill bans depleted uranium weapons just like New Zealand has banned nuclear weapons, landmines and cluster munitions. Until the military users of these weapons are prepared to open up their records and allow conclusive scientific studies on the health risks I believe we should outlaw their use.

Belgium and Cost Rica have already legislated bans. If New Zealand adds its voice to this growing international movement we can make a real difference.

I am expecting the Opposition parties will support the bill to select committee. National MPs have indicated they won’t support it, and the International Campaign to Ban Uranium Weapons has replied to their concerns in an open letter published here.

You can bet that if depleted uranium weapons were being used on New Zealand soil we would take the precautionary approach. We owe the same duty of care to civilians exposed to depleted uranium in war.

Larry Ross – in memoriam

Posted by on April 24th, 2012

“Peacenik” is a word which will only resonate with a few, but Larry Ross’s work for the anti-nuclear movement resonated far and wide.

Born in 1927, Larry Ross died last week at the age of 84. He founded the NZ Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Committee in 1981. His work at local government level saw the establishment of 105 nuclear free zones across New Zealand. That work was pivotal in building an anti-nuclear movement which culminated in New Zealand’s nuclear-free status enshrined in the Nuclear Free Zone Act of 1987.

Larry’s contribution to the peace movement in New Zealand was extraordinary. His commitment to a nuclear-free world was absolute and he achieved more than one person could ever expect to achieve, by galvanising neighbourhood peace groups and working from the ground up to build a robust and effective anti-nuclear peace movement, expressed locally and globally.

Rest in that peace you worked so hard for Larry. The NZ Labour Party salutes you and your years of commitment. Our thought and condolences go to Larry’s family and loved ones.

Let’s rid the world of landmines!

Posted by on April 4th, 2012

Landmines are a dangerous legacy of too many conflicts and must be banned world-wide. It is 13 years since the treaty banning antipersonnel landmines became international binding law, yet there are countries including Cambodia and Colombia where people continue to be killed and maimed by landmines.

Today, 4 April, is a day of international action to promote the Mine Ban Treaty and to apply more pressure to cleaning up those parts of the world where landmines continue to wreak havoc. 80 per cent of the world’s countries have banned landmines and millions of mines have been removed from the ground and destroyed, but there is still more to do. The Lend Your Leg video currently on YouTube is a good illustration of this (link above). New Zealand has started the international action today with a Lend Your Leg activity on the steps of Parliament. MPs have rolled up their trousers to ‘Lend Your Leg’ to the campaign. Even I, who will go to almost any lengths usually NOT to reveal my legs, was moved to participate and roll up my trousers for the occasion!

We may no longer have a Minister for Disarmament in New Zealand, but we still have people who care about these issues and care about New Zealand’s performance on them internationally.

Some things better not given publicity

Posted by on November 13th, 2011

The Sunday Star Times has given artist Sam Mahon’s stupid game unnecessary publicity.

Bloggers have added to that by linking. I’m not.

I’m generally in favour of a pretty liberal interpretation of what it is appropriate for media to cover. But a game that is based on killing the PM is not.

Many politicians who have been in the spotlight get threats. Most are not serious and the vast majority are from people with psychiatric conditions that are unlikely to follow through.

Notwithstanding that, I think it is better for media to if there is any doubt just to ignore stuff like that.

Foreign Affairs = more than trade

Posted by on October 21st, 2011

You could be forgiven for thinking that our only interest in other countries under this government, is how much money we can make out of them.

Yesterday, at an NZIIA seminar at Victoria University, I released our Foreign Affairs policy. MurrayMcCully had given the opening speech and every country or region he mentioned was couched in terms of our Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with them, an emerging FTA with them, the desirability of an FTA or other bilateral economic agreement with them and how well we were doing because of them.

