Home > The Body Politic > Media stories of the Week: US Ambassador dismissive of our laws

Media stories of the Week: US Ambassador dismissive of our laws

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Every so often, the mainstream news media do their job well, and little nuggets of insights are revealed…

TV3’s ‘The Nation‘ on 28 November had host and highly-experienced journalist, Lisa Owen, interview current US Ambassador, Mark Gilbert.

Amongst topics covered was National’s determination to invite an American warship to New Zealand.

Since 1987,  this country has been a nuclear weapons and nuclear-propelled* free-zone and even National grudgingly acceded to Labour’s then-revolutionary policy. At a time when the Cold War between super-powers held the entire planet at the precipice to atomic armageddon, a tiny little country of barely three million held up it’s collective hand and refused to participate in the madness.

In 2004, then-leader of the opposition National Party, Don Brash made secret promises to a US Congressional delegation that New Zealand’s nuclear-free legislation ban would be ‘gone by lunchtime‘. The story hit headlines, though Brash denied making any such promise. Two years later, after losing an election; personal-life problems; and unable to take Helen Clark head-on in debates; Brash was ousted as National’s leader.

Shortly after rolling Brash and seizing power in the National Party, newly-elected leader John Key vowed that his party would maintain New Zealand’s nuclear-free legislation, asserting;

“National’s position has been in limbo in relation to nuclear ships, so I want to make it perfectly clear that I support the nuclear-free legislation.

For as long as I am leader of the National Party, the nuclear-free legislation will remain intact.

I think New Zealanders have a long-held view that this is important to our nation-building. I think they see it as New Zealand standing up strongly for something it believes in.

I believe in that position and I see absolutely no reason to change it.”

In 2012, Key repeated his promise to maintain New Zealand’s status as nuclear-free;

“There’ll be no change to New Zealand’s anti-nuclear legislation, no change to the provisions about boats that would come to New Zealand.”

This year, Key has been making noises to invite a US warship to New Zealand, with an invitation issued at the beginning of November;

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US naval ships invited to visit NZ

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When challenged whether or not National would take steps to seek guarantees that a visiting warship would neither be nuclear armed nor propelled, Key replied it was not necessary. In effect, he referred people to use Google;

“There’s plenty of open source documentation and qualification that would allow you to form a view – for instance, I don’t think anyone’s ever argued that a US coastguard is either nuclear-powered nor nuclear-armed.

There’s enough stuff there, depending on the vessel that they send, for an assessment to be made.”

Despite the supposed removal of all atomic weapons from US warships announced by President Bush in September 1991, the US military still maintains a “neither confirm, nor deny” policy, as stated unequivocally by Ambassador Gilbert on 28 November;

“We will always stay with our ‘neither confirm nor deny’ policy.”

Yet, as President Bush maintained on 28 September 1991;

“… the United States will withdraw all tactical nuclear weapons from its surface ships and attack submarines, as well as those nuclear weapons associated with our land-based naval aircraft. This means removing all nuclear Tomahawk cruise missiles from U.S. ships and submarines, as well as nuclear bombs aboard aircraft carriers. The bottom line is that under normal circumstances, our ships will not carry tactical nuclear weapons.”

Bush has stated categorically that atomic weapons were removed from all US warships.

Why is Ambassador Gilbert unwilling to confirm that?

Furthermore,  Lisa Owen extracted this admission from the Ambassador;

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Lisa Owen: Okay, so will you send a ship that complies with our laws? Let me put it that way.

Mark Gilbert: First of all, a decision has not been made whether we’re going to be able to send a ship or not.

Lisa Owen: If you were to send one, would you send one that complied with our laws?

Mark Gilbert: We will always stay with our ‘neither confirm nor deny’ policy.

Lisa Owen: You’re going to stick hard and fast with that?

Mark Gilbert: We always have.

Note that not only did the Ambassador refuse to confirm President Bush’s removal of atomic weapons from US warships – but he also refused to comply with our laws.

This is a shocking admission that the United States is prepared to ignore our laws, and that our esteemed dear Leader is prepared to turn a blind eye.

There is nothing from Key’s or Gilbert’s assertions that fills me with confidence that either men are willing to uphold this country’s nuclear free legislation.

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* The sinkings of the Lermontov and Rena perhaps offer sound reasons why the ban on nuclear propulsion should remain alongside atomic weapons.

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References

TV3: The Nation – Interview and transcript – US Ambassador Mark Gilbert

NZ History: Nuclear-free New Zealand

Beehive: Not yet gone by lunchtime

Radio NZ: Gone by lunchtime stoush erupts again

NZ Herald: Key’s vow makes National anti-nuke

TV3: NZ will stay nuclear-free – Key

Radio NZ: US naval ships invited to visit NZ

New York Times: Bush’s Arms Plan – Remarks by President Bush on Reducing U.S. and Soviet Nuclear Weapons

NZ National Maritime Museum: The Last Cruise of the Mikhail Lermontov

Transport Accident Investigation Commission: Marine Inquiry 11-204: Container ship MV Rena grounding on Astrolabe Reef, 5 October 2011

Other bloggers

No Right Turn: Against a US ship visit

The Daily Blog:  Is a US warship finally coming to New Zealand?

The Standard: US ship visit and nuclear free NZ

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 29 November 2015.

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  1. Deb Kean
    6 December 2015 at 5:16 pm

    I am shocked, but I am not surprised.
    Deb

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