Friday, June 08, 2012

Nuclear Free New Zealand

If there is one thing on which nearly all New Zealanders are united it’s this: New Zealand is nuclear free and will forever be so. We have no nuclear power plants, no nuclear weapons and we allow no ships with either in our waters. That will never change, and even the belligerent United States is accepting that fact.

Today is the 25th anniversary of New Zealand becoming Nuclear free. New Zealand’s friends pushed it into it.

In 1984, the New Zealand Labour Party was swept into government, and banned visits from nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships. The US policy at the time was to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons on any ship (now, all nuclear weapons are on submarines). So, in retaliation, the United States suspended its obligations under the 1951 ANZUS alliance. New Zealand never withdrew from the alliance.

This had all come about because the French insisted on atmospheric nuclear tests in French Polynesia well after other countries had abandoned such tests. This was in New Zealand’s backyard. Prime Minister Norman Kirk sent a navy frigate to protest such tests. In the 1980s, France resumed them.

On July 10, 1985, two French government agents, Dominique Prieur and Alain Mafart, planted a bomb on the Rainbow Warrior, the flagship of Greenpeace. The sinking killed Fernando Pereira, so when the French government agents were caught two weeks later, they were charged, appropriately enough, with murder. They pled guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to ten years in prison.

The French government used all of its considerable power to “get “ New Zealand: It worked to keep New Zealand products out of what was then called the “Common Market”, and boycotted New Zealand products. As a result of this enormous pressure, in 1986 New Zealand released the two French agents to serve out their sentences in French Polynesia.

Less than two years later, on flimsy excuses, both French government agents had been released by France—and decorated. While both governments say they’ve moved on from that very dark time, in a real sense, they haven’t: France still resents New Zealand for asserting its sovereignty and New Zealand resents that France has never accepted responsibility for the only act of foreign terrorism ever committed on New Zealand soil.

The French, and to a lesser extent, the US, can claim credit for pushing New Zealand to become nuclear free: Already spit on by two erstwhile allies, why not just do what was right? And, New Zealand did.

The video above highlights what is still held in high esteem by New Zealanders: The Oxford Debate in which New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange took on an American team led by TV preacher Jerry Falwell. Lange clearly won—and he got a standing ovation at the end.

In one of his most famous moments, Lange tells his young adversary, “I can smell the uranium on your breath…” Thanks to David Lange’s Labour Government, New Zealand cannot “smell the uranium”. Even more fortunately, it never will.

Related: The Herbs’ “French Letter” (1995 version), a 1982 hit song which protested the French nuclear tests in the South Pacific: “Get out of the Pacific!”

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