Don’t get me wrong – I am a great supporter of FTAs as long as we don’t concede our sovereignty and they can be negotiated in a more open way which engages the non-government sector as well. But for Labour, Foreign Affairs is also about peace, security, conflict resolution, disarmament, multilateralism, human rights, climate change, environmental protection and restoration, disaster relief, good governance and democratic representation, and most importantly, people to people exchanges and relationships.

Without a viable and secure planet, all the global supply chains you can think of count for nothing.

Our independent foreign policy is a source of great pride for us. It has been most enhanced in our history by great Labour Prime Ministers: Peter Fraser, Norman Kirk, David Lange and Helen Clark. We will build on that tradition.

We will bring human rights and a commitment to multilateral international decision-making back to the fore again. They have been languishing on the back burner under the National government.

Have a look at the policy – comments are welcomed.

Oh – and for those who wonder why there is no mention of Afghanistan – that is simply because our position on that is well known, has been well reported and has been the same since late 2005. In case you have missed it (!) : Labour would not have sent the fourth rotation of SAS troops back to Afghanistan. The SAS should no longer be deployed there. A Labour government will bring them home. We will progressively withdraw our Provincial Reconstruction Team as well, in an exit strategy worked out in consultation with other forces with whom we are working in Bamyan. The fight can only be won in Afghanistan if the government there wins the hearts and minds of the people. That hasn’t happened. Time to come home.

Release of Foreign Affairs policy pending

Posted by on October 20th, 2011

I will be releasing Labour’s Foreign Affairs policy this afternoon at 2pm. It will include our role in the world and particularly in the Pacific, as well as our views on disarmament, human rights, the United Nations and MFAT reform. I released our Overseas Development Assistance policy separately two weeks ago –

I will post a more expansive blog later today.


Posted by on August 9th, 2011

Yesterday was the 23rd anniversary of the massacre of 3000 protesters who wanted democracy in Burma. They were Buddhist monks, students, activists and workers. They were gunned down by the military regime for daring to want freedom, peace and democracy. 2200 political prisoners still languish in Burmese prisons. In Norway or Burma, democracy is a threat to some people.

I went to my fifth commemoration of this event in Nelson yesterday. It gets bigger every time. We have more ethnic groups arriving from Burma and they bring new horror stories of murder, rape and persecution.

One woman who knows about perpetual struggle in a way to which I will never have to become accustomed, is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Here is a message from Aung San Suu Kyi – yes, to us in NZ – about the Burmese struggle. Enough said.

A Brash Reminder- Iraq

Posted by on April 30th, 2011

Brash on Iraq War

Hiroshima Day

Posted by on August 8th, 2010

DSCF0027I spoke at the annual Hiroshima Day commemoration in Wellington today. It was great to see two former Parliamentarians who have worked hard on this issue, Gerald O’Brien and Graham Kelly, pictured above.

This is the day that reflects on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. The scale of both the short term and long devastation in these two cities was horrific. 92% of the buildings in the city were destroyed, between 140,000 and 160,000 people died. The health effects of radiation were felt immediately, killed many over the following months, and the legacy of illness and disability has stayed with descendants over generations.

Hiroshima Day has become not only a day to reflect on the horror of the bombing, but also to mobilise support for ridding the world of nuclear weapons. In my speech today I talked about the hope that many people have for progress towards that goal. In New Zealand we now have cross party support for abolition. Phil Twyford sponsored a resolution in Parliament this year that had support from all parties. Both Ban Ki Moon and Barack Obama have committed themselves to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. But of course hope is not enough. There are still 28,000 nuclear weapons in the world, and an enormous job to be done to move the major nuclear powers.

NGOs and governments are working together on this. As I looked at the likes of Dame Laurie Salas, Gerald O’Brien and Alyn Ware and some of the younger folk present today, I know that this is a campaign with a huge history and a desire to carry on.

Cluster Munitions Convention Enters into Force

Posted by on August 1st, 2010

“Punching above our weight”  is one of the most over-used phrases to describe New Zealand’s international presence, but today’s entry into force of the Cluster Munitions Convention is an example of our ability to take a leadership role in global debates. Along with Austria, Ireland, Mexico, Norway and Peru we were the core group of countries that led the push for a ban.

