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Nuclear Weapons are Morally Indefensible | Oct 14, 2004 22:38

DAVID LANGE, Oxford Union debate, 1985


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And the fact is we do not shrink from that responsibility. We never have, and we are not going to. The fact is that we do not choose, we do not choose to be unilateral armers. It makes no sense for a country to surround its waters or to invite into its ports or country nuclear weapons, when there is no balance to be achieved. The balances there now, there are none. And we don't propose to deter enemies which do not yet exist.

And I ask you to consider that as a fundamental reality of the New Zealand position. And the people of New Zealand reached a very straightforward conclusion: that nuclear weapons which would defend them; they believed, caused them more alarm than any which threatened them, and accordingly, they deem it pointless to be defended by them. And the speakers for the negative who asked the question, are we prepared to have a nuclear umbrella from the United States in terms of an ANZUS arrangement … the answer to that is very simply, very definitely, is not only are we [not] prepared to accept it, we deny it, we refuse it and we specifically say - we do not want to be defended by nuclear weapons!

[Applause]

Because we by that avoid the risk of escalating our area into a nuclear zone. You see, in the South Pacific, it's not difficult to achieve the balance of force which allows you with that cheerfulness to dispense with nuclear weapons.

INTERJECTION: Sir, I would just like to say, don't you feel that you should weigh your moral stance with the pernicious effects it will have not only on Asian security, but western security as a whole? Particularly in light of the fact that there are movements in Japan, Australia and NATO itself, that would like to pull out, and use your precedent as an example, and pull out of their responsibilities to the alliance. And I for one as an American do not feel that we should shoulder the defence of the western world. And I think it's something that everybody should contribute to and you, sir, are not doing your part

This country New Zealand is not going to contribute to a nuclear alliance. This country New Zealand never has. New Zealand was declared by the former government to be no part of a nuclear alliance - and we will pick up the tab by conventional defence. And one of the immoralities of nuclear weaponry, surely, is that it creates such a level of depersonalisation that the infinite capacity of destruction is unleashed by a few. Much more is there a moral posture in the conventional event where the humanity of a situation has to be constantly assessed, and where there is always a possibility of restraint, because individual people say, dammit, I'm not going to go ahead and do that, because it is absolutely immoral, contrary to the whole ethos of humankind, to do that. You don't get the checks and balances along the nuclear trail.

And in my country, we pay our tab. We are not creating a policy for imitation or export. We can't even deport it to Australia! It's 1200 miles away! And if you think that Belgium and Holland and Greece developed a certain posture, an undercurrent, a surge because of the New Zealand position, you do us a considerable flattery about our omnipotence, because, you, know, we didn't even know they were even thinking about it! And we are no threat to that.

I say to you we are prepared to pay that price. We have a long history of being anti-nuclear. One of my predecessors in office sent those ships to Mururoa. We've had the fight in the legal areas. We are constantly at issue with France. We proposed in '75 a South Pacific Zone. We are going to work to protect that this year. We have honoured our long-standing commitments. We've not welshed on any deals for defence. We are in Singapore with a battalion where Britain was, and we going to see that we contribute to regional security and stability.

And what has happened to New Zealand since the Labour government was elected last year and began to implement its long-established policy - you know, one of the most amazing things about expectations of world governments, is that first they assume that the opposition's policy is infinitely flexible, and then they immediately assume that when you get into government you'll do a u-turn. Well, we are not infinitely flexible, and we've done no u-turn, and we've done exactly what we've said we'd do. And that of course is terribly destabilising …

[Laughter]

Because it makes it so difficult to read all the signs. But what essentially has happened is a demonstration of how nuclear weapons have assumed a moral life of their own.

We have never been part of strategic defence. The only nuclear weapons which presumably were brought by our allies to New Zealand in the past have been tactical weapons. We decided we didn't want to be part of someone's tactical nuclear battle. It's just about as bad as being part of somebody else's strategic nuclear battle. But that has not in any way diminished the deterrent power of the Western alliance. We have not given comfort to the Soviet bloc. We have not undermined the West.

