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Salient. Victoria University Students Newspaper. Vol. 38, No. 2. March 11, 1975

Atom Atolls

page 10

Atom Atolls

Cartoon of a USA army base on an atoll

The campaign against French nuclear testing in the Pacific has achieved some of its aims without securing a permanent ban on testing-it has driven them underground but not stopped them. To move the campaign into a more constructive and permanent direction, many of the non-governmental groups in the Pacific basin are cooperating to stage a Conference for a Nuclear Free Pacific in Suva during April 1-6 this year. The proposed conference, hosted by the Atom (Against Testing on Mururoa) Committee, is based on the belief that the creation of a nuclear free zone) 'can be an important step towards achieving a disarmed nuclear free world.'

The conference proposal has already received firm indications of support from groups in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Gilbert and Ellice Islands, New Caledonia, New Hebrides, Solomon Islands, Tahiti. Micronesia, Western Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands. France and Japan.

Various groups active in these countries indicate widesperead interest in formalising some nuclear free arrangement for the region. New Zealand groups involved in the conference are Greenpeace, Peace Media, South Pacific Action Network, Campaign Against Foreign Military Activity in New Zealand, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Nga Tamatoa.

Though there are apparently differences among the groups at the pre-Conference stage with respect to specific proposals and to strategies, the aims of the conference are endorsed. These aims were set out, following a preliminary discussion in Auckland in August of 1974, as follows:
1.To discuss in depth the issue of nuclear power, nuclear testing (both atmospheric and underground) and nuclear disarmament, consequently arriving at a collective understanding of the sort of future desired by the peoples of the Pacific.
2.To provide the opportunity for a meeting of representative delegates of Pacific and Pacific Rim peoples so that the related issues of militarism, foreign military bases, and self determination can be discussed.
3.To create greater awareness between countries of their different social, political and economic situations, including nuclear and military activities, the nations' constitutional status, government attitudes, protest activities, public opinion, etc.
4.From this informed standpoint, to agree on common objectives (e.g. a Nuclear Free Pacific, a Nuclear-Weapons Free South Pacific, etc.) and formulate united strategies for achieving those ends.
Differences between the various groups appear at this stage to revolve around two questions:
1.Should the scope of the campaign be the entire Pacific basin, or is it more feasible to begin with working on the South Pacific area?
2.Given the limits imposed on the 'zone', should the immediate goal be a nuclear testing free zone, a nuclear weapons free zone, or a completely nuclear free zone? At least one group, the South Pacific Action Network, goes even further, and advocates a Pacific Peace Zone prohibiting all foreign military activity in the Pacific basin. The Peace Zone is seen by this group as following on from immediate campaigns for the initial establsihment of a Nuclear Free South Pacific and then a Nuclear Free Pacific.

So far the question of the scope of the campaign for a nuclear free zone is concerned, the major question involves whether or not to include the areas of Micronesia and the Asian rim of the Pacific in which the United States has a major presence. So far, only Japan, with its first-hand experience of nuclear war, has seriously challenged these installations, while some groups feel that establishing the principle of such a zone in the South Pacific is both more quickly realisable as a goal, and useful as a lever on adjacent areas, others feel that the 'super-power' question must be confronted from the beginning. As Betty Schutz of the Suva-based Atom committee puts it: trying first for a Nuclear Weapons Free South Pacific is like nibbling at a piece of cheese which is all the time growing twice as fast at the other end. It's no use running as fast at the other end. It's no use running behind the problem, we must confront it. The United States may be considered as a giant, but regardless, now is the time to act because the giant is all the time consolidating his power.' Atom takes a similar approach to the second major question facing the conference, arguing that the urgency of environmental destruction caused by nuclear pollution precludes a strategy aimed initially at banning only nuclear weaponry.

Perhaps the most detailed outline of how a Nuclear Free Zone might work in the Pacific has been provided by Owen Wilkes of the Christchurch-based Campaign Against Foreign Military Activities in New Zealand, a plan which he believes can be implemented by 1978.

Wilkes envisages a zone which is bounded in the west by the Indian Ocean Zone of Peace (as defined in United Nations Document a/AC 159/1), and to the cast by the boundary of the Latin American Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. In the North Wilkes envisages a zone which extends far enough to include the islands of Micronesia, while Antarctica would provide a southern boundary.

A proposal for a nuclear weapon free zone along these lines would provide for the following:
1.A complete ban on nuclear testing: this would apply mainly to the French, but testing of weapons by other powers cannot absolutely ruled out.
2.A ban on the presence or transit of nuclear weapons in or through the zone. This would naturally be extremely hard to enforce, but given governmental support throughout the zone, some degree of supervision could be maintained at the level of provision of support facilities.
3.In order to ensure maximum effecttiveness, a ban would also have to be operated on all bases and facilities which contribute in any way to the effectiveness of nuclear weapons or nuclear weapon delivery systems.
4.Inspection of bases etc., operated within the zone by any country along the lines of inspection rights under the Antarctic Treaty would act as a strong disincentive to use of such weapons within the zone.
5.An agreement would be sought from nuclear powers that they would never use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against states and peoples within the zone. Such a provision would require New Zealand and Australia to reject the nuclear umbrella of protection offered by, e.g. Anzus.

If the Atom Conference for a Nuclear Free Pacific can secure agreement amongst the groups who initiated the successful campaign against French nuclear testing, or some sort of plan to establish a zone of this kind, the role of governments will be the immediate problem. Island governments should, in the absence of outside pressure, be ready to move towards a zone concept fairly readily, thus increasing the importance of governmental attitudes in Australia and New Zealand.

The Labour government has played an active role on the French testing question, now will it go the rest of the way? The present position of the government as described by Mr Rowling on 24 September is that 'the government continues to be concerned with the promotion of international measures to put an end to all nuclear weapons testing in all environments.' Activists in the field of nuclear weaponry will be looking for positive extension of this policy in the near future.