The convention bans the use and production of cluster bombs.  These are munitions that contain a number of small bomblets and are used to cover a large area and act as a deterent to advances by ground troops.  The reality is that many civilians are affected by them, because just like landmines they litter the ground after conflict is over.

While China, Russia and the US are still to sign up, and the campaign will go on, the fact that more than 100 countries have signed, and now 30 have ratified is a sign that the international community are well and truly behind this convention.

New Zealand government Ministers (particularly Marian Hobbs and Phil Goff) and officials played a leading role in getting the convention finalised, including hosting a crucial negotiations here in 2008.  The real drive has come from NGOs, and in particular from Mary Wareham. Mary has been a tireless campaigner on this issue, and I know just how thrilled she will be to see the convention come into force.

If you want to find out more information about cluster munitions and the campaign to ban them check out this website

Time for a (step) change on nukes

Posted by on June 1st, 2010

The five-yearly conference reviewing the world’s major treaty on nuclear weapons managed to just squeak out a consensus declaration on Friday after a month of deliberations. Diplomats, politicians and NGO activists all seemed to breathe a sigh of relief that it hadn’t ended in disarray like the last one did in 2005.

189 nations reaffirmed their commitment to eliminating all nuclear weapons and set a 2012 deadline for holding a regional conference to eliminate nuclear weapons from the Middle East.

But one thing is clear: the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (aka NPT) is not going to rid the world of nuclear weapons any time soon.

The negotiations in New York showed it was in many ways business as usual. The P4 nuclear weapons states (US, Russia, UK and France) circled the wagons and stripped out most of the text that would have committed them to specific actions to reduce their arsenals.  This, as it always does,  gave the unofficial nuclear states (India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel) the excuse to do nothing about reducing theirs.

The final result? A lot of vague and aspirational statements. And given that the nuclear states made almost no progress on the last set of commitments made in 2000, it doesn’t give much hope that the NPT will deliver progress on the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

There are two main reasons. First, the “recognised” and the “unofficial” nuclear weapons states are stuck in gridlock.  Second, in this kind of situation the consensus-based approach of the UN inevitably produces a lowest common denominator result because it hands an effective veto to the most intransigent negotiator.

Which is why there is now a growing move to launch a parallel process to prepare a Nuclear Weapons Convention – a new global treaty designed to lead to the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons.  Advocates argue that the treaties that led to the successful global bans on landmines and cluster munitions offer a useful model in which like-minded governments and civil society lead the way, mobilising international opinion to stigmatise the weapons and over time recruit a majority of states to the cause.

Nuclear weapons of course are different. Nuclear deterrence is still key to the military strategies of the super powers and the elimination of nuclear weapons will require new thinking to take the place of deterrence.

In a speech last night to the Institute of International Affairs Labour leader Phil Goff called for the Government to join the group of nations pushing for a Nuclear Weapons Convention.  At the review conference in New York an overwhelming majority of nations endorsed the idea of a Convention, and Phil said New Zealand should work with countries like Switzerland, Norway and Austria who were leading the way.

He said the National Government had been disappointingly timid in this area. New Zealand officials at the NPT Review in New York did some good work on the conference floor forging agreement among the parties, but New Zealand was too quiet when it came to advocating a more comprehensive and determined effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Peace breaks out in Parliament

Posted by on May 6th, 2010

Last night Parliament unanimously adopted my resolution calling on New Zealand to support the UN Secretary-General’s Five Point Plan for Nuclear Disarmament which endorses the goal of a Nuclear Weapons Convention. This comes on the back of Obama’s leadership on this issue and the current NPT Review Conference being held in New York.

It’s great to see cross-party support for this resolution. I’ve been frustrated by the Government’s footdragging on this issue over the last month. In Paul Hutchison’s speech last night we finally see the Government starting to make the right noises on nuclear disarmament. I hope now Minister te Heuheu will use this resolution to add New Zealand’s voice to the growing call for the Nuclear Weapons Convention.  You can watch my speech here.