But the result has been that we have been told by some officials in the United States administration that our decision is not, as they put it, to be cost-free; that we are in fact to be made to pay for our action. Not by our enemies, but by our friends. We are in fact to be made an example of; we are to be ostracised, we are to be convicted of some form of heresy and put on probation. We are going to be kept there until we are compelled to resume our seat in the dress circle of the nuclear theatre.

We have been told that because others in the West - and their advocates are here tonight - carry the fearful burden of a defence which terrorises as much as the threat it counters, we too must carry that burden. We are actually told that New Zealanders cannot decide for themselves how to defend New Zealand, but are obliged to adopt the methods which others use to defend themselves.

Lord Carrington [the Secretary-General of NATO] made a case in Copenhagen recently against the creation of nuclear weapon free zones. He argued that if the people of the United States - as advocated by my friend over there - found themselves bearing the burden alone, they would tire of bearing it. Now that is exactly the point. Genuine agreement[s] about the control of nuclear weapons do not cede the advantage to one side or the other: they enhance security, they do not diminish it. And if such arrangements can be made, and such agreements reached, then those who remain outside those arrangements might well and truly tire of their insecurity. They will reject the logic of the weapon and they will assert their essential humanity. They will look for arms control agreements which are real and verifiable.

And there's no humanity at all in the logic which holds that my country, New Zealand, must be obliged to play host to nuclear weapons because others in the West are playing host to nuclear weapons. That is the logic which refuses to admit that there is any alternative to nuclear weapons, when plainly there is.

It is self-defeating logic, just as the weapons themselves are self-defeating: to compel an ally to accept nuclear weapons against the wishes of that ally is to take the moral position of totalitarianism, which allows for no self-determination, and which is exactly the evil that we are supposed to be fighting against.

[Applause]

Any claim to a moral justification for the West's possession of nuclear weapons is thereby eliminated. In those circumstances we would be no better than they are.

The great strength of the West, in fact, lies not in the force of arms - although some would seek under the cover of a benign democracy to argue that it is in fact the force of arms - but it lies in its free and democratic systems of government.

That is why, in spite of all the difficulties and disagreements which we have amongst friends and allies, I am not disheartened. I came to Great Britain by way of the United States, where I put my case to the American people through the news media without any kind of hindrance from the United States Administration.

Members of Her Majesty's Government have made it plain to me that they do not hold with the views I am committed to. I in fact have heard those before. The other night I heard them from Washington. They were compelling. They were a restatement of the United Kingdom position, and they were said with such candour and frankness that they seemed to persist even after the volume had been turned off. They were done with a strength and a purpose and a vigour.

I want to say that notwithstanding that difference, I have felt welcome here. I have been freely able to express my views. I can say freely whatever I please. Just as any member of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom would be welcome in New Zealand to expound any line of argument in any forum she cared to use. That is the true strength of the West.

And that is a strength which is threatened, not defended, by nuclear weapons. The appalling character of those weapons has robbed us of our right to determine our destiny and subordinates our humanity to their manic logic. They have subordinated reason to irrationality and placed our very will to live in hostage. Rejecting the logic of nuclear weapons does not mean surrendering to evil; evil must still be guarded against. Rejecting nuclear weapons is to assert what is human over the evil nature of the weapon; it is to restore to humanity the power of the decision; it is to allow a moral force to reign supreme. It stops the macho lurch into mutual madness.

And for me, the position of my country is a genuine long-term affirmation of this proposition: that nuclear weapons are morally indefensible. And I support that proposition.

[Applause - standing ovation]

This transcript is copyright to Public Address. It was prepared by Russell Brown and Fiona Rae, with the consent of David Lange. Thanks are due to Radio New Zealand's Sound Archives/Nga Taonga Korero (File: Media Numbers T4705 to T4708), Infofind, the Parliamentary Library and Barry Hartley.

GREAT NEW ZEALAND ARGUMENT IS SPONSORED BY KARAJOZ COFFEE COMPANY.

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