Address to the New Zealand Model Security Council Closing Ceremony
Phil Goff | Monday, September 3, 2012 - 14:28
Thank you for the invitation to be with you today as you conclude four days of debate on contemporary international security issues.
Your theme, “The Technology of Conflict”, is an interesting one.
Technology has transformed our lives and improved our living conditions, productivity, life expectancy and ability to communicate.
But in other respects, and in particular in respect to nuclear weapon technology, it has for the first time bestowed on us as human beings the power to destroy humanity. This makes the elimination of such weapons of mass destruction an imperative that deserves far greater priority than the world has given it.
Decades of stalemate in negotiating the removal of nuclear weapons at the Disarmament Committee in Geneva represents an unacceptable failure of multilateralism that ought not to be tolerated.
Before my generation passes over responsibility to yours, we have to make progress in this area.
In due course, you will be the leaders of our country and it is really encouraging for me to hear the commitment and the passion you have shown in the last few days as you have debated the role New Zealand can play in the wider international community.
We already live in a globalised world, and the process of decisions affecting our future being made internationally rather than by individual nation states will continue to gather speed.
Issues of security in the face of threats of conflict and terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, food security and combatting environmental problems of global warming and air pollution cross national boundaries and need to be made internationally.
It will take the whole world working together to achieve a stable, peaceful, prosperous and socially just world.
I bring you the best wishes of Labour Leader David Shearer and his deputy Grant Robertson. Both have worked internationally for the UN. David Shearer’s efforts working in the world’s most troubled and dangerous areas has seen him awarded international recognition including for bravery. Grant served the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at our UN post in New York and was regarded as one of its most talented young representatives.
New Zealand has long been committed to multilateralism. With its soldiers having fought in two world wars within thirty years at a human cost of 30,000 of its young men sacrificed, in 1945 we were determined to seek a new system to prevent and resolve international conflict.
Labour’s wartime Prime Minister, Peter Fraser, played a pivotal role in the establishment of the new United Nations and its guiding document, the UN charter.
For a multilateral organisation like the UN to work however, there must be the will on the part of its members, especially the most powerful, to seek and achieve consensus.
Fraser fought hard to prevent a veto power being awarded to the permanent members of the Security Council and we have consistently opposed that power being exercised.
The failure to date to resolve the crisis and the slaughter of people in Syria is the result of nation states declining to reach consensus and the use of the veto in this case by both Russia and China.
While the UN arose from the ashes of the conflict of World War II so too did the creation of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons were used for the first and fortunately so far the only time against human beings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
The father of the United States nuclear programme Albert Einstein, thereafter warned the world that ‘Splitting the atom changed everything except the way we think. Hence we drift toward a unparalleled catastrophe’.
As well as advocating multilateralism, New Zealand also became a voice of rationality to prevent the testing, proliferation and ultimately the possession of nuclear weapons.
Thirty eight years ago yesterday, Labour’s Prime Minister Norman Kirk died. But one of the things he will be remembered for, as he worked for an independent voice for New Zealand in international affairs, was an end to French testing of nuclear weapons in the South Pacific. He sent a frigate HMNZ Otago as a protest vessel to the nuclear test zone at Mururoa, and our Attorney General Martyn Finlay to the Hague to fight the issue in the International Court of Justice.
Under the Fourth Labour Government and David Lange, New Zealand became the first and only country to legislate to make our country nuclear free. We said thanks but no thanks to the “protection” of the US’ nuclear umbrella and withstood enormous international pressure to change our principled and independent stance.
Under the Fifth Labour Government in which I was Minister for Disarmament New Zealand led the charge at the United Nations General Assembly to have nuclear weapons taken off high alert. We won 130 votes in favour of our resolution.
We know that the risk of a catastrophic nuclear war could be the result not simply of a state’s deliberate intent but rather a mistake, miscalculation or accidental launch of a missile. With 20 minutes from launch from a nuclear submarine to impact on a targeted city, there is little time to rectify a mistake or to engage in dialogue.
Today we are no longer under the shadow of a Cold War. But with well over 20, 000 nuclear weapons stockpiled, each with explosive power 8 to 40 times that of the bombs dropped on Japan, the world is still under threat.
With proliferation in the possession of nuclear weapons, the situation is worse not better. India and Pakistan now both nuclear armed states have engaged in open conflict three times since independence in 1947. There remains the risk of further conflict which could involve nuclear weapons if extreme religious or nationalist forces gain control of the state or any of its nuclear weapons. As Foreign Minister I remember the concern expressed by US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, as he sought to mediate in the simmering conflict between the two countries around nine years ago about the risk of nuclear conflict.
North Korea, the last Stalinist state in the world, seems ready to prioritise the testing of its nuclear weapons and missiles, while many of its people starve and dissidents are incarcerated and executed by a state with arbitrary dictatorial powers, its actions are unpredictable.
In the Middle East today, Israel has nuclear weapons which it might use against Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities in tunnels so deep that it can avoid the effects of conventional bunker bombs.
Iran is suspected of trying to become a nuclear weapons state enriching uranium to the level where it can be used in nuclear weapons rather than for nuclear power production. If that happens, nuclear weapons possession could proliferate in the Middle East in an already volatile region.
It is time for New Zealand again to show leadership in the struggle for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Recently, we took the initiative at the Foreign Affairs Select Committee to pass a resolution against the will of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, that New Zealand should move to lead negotiations to achieve a nuclear weapons convention to prohibit manufacture possession, testing or use of such weapons.
While achieving this will be difficult and take time we believe that New Zealand should align itself with like-minded countries to push the boundaries forward to realise this goal.
New Zealand is also seeking to be elected at the end of 2014 to serve a term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2015/16. It is 20 years since we have held that position. To get there we need 129 nations to support our bid and beat one of either of our two competitors, Spain and Turkey. They are much larger countries so it will not be easy. However our small size can also be an advantage. We can demonstrate, as we did on becoming nuclear free, that we are fiercely independent, a country that thinks for itself and has the courage of its convictions.
We need to persuade others that we are proactive, committed and principled in what we do. We need to demonstrate that we will listen to others, heed their concerns and can talk to both sides in any dispute. We need to show that we will look at issues on their merits and bring competency and clear analysis to debate on the Council.
Being elected to the Security Council gives us the opportunity to be at the centre of international decision making. It offers us the chance to show our commitment to multilateralism and enhance our international reputation. Labour will be supporting New Zealand’s bid in every way we can. It would help however if Government Ministers including the Prime Minister refrain from making unnecessary and disparaging comments about other nations as they have recently about Hungary and Finland.
Finally, I want to congratulate you all on the time and the effort that you have put into this conference. Having attended a number of the UN youth assemblies I have been hugely impressed by the passion, enthusiasm and commitment of the young people who have participated.
I have recently written to the Prime Minister suggesting that each year New Zealand send to New York a youth representative to participate as part of our delegation to the United Nations General Assembly. Australia and more than a dozen nations have done this for a number of years.
I found out this week from a meeting with the US assistant Secretary of State Dr Esther Brimmer that the United States will next month, for the first time, have a youth observer at the UNGA.
I have made the point to our Prime Minister that you have a stake in our future and we have a stake in your leadership abilities and experience. It will be a real boost to the UN Youth Association in New Zealand each year to give one of you the chance to participate in our delegation, experience what happens at the UN and learn from the debates that take place. I will continue to push for that to happen.
Congratulations once again on your work and thank you for your interest and determination to make a difference and help create a better world.