UN Asia Pacific Regional Disarmament Conference, Wellington

  • Helen Clark
Prime Minister

I welcome all participants in the conference from both New Zealand and abroad. New Zealand is delighted to host this conference.

It is a serious working conference. It brings together government representatives, United Nations personnel, and NGOs. All here are well versed in disarmament issues. It is particularly pleasing to see substantial representation from the Pacific Island Forum nations, and, to you, special Pacific greetings.

New Zealand is a small country of 3.8 million people, but it has a big voice on disarmament issues. We count ourselves very lucky to live in one of the most strategically secure environments in the world. That gives us perhaps a special role in promoting disarmament initiatives. We would like other nations to experience the peace of a benign strategic environment too.

Without question the tranquillity of the South Pacific was broken by French nuclear testing from the mid-'60s to the mid-'90s. That era is now behind us, enabling France to be a good, friendly partner in our part of the world.

But there have been other issues too which have been affecting the tranquillity of the South Pacific in recent years. There have been the three coups in Fiji, political assassination in Samoa, civil war in Bougainville, uncertainty in the Solomon Islands, and now revolt in the armed forces in Papua New Guinea. Against this background of concern, the Pacific Island Forum last year adopted the Biketawa Declaration and a series of measures to be invoked when a nation's ability to abide by Pacific Forum membership criteria is compromised.

Of special interest to the South Pacific at this Conference will be the session on illicit trafficking in small arms and light weapons. Such trafficking can very easily destabilise small nations with longstanding internal divisions.

We look forward this year to the UN conference on the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons in all their aspects.

Our country is active in debate on a wide range of disarmament initiatives. We are particularly enthusiastic about our participation in the New Agenda grouping of nations - a grouping which crosses the traditional north-south divide and operates outside the old and now largely redundant divisions of East-West and non-alliance. Together with Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, Ireland, Sweden, and South Africa, we have been working to inject new momentum into the pursuit of the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

The New Agenda grouping, in negotiation with the nuclear weapon states and others at the Non Proliferation Treaty Review Conference last year, has helped to create new opportunities for nuclear disarmament. All countries present at that Conference agreed on a set of new practical steps to nuclear disarmament in the final document they endorsed. Last year at the UN Millennium General Assembly those practical steps received further support. We are pleased at the part New Zealand been able to play, but the results belong to everybody who is participating in the Non Proliferation Treaty review process.

Countries, however, do seem a little hesitant about acting on their commitments in this area. We do need to be able to rely on commitments we have made to each other. And New Zealand does have some concerns about the shadow the National Missile Defence proposal is casting over the disarmament treaty system. Perhaps the debate over it can give some fresh momentum to negotiations in line with the Non-Proliferation Treaty commitment. We all have to do more to get a stronger Non-Proliferation Treaty commitment.

We have to do better towards full implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. We could this year put in place the verification system for biological weapons and we have to tighten access to missile technology and components. All these issues you will discuss at the conference.

We wish all the delegates well in their deliberations. We are delighted to be the host and I am very pleased to declare the conference officially open.