Bad taste

Posted by on April 21st, 2010

I’m generally a fan of Peace Movement Aotearoa. They are good thinkers and leaders on peace issues.

But their decision to set up a rival poppy appeal to the RSA is wrong.

The RSA appeal is a very important funding source for the special work they do with veterans. The poppy is an important symbol for Kiwis and we associate it with the RSA.

I hope that Peace Movement Aotearoa realise their mistake and never do it again.

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Say it loud, I’m nuclear free and I’m proud

Posted by on April 14th, 2010

It’s a curious thing: why is John Key so shy about New Zealand’s nuclear-free policy when it is the very thing that got him invited to President Obama’s nuclear security summit?

Key told Audrey Young of the Herald that President Obama told him “New Zealand had well and truly earned a place at the table of the nuclear security summit”.  But then he fails to mention our nuclear-free policy once in his three page statement to the summit. He saves any mention of it for remarks for the audience at home.

Why so shy Mr Key? Say it loud, I’m nuclear free and I’m proud!

Further in the Herald story it says Vice President Biden said he thought New Zealand could play a “leadership role working with other countries demonstrating that the world free of nuclear weapons could be a better place.'” I don’t know if Audrey Young got that from Mr Key or direct from Mr Biden but hell, does the White House have to spell it out any more clearly?

Now is the time for New Zealand to step up and take an active role working with other countries to push the nuclear disarmament agenda forward. Without international pressure on the nuclear weapons states to disarm President Obama won’t get very far with his plan for a world free of nukes.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has put forward a 5-Point Plan for nuclear disarmament, which includes the proposal for a Nuclear Weapons Convention that would over time lead to the abolition of nuclear weapons.  The Prime Minister should get serious about this issue. There is a genuine opportunity here for New Zealand to stand up and play a leadership role. He should grab it.

How the world has turned

Posted by on April 12th, 2010

One day we are being tossed out of ANZUS, our nuclear-free policy the geopolitical equivalent of farting in church. A mere 23 years later, a new American President campaigning against nuclear weapons, singles out NZ and invites us to his nuclear security summit precisely because of our nuclear-free status.

As Terence O’Brien just said on Morning Report, the world has moved a long way in the last 23 years, in the direction of New Zealand’s rejection of nuclear deterrence.

Just to add to the weirdness, we now have a former Labour prime minister publicly suggesting it is time for US warships to visit our harbours, and  a National Government underlining its support for the nuclear-free legislation.

It is perhaps not so weird.  American warships have long been stripped of their nuclear missiles and nuclear reactors. All that remains in the way of American sailors experiencing the pleasures of Kiwi hospitality is their Government’s neither confirm nor deny policy.  If the US is willing to publicly comply with it, and send ships that are acknowledged to be non-nuclear, why not?

There is a bigger issue lurking here though. I hope the enthusiasm for bringing back US ships is not a cover for trying to get us back into ANZUS which is still fundamentally a Cold War alliance based on nuclear deterrence.   In the years since we left ANZUS, the world has changed and so have we. We have developed a more independent view of our place in the world.

The opportunity now is to springboard off our nuclear-free status and campaign alongside other non-nuclear countries for a new Nuclear Weapons Convention to abolish nuclear weapons, building political support for President Obama’s disarmament agenda, as Phil Goff called for this morning. Now that would really make us flavour of the month in the White House.

Smile and Wave goes to Washington

Posted by on April 6th, 2010

John Key is heading off to Washington this week for President Obama’s nuclear security summit.  DC’s  cherry blossoms are peaking about now but I doubt ‘Smile and Wave’ will have much time to enjoy them, what with all the bilaterals he is planning,  lobbying on the Trans-Pacific free trade deal, and then heading up to Ottawa for talks with Canadian PM Stephen Harper.

