Opening Speech for Pacific Island Conference on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

  • Rt Hon Winston Peters
Deputy Prime Minister Disarmament and Arms Control

Opening Speech for Pacific Island Conference on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Auckland, 5 December 2018

Welcome to those here today from our neighbouring Governments across the Pacific.

A warm welcome also to representatives from the Governments of Austria, Brazil, Ireland, and South Africa - all of you, as members of the “Core Group”, were in the driving seat for the adoption of the recent Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  And we ought to single out Brazil for special mention because our meeting here in Auckland owes much to an initiative you launched last December.  So thank you for that.  

Welcome as well to two other very important groupings.  One of these involves our colleagues - and helpmates - from civil society and academia.  New Zealand is particularly honoured to have here Ms Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.  We have also another member from ICAN’s Head Office with us, as well as its New Zealand-based campaigner, Ms Edwina Hughes.  And we have other notable contributors to our Conference including Dr Zia Mian from Princeton University and Dr Treasa Dunworth from Auckland University.   

And last - but certainly not least since, as you all know, ‘the future belongs to you’ - we have our Youth participants with us.  Thank you for coming to our Global Youth Forum.  Some of you have arrived here from the United States as well as other far-flung parts of the globe but most of you are coming from our Pacific neighbourhood and from New Zealand.  Indeed a number of you are Aucklanders - who haven’t had near so much challenge in getting here. Unless you have been caught up in the Auckland traffic.  

  You have all come to Auckland - whether to the Pacific Conference or to our separate Youth Forum - because, to echo President Macron’s punchy aphorism, ‘there is no Planet B’.  You would not be here if you didn’t share New Zealand’s concern about the growing risks associated with nuclear weapons and if you didn’t want to help push for nuclear disarmament.  We take it that all of you, like New Zealand, are supporters of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.   

In the Pacific we have a long history with nuclear weapons from the years when our region was used as a testing ground.  We know only too well what nuclear explosions can do because some of our Pacific neighbours are still bearing the horrific scars. 

We see the Nuclear Weapon Prohibition Treaty as the global version of our Nuclear-Free Zone.  We hope our region will be as strong in its support for the Prohibition Treaty as we have been for the Treaty of Rarotonga. 

We are up against some fairly tough opposition.  But we do not see that those who are opposing the Prohibition Treaty are putting forward better ideas of their own about how they want nuclear disarmament to move forward. 

Nuclear disarmament is described as the UN membership’s oldest and highest security priority.  After the Cold War and until just a very few years ago, it looked like it was, broadly-speaking ‘on track’ and moving - although much slower than we wanted - in the right direction.  It’s not that way now.  

UN Secretary-General Guterres recently warned us all that the risks we already face from nuclear weapons are unacceptable.  Now they’re growing.  The threat that nuclear weapons might actually be used (for the first time since 1945) is now higher than it has been at any point for the last few decades. 

Nuclear weapon possessors have modernisation programmes under way and nuclear postures are expanding, not contracting, the range of circumstances in which their weapons might be used.  There is talk of a new nuclear arms race.  And also of new, more usable, types of weapons - ones that could lower the threshold for their use. 

We face a real prospect of nuclear proliferation - especially if the 50-year old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty starts to unravel as a result of insufficient progress on disarmament. 

Much more is known nowadays about the many accidents and ‘near misses’ which have occurred over the years in relation to nuclear weapons.  This is something which New Zealand and other members of the ‘De-alerting Group’ have sought to mitigate for over a decade now by encouraging, in particular, the US and Russia to lower the launch readiness of their nuclear weapons. 

The case for reducing the risk of an accidental nuclear weapon launch seems compelling to us.  It becomes even clearer if we think of the possible cyber implications of retaining these weapons on ‘high alert’.  Cyber attacks could render command and control arrangements useless, or could jeopardise the reliability of warning systems - making it appear, for instance, that an enemy attack is imminent. 

New Zealand will continue to press the case for de-alerting.  That’s one reason why, in responding to Secretary-General Guterres’s recent “Agenda for Disarmament”, we’ve signalled our interest in being listed as a ‘supporter’ of work focused at lowering the risks associated with nuclear weapons.  (We’ve also let the UN know that we’re interested in joining the efforts of others on two of the conventional weapon Action Points identified in the Agenda: small arms; and the use of conventional explosive weapons in populated areas.)

This is mentioned now because we want to emphasise New Zealand’s willingness to partner with you, our Pacific neighbours, in areas of work - such as nuclear weapon risks - which you might have in mind to signal in your own responses to the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament.      

In closing, welcome to Auckland. We wish you the very best in your discussions over coming days on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons - an important step forward in our region’s push for a nuclear weapon-free world.

Thank you.