Disarmament Campaigns

By Disarmament Campaigns; Owen Wilkes; Christa Nickels | 1989-12-01 12:00:00

New Zealand: Still Nuclear Free?

Despite a change of Prime Minister, New Zealand (N.Z.) will remain nuclear-free for the foreseeable future. New Zealand's nuclear-free policy came about with the election of a Labour Government headed by David Lange in July 1984. His sudden resignation in August this year triggered speculation in the world's news media that N.Z. would weaken its anti-nuclear policy.

David Lange's name had become closely linked with the nuclear-free policy, yet he was neither the originator nor the architect of it. Prior to election, Lange was not enthusiastic about a nuclear-free policy, but he recognised the public demand for a nuclear-free policy. He stood firm against a variety of U.S., British, and Australian pressures to back down from the nuclear-free stand, and he argued brilliantly both within N.Z. and around the world for N.Z.'s right to decide whether nuclear weapons should be allowed into its territory or not.

The overt U.S. pressures against Lange and the nuclear-free policy are well documented. The U.S. unilaterally expelled N.Z. from the ANZUS (Australia/New Zealand/USA) defence alliance (to the joy of the peace movement, which opposed ANZUS almost as fervently as it opposed nuclear weapons). The U.S. denies N.Z. cabinet ministers access to senior U.S. government officials. Many have suspected there may have been covert U.S. destabilisation attempts too, particularly in 1986, when there were some strange events that have not been satisfactorily explained. But Lange was not deposed as a result of any covert action by the CIA or others. He himself has said, "I want firmly to aver and assure you that I have not been compromised, blackmailed, tranquilised or in any other way influenced by evil agents in funny Mackintoshes."

Lange resigned because his Labour party caucus had re-elevated to the Cabinet the former Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas, the one person Lange feels he cannot work with. Lange's health was a very secondary consideration contributing to his decision. Lange has been succeeded by Geoffrey Palmer, who has been just as keen on the nuclear-free policy as Lange, although he will probably not push it as entertainingly or forcefully as Lange did. The new deputy Prime Minister is Helen Clark (the first woman ever to hold such high political office in N.Z.), formerly a very firm anti-nuclear activist.

N.Z.'s nuclear-free status is enforced by an Act of Parliament. It is highly unlikely that the Labour government would weaken or violate this legislation. Even if the more conservative National Party came to power in the election next year, they would probably be very careful about reversing the nuclear-free policy. The key to the policy is not what particular politicians think, but what public opinion wants. In the 1984 election a majority of the population lived in local and municipal nuclear-free zones. A majority of the electorate voted for nuclear-free parties. Since then pro-nuclear-free public opinion figures have continued to creep upwards -despite, or perhaps even partly because of, U.S. pressure.

The latest polls in June showed that overall support for the nuclear weapons ban has increased from 75 to 84% in the last four years. Even more significant, those who would rather break the military ties with the U.S. than compromise the ban are, for the first time, in a majority. They are now 52% of those polled, up from 44% in 1985.

Special conditions prevailed in N.Z. which made it relatively easy to go nuclear-free. In particular, its isolation makes it very difficult to postulate any "threat" which justifies having nuclear weapons in the nation's ports. So the N.Z. experience cannot offer any quick and easy method for other countries to become nuclear-free. But one important lesson from the N.Z. experience is that, having become nuclear-free, it is possible to stay that way despite all kinds of pressures and threats. It is also encouraging to find that public opinion becomes more comfortable with and more committed to the nuclear-free status as time goes on.

Unfortunately, the N.Z. government is not particularly progressive on other fronts. In financial matters it is acting more like Thatcher than even the Thatcher government in Britain. Relations between the government and the peace movement are at an all-time low now over a government plan to buy very expensive and aggressive frigates from Australia. N.Z. can't afford these vessels and has no use for their offensive capabilities. But the government feels it has to go along with the burgeoning militarism of its closest and bigger neighbour. In general the Labour government seems to be trying to prove that N.Z. is a more loyal member of the western alliance now that it is nuclear-free than it was before. Opinion polls show that about 75% of the population is opposed to the purchase, but it looks as though the government will still buy the frigates. The N.Z. economy is in very poor shape, and the government has been selling off assets as the very profitable national airline, yet it is buying frigates which can only be a liability.