It is great John Key is attending the nuclear security summit. But rather than signifying a major policy commitment on the nuclear issue, I can’t help thinking it was motivated by the flattery of a personal invitation from his new mate Barack.

The summit’s aim is to work out ways to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists. That is an important issue in itself and it is particularly important for Obama that he gets other nations to buy in to the US agenda on this one if he wants domestic support for the bigger disarmament initiatives.

But if the Prime Minister is serious about NZ amping up its nuclear disarmament activism, then he’d be better waiting a month and heading to New York in May for the review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). This is the mother of international anti-nuclear treaties and it is up for its five-yearly review. The last review ended in acrimony and progress on nuclear disarmament ground to a halt during the dark years of the Bush White House.

Obama has staked a huge amount on getting progress on nuclear disarmament. His speech in Prague a year ago raised expectations sky high. His  deal with the Russians last week will see cuts to both countries’ nuclear arsenals. He is planning to take the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the Senate for ratification some time soon. It is widely agreed that now is the best chance in a generation to get progress on disarmament, and the NPT is the most important of all these initiatives.

And that is where there could be a role for New Zealand.  If countries had followed through on their commitments under the NPT over the last 40 years there would be no nuclear weapons left. But progress has been stalled by a stand-off between the founding club who want to hold on to their nukes (US, Russia, China, France and UK), and the outsiders (India, Pakistan, Israel) who resent being excluded from the club but have their nukes anyway.

What is needed is a global movement to get behind Obama, press ahead with the various initiatives under way, but more importantly lay the groundwork for a more comprehensive approach.  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has put forward a 5-Point Plan to pursue this. It includes a draft Nuclear Weapons Convention for the global prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons under an international system of verification and enforcement.

Credible non-nuclear weapons states with a history of disarmament activism need to step up. They can bridge the gap between the nuclear club and the rest, and build a solid middle ground which another nations can support. Sadly there is no indication this Government has any appetite for the task in spite of this country having the most comprehensive anti-nuclear legislation in the world with strong popular backing. And in spite of the fact that our anti-nuclear policy is the very thing the PM’s new friend Barack seems so keen on.

WHO launches Falluja investigation

Posted by on April 5th, 2010

Sky News reports the World Health Organisation is to undertake a study of birth deformities in the Iraqi city of Falluja.

The announcement follows mounting concern about the surge in birth deformities in the five years since US forces used massive quantities of heavy munitions in its two attacks on the city 40 km from Baghdad. I posted last month on the chorus of calls by Iraqi doctors and international campaign groups for an independent investigation.  Doctors at the Falluja hospital cite a 15-fold increase in birth deformities. It is thought US forces used both white phosphorus and depleted uranium weapons during the attacks on Falluja.

The International Campaign to Ban Uranium Weapons is calling on the US to clarify what role uranium weapons played in the two attacks on Fallujah; to provide details of areas where these weapons were used in both Iraq wars to civil society and to the Iraqi authorities; to provide funding for independent scientific research to establish the cause of these effects, and for medical and technical assistance to the victims.

Meanwhile a group of British MPs has submitted a parliamentary motion calling the US use of toxic weapons at Falluja a ‘human rights atrocity':

That this House notes the deeply disturbing report of BBC correspondent John Simpson indicating the high numbers of children being born with serious defects in the Iraqi town of Fallujah; further notes that the report says that those born with congenital heart defects is 13 times the rate found in Europe, that other babies have been born with limb loss or distortion, paralysis or brain damage, and that officials in the town have warned women that they should not have babies; further notes that during the US onslaught on Fallujah, white phosphorus and depleted uranium weapons were amongst those used, and also that after the fighting was over, rubble from the town was bulldozed into the river, polluting water supplies; further notes that there has not been a proper independent inquiry by medical experts to establish the cause of these birth defects; and considers that this consequence of this US military action makes it a human rights atrocity.

I have a member’s bill in the ballot that would ban depleted uranium weapons, just as we ban nuclear weapons.