Remarks to ICAN Nuclear Ban Forum session "The Ban is the Plan and this is Why"

Disarmament and Arms Control


Nga mihi ki a koutou.

Let me start by acknowledging the nuclear survivors, the people who lost their lives to nuclear war or testing, and all the peoples driven off their lands by nuclear testing, whose lands and waters were poisoned, and who suffer the inter-generational health effects of radiation exposure.

I also want to recognise all those in the hall today who got us this far: the activists, the diplomats, the thinkers, the organisers. Thank you.

I am honoured to be the only politician on this civil society platform today. Perhaps it’s appropriate. New Zealand is about the size of a mid-sized NGO. But we have credentials. We banned the bomb back in 1987 passing a law that made the country nuclear-free, propelled by national outrage at the testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific.

The occasion of the first Meeting of States Parties of the nuclear ban treaty is a moment to celebrate.

They said it couldn’t be done. They said we were being emotional. Naïve. Unrealistic. They said we’d make the nuclear weapon states angry and less inclined to disarm.

But we did it – an extraordinary coalition of campaigners and diplomats created this beautiful thing called the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Give yourselves a hand.

The Nuclear Weapon States and their allies say a ban treaty without the countries whose nuclear weapons the treaty bans won’t achieve anything. Notwithstanding the obvious circularity of their logic – no, you cannot join our treaty unless you get rid of your nuclear weapons – there is a clear and compelling pathway to abolition.

It started with the gavel coming down in a conference room the UN building on 7 July 2017.

The TPNW came into force in January 2021.

It now has 89 parties and signatories.

Imagine, say, 150 parties.

Imagine, and it’s not hard, the growing stigmatisation of nuclear weapons, with pension funds deserting the nuclear arms manufacturers.

It is not a big step to imagine the increasing isolation of the nuclear weapons states and their allies on this issue.

And then in democracies as new governments are voted in and new leaders respond to public pressure and opt for nuclear abolition, and in undemocratic systems regimes change over time.

That is our future. We will have demonstrated global support and a critical mass of political will – the condition for multilateral nuclear disarmament.

So how should we move forward?

First, by putting in the hard work on positive obligations, verification, risk reduction and through continued dialogue with the nuclear weapon states and the nuclear alliance partners. It is heartening to see Norway, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands attending MSP1 as observers.

As a government, that is why we are committed to continuing to work within the NPT on disarmament.

But as a movement, our main job is political. It is without borders, winning the argument and mobilising people and governments behind the Ban Treaty.

In doing so, we draw inspiration from the proven success of diplomats and campaigners, governments and social movements working together. It’s a winning formula.

Second, we must reassure ourselves of the powerful simplicity of the idea of nuclear abolition. Consider the alternative: that you can achieve peace and security by threatening the mutually assured mass incineration of whole populations. There is a reason the opinion polls say the nuclear ban is more popular.

Third, take action. Find symbolic ways to confront this evil. Kiwis still remember with pride that our Prime Minister Norman Kirk in 1974 sent a navy frigate with a cabinet minister on board to protest at the French testing zone in Moruroa.

Fourth, take heart from the fact not only are we making the world a safer place, the campaign for the TPNW and the successful disarmament campaigns of the last 30 years have started something. It is a reclaiming of the multilateral system.

The success of the TPNW is a rejection of the idea the Nuclear Weapons States should dictate the terms by which the multilateral system deals or fails to deal with the threat of nuclear weapons.

In creating this ban treaty, mobilising governments and public opinion to build a majority for change, our movement has built a reason to hope.

Now, let’s take it to the next level.