Another initiative which has appalled the peace movement is the construction of an electronic spy installation to eavesdrop on satellite communications of Pacific Island nations.

Meanwhile U.S. pressure continues. One of the more outrageous moves was the opening of a U.S. embassy in the South Pacific nation of Samoa, with the specific objective of "counter[ing] efforts from N.Z. to promote its anti-nuclear port visit policies" (as the State Department told the U.S. Congress). The general plan seems to be that while N.Z.'s nuclear-free policy is unmovable, the U.S. is concentrating on subverting the anti-nuclear aspirations of the South Pacific countries. These countries, being so small, are easier to subvert and cheaper to buy off.

One final sour note: the U.S., together with Britain and France, continue to refuse to sign the protocols to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty.

By Owen Wilkes, peace researcher. Peace Movement Aotearoa, 44 Sydney Street East, Box 9314, Wellington, AOTEAROA (N.Z.) Tel. 04 737 247. Fax 04 499 1834.

Conscripting Women in FRG

THERE IS A SPECTRE ABROAD IN THE FRG: female emancipation. Nothing can stop it: no male camaraderie in Parliament, no lads at the pub. The West German male world seems terrified, so the political brotherhood has made a decision: Let women march right on through to the last bastion - the army.

The West German government has wanted an integrated global defence scheme for a long time. The heart of this scheme is the coordination of civil and military activities at every administrative level, local and national. A society in which all social services and citizens are categorized militarily can be transformed, at the push of a button, into a perfect war machine. Global defence planners dream of a general compulsory service through which women can be processed.

Policy makers are also concerned about the increase in the elderly population. The number of 80-year-olds will climb from two million to more than three million over the next decade and home care will become rare. The government is not prepared to unlock the funds necessary for their care; all the signs point to expenditure reductions. This could result in massive protests. But bringing in women, via a general compulsory service, as a low cost means of satisfying these problems could take the sting out. It could also solve the problem of youth unemployment.

Surveys show that respect for the West German Army has sunk to an all-time low. The numbers of conscientious objectors (C.O.s) has increased. The drop in the birth rate has left gaping holes in the ranks of the emergency services. There is a rush to secure men of conscriptable age. Competition among the various organizations is growing.

This is where women enter. Should a general compulsory service become reality, an average woman would be in school until age 16 and then have two years of compulsory service, working in health care. After marriage and children, women would look after relatives for pay. Such a plan could be passed off to the public as emancipation.

This is not just talk; there are recent political moves toward introducing general compulsory service. Jobs within alternative service, which were developing into a real social peace service, are systematically cut. In contrast, all those areas that help ensure cheap welfare have been dramatically expanded. The use of C.O.s in the social sector has long ceased to have a neutral impact on the labour market. When questioned by the Greens on the significance of alternative service for the labour market, the Government answered, "The use of C.O.s in the care of the severely handicapped substantially reduces the financial burdens on local councils as providers of care." Local councils predict a rise in costs if the numbers of C.O.s decrease. Since they cannot raise these extra funds, the call for the use of other groups (compulsory service for women) becomes more insistent.

Another lead-in to compulsory service is the reorganisation of the armed forces into some so-called "unarmed" service. This development is already advanced in the medical field, which has been open to women since 1975. In order not to change the German Constitution, this section was declared an unarmed service. In a 1985 ruling, the German Administrative Court did not permit refusal of military service on the grounds that this is an unarmed service. The door has been opened for women to enter into the military without a change in the Constitution. Last year a Conservative Member of Parliament recommended the introduction of women into other areas of the Armed Forces. Civil defence planning yields another route to general compulsory service. Peace- time disaster control services are already closely bound up with so-called extended military/disaster control. Since 1968 about 300,000 women have been trained as nursing auxiliaries liable to compulsory service in times of war or mounting tension - many without realising that this is so.

Parties hope to lighten their burden by showing the amazing coincidence between the solution to so many social problems and women's need for freedom.

Christa Nickels, Die Gruenen, War Resisters International.

Peace Magazine Dec 1989-Jan 1990

Peace Magazine Dec 1989-Jan 1990, page 26. Some rights reserved.

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