Deadline: Monday, 14 May 2012, by 5pm
In July 1984 New Zealand elected David Lange’s Labour government and along with it their ‘nuclear free’ policy. This policy included prohibiting the entry to any ships that were nuclear powered or carrying nuclear weapons. Since 1951 New Zealand had been part of a trilateral security alliance with Australia and the U.S. known as ANZUS. For Australia and New Zealand the alliance offered security that Britain could no longer provide. The alliance became increasingly important and by the mid 1970s it was seen as the corner stone of New Zealand’s defence strategy. In 1985 New Zealand’s commitment to the ‘nuclear free’ policy was tested by the U.S. when they requested that their vessel – the USS Buchanan – be allowed to port in NZ. Because of the U.S. policy to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear substances aboard their vessels, it was denied entry, leading to the U.S. suspension of its defence obligations to NZ under the ANZUS alliance. This essay will analyse the background to, reasons for and wider ramifications of New Zealand’s ‘nuclear free policy’.
The background and context of the anti nuclear policy had a profound influence on its establishment. It had its beginnings in the late 1950s with the establishment of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament organisation in Christchurch. At the time most New Zealanders supported ANZUS and our nuclear policy. But in 1965 Holyoake’s National government polarized opinions on New Zealand foreign policy with its decision to follow the U.S. and send combat troops to Vietnam. This had a profound effect on New Zealand and later generations who would call for a more independent and moral foreign policy. The anti nuclear sentiment in New Zealand was indirectly stirred by the ‘Save Manapouri’ campaign in 1969-70, as it was the most significant environmental movement within the country and had clear parallels with the antagonism against French nuclear testing in the Pacific. Muldoon then divided the country and sparked the public into political activism when he gained power in 1975. His invitation to the Springboks to tour in 1981 amplified the activism and it soon became clear that New Zealand’s ‘moral conscience’ was to take hold. This allowed Labour to be elected with ‘ethical’ nuclear policy at the heart of their campaign in 1985. This in turn led to the enactment of New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987. As this illustrates the historical context surrounding the background to the nuclear policy clearly had a major effect on its growth and implementation.
The main reason for New Zealand’s stern upholding of the anti nuclear policy in face of huge pressure from the U.S. was to increase our national sovereignty. Realism assumes “states are sovereign entities living in a Hobbesian anarchy that, as Waltz emphasizes, seek to use power to preserve their security and autonomy.” This unequivocally illustrates both New Zealand’s desire to enter the ANZUS alliance in 1951 and stand firm behind its nuclear policy in 1985. New Zealand first entered ANZUS to gain security after the near Japanese invasion in WWII, but by 1985 New Zealand perceived the price they had to pay in loss of autonomy (by following U.S. made policy) outweighed the benefits of continuing to be a part of alliance. Lange summed this when he says; “I regard it as unacceptable that another country should by threat of coercion try to change a policy which has been embraced by the New Zealand people.” He clearly considered over turning a policy supported by the majority of New Zealander’s to accommodate the U.S. policy as infringing too significantly on New Zealand’s sovereignty. The major argument is that smaller states chafe at the constraints on autonomy imposed by their membership in alliances, when it outweighs security