Opening Address - Launch of Parliamentary Handbook on Disarmament for Security & Sustainable Development

Disarmament and Arms Control


Launch of Parliamentary Handbook on Disarmament for Security & Sustainable Development - virtual event 

Thank you Matt. I’m really pleased to be speaking to such a distinguished group of colleagues today in my capacity as Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control. It really is a fantastic group of Parliamentarians, academics and activists that Wendy and Alyn have brought together for IPU and the PNND.

Both the IPU and PNND do fantastic work in the region and globally to give greater profile to critical international issues around peace and security, and I commend all of the hard work that goes into making sure these issues remain at the forefront of all of our minds.

I wanted to talk to you today about the enduring relevance of disarmament; what the New Zealand Government is doing to keep this at the forefront of the international agenda; and what you can all do to help.

We do not look at the challenges to multilateralism and international cooperation as an excuse to do less in this area – indeed, when the global environment is uncertain, we know that armed conflict is always a possible outcome. Given this, it’s more important than ever to be upholding and developing rules and norms governing the use of weapons, and prohibiting the use of those the international community finds unconscionable.

Disarmament is not something that can be left for future generations. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists sent us all a dire warning in January 2020 when they set the Doomsday Clock at its most urgent ever point: 100 second to midnight. Explaining their assessment, the panel of scientists cited the dual existential threats of nuclear wear and climate change.

Right now, nuclear weapons present their gravest threat since the end of the Cold War, owing to the collapsing arms control architecture, the modernisation efforts on the part of the nuclear-weapon States and the ratcheting up of global strategic competition.

And nuclear weapons aren’t our only worry. Each year, governments around the world spend almost $2 trillion on military expenditure. This burden is worth 2.4% of global gross domestic product, which is a significant amount of capital that could be invested in other areas that would deliver better outcomes for society: health, justice reform and education.

Approximately 900 million small arms are estimated to be in circulation worldwide. These weapons are produced by around 1,000 companies in 100 countries. Every year, armed violence kills around 535,000 people, with more than three quarters of those dying in non-conflict settings.

None of this carnage – or very little of it – contributes to addressing climate change, it steps us further away from nuclear disarmament, and it directs much needed investment away from the Sustainable Development Goals.

We must redouble our efforts to combat these seemingly intractable challenges. The only way we can achieve improved human security is through international diplomacy and cooperation, and achieving improved disarmament outcomes.

That is why New Zealand is proudly a strong advocate of disarmament, and why under my watch as Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control that we have adopted a clear strategic vision for the priorities that we are hoping to achieve, taking a realistic look at the surrounding strategic environment.

Our disarmament work has contributed to the international rules-based order and to the global public good – our advocacy against inhumane and unacceptable weapons of war has played a role in mitigating some of the most egregious effects of conflict; and our tireless efforts on nuclear disarmament have helped keep this issue in the spotlight.

We have crafted a strategy around three key pillars. Firstly, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, as the most urgent item on the international disarmament agenda and our top disarmament priority.

Reductions in global nuclear arsenals have slowed – and in some cases reversed – in recent years. I want to be clear, this is a totally unacceptable failure of the Nuclear-weapon States to implement their Article VI obligations under the NPT, and we call on them to do better, and meet the most basic of international obligations.

New Zealand continues to take a leading role on advocating for the elimination of nuclear weapons, including by contributing to a positive outcome at the NPT Review Conference (and I will be participating in a very late night meeting next week to this effect as a member of the Stockholm Initiative); to increasing uptake of the TPNW, which I will turn to shortly, and in supporting the Pacific region to make progress on nuclear legacy issues.

The second pillar in our strategy is around international humanitarian law, ensuring that humanitarian considerations are at the core of our disarmament work, and that IHL is applied in the development of new technologies. In particular, New Zealand is advocating for the adoption of a meaningful Political Declaration on Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas to better protect civilians living alongside or in urban warfare.

Finally, we are also seeking to shape the future with our strategy, by better regulating the responsible use of outer space and playing a leadership role in multilateral efforts to develop new rules and norms, including on space weaponisation. And back closer to earth, ensuring the ethical, legal and strategic concerns around autonomous weapons systems are built into a national policy on these systems that informs our international engagement to regulate killer robots.

So what can you do?

As parliamentarians, you have a critically important role in shaping the narratives around security at home and abroad, and shifting the focus from a strong national military to one of collective human security where we can all prosper.

Depending on your domestic legal settings, many of you may have an important role to play in the adoption and ratification of treaties, and for those jurisdictions that haven’t yet considered them, I would urge you to positively consider The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Nuclear weapons have always been immoral, but now – thanks to the entry-into-force of this landmark Treaty earlier this year – they are now illegal, too. Besides being the first international agreement to categorically prohibit nuclear weapons, and stigmatise those states that refuse to disarm, it is also the first to put into place a framework for verifiably and irreversibly eliminating nuclear weapons, and to assist the victims of their testing and use.

As well as the TPNW, the Arms Trade Treaty provides really important collective security benefits by promoting international cooperation and transparency in order to better prevent the illicit trade in small arms. It also prohibits the export of small arms under certain conditions, where the weapon could be used to further the commission of genocide, or a crime against humanity, for example.

The ATT has a really important benefit to bring in the Pacific, given the well-understood risks that illicit trade in small arms can bring.

Should any participants have any questions about the positive contribution either of these agreements can make, I would be really pleased to take your questions.