In a recent Incline post Angela Woodward notes that New Zealand has joined with other countries in the New Agenda Coalition to strengthen the global call for nuclear disarmament. She suggests two additional actions that New Zealand could take – endorse a humanitarian pledge to ‘fill the legal gap’ required to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons, and provide support (political or financial) to strengthen the capacity of the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation agreements.
Such actions are welcome, but in my view, not likely to contribute much. Pledges are only useful if they initiate concrete action. The nuclear weapon States in 2000 made an unequivocal pledge to achieve the total elimination of nuclear weapons. But without concrete measures and timeframes this pledge has not been implemented.
There are other steps that New Zealand could take that would a) contribute much more to the growing global norm against nuclear weapons, b) help build the political and legal infrastructure required to eliminate nuclear weapons, and c) be more likely to influence the nuclear-armed States to abandon nuclear deterrence and commence nuclear disarmament negotiations. These include:
Host an open debate of the UN Security Council on nuclear weapons policies. New Zealand, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, has the opportunity to hold open debates twice during its term. The first opportunity was in July 2015 when New Zealand presided over an open debate in the Security Council on ‘Peace and security challenges facing small island developing States.’ New Zealand could use its next opportunity to hold an open debate on nuclear weapons policies and possible action by the Security Council. This could include the proposal announced at the Vienna conference on non-targeting of populated areas and the proposal put forward by former US Ambassador Thomas Graham for the Security Council to affirm that any nuclear test would be a threat to the peace. Another issue that could be discussed is the proposal for de-alerting of all nuclear weapons which NZ has been promoting at the UN General Assembly, but not yet at the Security Council.
Intervene in the International Court of Justice case on nuclear disarmament. In April 2014, the Republic of the Marshall Islands lodged a case in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against the nine nuclear armed States, challenging their failure to comply with nuclear disarmament obligations. The cases against India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom are proceeding, as these three countries accept the ICJ’s jurisdiction. The Court has informed all States Parties to the NPT that they have a right to intervene in the case against the UK, as it relates to implementation of Article VI. New Zealand, under a National government, participated in the 1996 ICJ case on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons, and should intervene in the current case. Not to do so would be to let down a Pacific neighbour and the cause of nuclear disarmament.
Criminalise the employment of nuclear weapons through jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. When the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC) was negotiated, New Zealand supported a proposal to include in the court’s jurisdiction the crime of the employment of nuclear weapons. This proposal was not supported by the nuclear-armed States or the nuclear umbrella states and so had to be dropped in order for the ICC to be established. Mexico has now proposed an amendment to the ICC Statute that would add the crime of nuclear weapons employment to the jurisdiction of the ICC. New Zealand could re-affirm its support for this initiative, and help Mexico promote its adoption.
Co-sponsor a UN resolution to establish an Open Ended Working Group on nuclear disarmament. Open Ended Working Groups (OEWGs) are established by the UN in order to develop a legal instrument or instruments to address the issue concerned. One example is the OEWG that was established in 2008, and led to the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty in 2013. Sweden has proposed that an OEWG on nuclear disarmament be established. This proposal found enough support to be included in the 2015 NPT final draft document. New Zealand should join with Sweden and others to co-sponsor a UN General Assembly resolution this October to establish the OEWG. The OEWG could elaborate on the various disarmament measures and options (such as a framework agreement, ban on use, ban treaty, nuclear weapons convention or package of agreements) and pave the way for negotiations to achieve one or other of these legal instruments.
Export New Zealand’s nuclear free zone legislation; New Zealand’s anti-nuclear legislation is the most comprehensive example of its kind. When it was passed in 1987, Prime Minister David Lange announced that it was not for export. But since then, the ICJ has affirmed that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be illegal, the States Parties to the NPT have agreed that any use of nuclear weapons would create catastrophic humanitarian consequences and the UN Secretary-General has contacted every parliament in the world to encourage them to act for nuclear abolition. The New Zealand government could do much more to make the NZ legislation more accessible to other countries and parliaments. Search MFAT’s webpage on disarmament and the legislation isn’t even mentioned! MFAT recently produced model legislation for implementing the Arms Trade Treaty. A similar effort could see NZ leaders and officials promote New Zealand’s anti-nuclear legislation globally as an example of what non-nuclear countries can do to strengthen the law and norm against nuclear weapons.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has framed the goal of nuclear weapons abolition as a ‘common good of the highest order’. New Zealand’s leadership in this area has been uncomfortable for our allies who still rely on nuclear weapons, but has brought international respect, credibility and status from the over-whelming majority of other countries in the world. Further leadership, along the lines proposed here, would be good not only for New Zealand but for the entire world.
Alyn Ware is the International Representative of the Peace Foundation (NZ) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit: Pakistan Army