New Zealand Labour Party

Speech to the 69th Commemoration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

As we gather on the eve of the 100 year anniversary of the commencement of World War 1, and we see conflicts in Gaza, Ukraine, Syria and the Central African Republic transported into our living rooms on a daily basis, it is worth reflecting on the causes and effects of war and the time it takes for people and countries to recover from even a limited, conventional weapons war. Generations are wiped out, countrysides littered with the enduring, indiscriminate evil of land mines, children traumatised and permanently damaged by malnutrition from broken food supply, artefacts of historical, cultural and religious significance ruined beyond restoration. People, places and societies, ruined for a long time.


But we are here to commemorate the dropping of two bombs only. Just two. This week we remember the horrific and nation-changing effect of the release of two nuclear bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

A uranium atomic bomb (Little Boy) was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed by a plutonium bomb (Fat Man) on Nagasaki on August 9. Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki; roughly half of the deaths in each city occurred on the first day. During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness. In both cities, most of the dead were civilians.

They were the worst of all bombs and the start of nuclear escalation, despite the horrifying and barbaric effects the world witnessed amongst the survivors and on the land of Japan. Generations wiped out; countryside and waterways contaminated by radiation; diseases such as cancer lingering on in generations to come. It was the poisoning of a country, not just death on a vast and enduring scale.

Instead of turning away from the development of these catastrophic weapons, countries plunged headlong into refining, 'improving', enlarging and stockpiling them. It became a race to see who could arm themselves first and best. Now, the detonation of even a very small proportion of these new super-sized nuclear devices could have climatic, environmental, food supply and humanitarian effects which will bring the planet to its knees. And yet the doctrine of deterrence remains an argument still entertained internationally by nuclear powers and those who wish to become nuclear powers. This doctrine says that the very existence of nuclear weapons deters countries from using them. That is a zero sum game, if ever there was one.

The lunacy of this ideology is only now beginning to turn. The best deterrence is clearly no nuclear weapons at all. New moves in recent years for Russia and the USA to agree to reduce their stockpile of weapons is a glimmer of hope that many of us previously despaired that we would ever see. The United Nations' Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, released a Five-Point Proposal for Disarmament a few years ago which fell into a thunderous silence. But now there is new interest in it and in the UN General Assembly's Open-Ended Working Group on Disarmament.

It is my pleasure today to announce Labour's Disarmament policy.

Labour will reinstate the Cabinet position of Minister of Disarmament and Arms Control. We will re-enter the movement through the United Nations towards a world free from nuclear weapons.

We believe we can play a crucial role in seizing the new opportunities emerging internationally to support ongoing progress towards a nuclear weapons-free world. A Labour-led government would have New Zealand participate with vigour once again in multilateral fora to advance nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

We need legal, enforceable mechanisms to build a secure world. New Zealand should join forces with other countries to promote international legislative solutions with respect to the enforcement of treaties, including outlawing the development, stockpiling, threat of use and use of nuclear weapons through the International Criminal Court.

The UN Secretary General's Five-Point Proposal for nuclear disarmament highlights the need to build progressively through negotiation, international treaties, pacts and agreements which alter the perception of security and methods of achieving it.

A Labour-led government will promote the UN Five-Point Proposal through leadership, influence and conviction, bringing our own experience of nuclear-free legislation to bear.

We will also seek to contribute to the UNGA's Open-Ended Working Group on nuclear disarmament.

Labour also believes that civil society groups committed to a nuclear disarmament agenda play an integral part in the development of a secure world. People power brought us the nuclear-free legislation, with a willing government. People power will again advance a nuclear-free agenda.  Labour will consult with the NGO sector to determine priorities and the efforts needed to achieve our aims.

Countries which already have domestic or regional nuclear weapons bans such as New Zealand and the Latin American countries, can engage with other countries either similarly located or similar in outlook, to examine ways of expanding networks of nuclear-free countries and their territorial waters. This could result in an expansion of existing regional agreements or the establishment of new nuclear-free regions. This is one way in which our experience of nuclear-free legislation might be shared with other countries.

Labour is also pleased at the adoption of the
Arms Trade Treaty in April 2013 and our signing of it along with a large number of UN member states. The international regulation of the arms trade is essential if conflicts are going to be initiated or exacerbated by the irresponsible trade in conventional weapons. We recognise the sovereign right of countries to defend themselves but the illegal transfer of weapons into international hotspots for lucrative gain must be stopped.

Labour will continue to promote the Arms Trade Treaty, in particular seeking its entry into force as soon as possible. We will complete all necessary domestic procedures so that New Zealand can ratify the Treaty in the near future. 

We know what modern nuclear weapons can do. We don’t need to detonate them to find out. What we do need to do is join with like-minded countries to build an enforceable resistance to their existence. This is no longer wishful thinking. It is now a matter of survival, of the planet and of our very species.

Kiaora koutou katoa.