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Alert! NZ to host international security meeting

23 March 2007

Yesterday Phil Goff announced that the government will host officials from 20 countries at a meeting of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) in Auckland next week. The PSI was established by the US government in May 2003 as part of its pre-emptive security policy. It is aimed at preventing the movement of and intercepting 'illegal' weapons of mass destruction (WMD) related materials and missile technology - including searching vessels or vehicles at sea, in the air, and on land, and the seizure of suspect cargo. 'Legal' WMD materials will of course continue merrily on their way as before ... which is but one of the problems with the PSI.

This alert has four sections: information on the PSI; NZ involvement in the PSI; the press release from Phil Goff and his contact details should you wish to share your views on this with him; and links to more information.

About the Proliferation Security Initiative

According to the US Department of State: "The Proliferation Security Initiative is a global initiative aimed at stopping shipments of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, and related materials worldwide, announced by President Bush May 31, 2003. It stems from the National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction issued in December 2002. That Strategy recognizes the need for more robust tools to defeat the proliferation of WMD around the world, and specifically identifies interdiction as an area where greater focus will be placed. "

While stopping the proliferation of WMD is certainly necessary and desirable, whether or not the PSI is a useful way to go about this is debatable as the initiative contains two major flaws.

The first of these is that it only addresses WMD proliferation by some states. The US National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction clearly does not apply to itself - not only does the US government continue to refurbish its nuclear arsenal, but on 3 March the Washington Post reported that the National Nuclear Security Administration had selected the design for a new nuclear warhead, initially for submarine-launched missiles.

As one of the commentators on this decision pointed out: "While the US government is telling other countries they shouldn't build nuclear weapons, here the US is leading by exception rather than by example. Particularly since the US Nuclear Posture Review policy is to possibly use nuclear weapons even against countries that don't have nuclear weapons; US policy is in effect pushing countries to acquire nuclear weapons." [a]

Similarly, the British government, one of the first to sign up to the PSI, decided just last week to begin work on designing a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines to replace its current Trident system.

Thus the immediate goal of the PSI, to defeat the proliferation of WMD around the world, is not met, and certainly it does nothing to assist the more substantial goal of nuclear disarmament.

The major second flaw with the PSI is that while "actions taken in support of the PSI [are to be] consistent with national legal authorities and relevant international law and frameworks", it is of dubious legality under international law, and has even less legitimacy.

In 2003, a US Foreign Policy in Focus Report on the PSI concluded: "For a nation that has always insisted that freedom of the seas is a fundamental part of international law, the PSI runs close to subverting this principle. In fact, the PSI itself may well be seen as constituting an unlawful solution -and thus a very basic and serious challenge to - the multiple challenges of 'proliferation'." [b]

In a 2006 Report to Congress, a Congressional Research Service specialist said the following: "As many describe it, PSI relies on the "broken tail-light scenario": officials look for all available options to stop suspected transport of WMD or WMD-related items. In practice, cargos can be seized in ports if they violate the host state's laws, hence the focus on strengthening domestic laws. On the high seas, ships have the rights of freedom of the seas and innocent passage under the Law of the Sea Convention and customary international law. The boarding agreements may allow for boarding, but not necessarily cargo seizure. According to a State Department lawyer, as of 2005, no authority had been worked out to legally seize cargo. In addition, a key gap in the PSI framework is that it applies only to commercial, not government, transportation. Government vehicles (ships, planes, trucks, etc.) cannot legally be interdicted." [c]

In a 2006 paper, Treasa Dunworth, concluded "while it is probably not possible to reject [either initiative] as completely contrary to current international law, at the same time, there is cause for concern, depending on how implementation of particularly the PSI plays out. What we can say without any doubt is that those doubts about the legality of the initiatives cause the legitimacy of the initiatives to be called into question." [d]

NZ involvement in the PSI

The NZ government is an enthusiastic supporter of the PSI, as can be seen from the Ministry and Foreign Affairs and Trade web page on it. The first reason given for NZ involvement in the PSI is "that it demonstrates New Zealand's international commitment to prevent the proliferation of WMD and enables New Zealand to work with other governments towards this goal." [e]

A very admirable goal, but as with the US and British governments a certain amount of hypocrisy is evident in the NZ government's approach - in particular around its Super Fund investments in companies involved in nuclear weapons production [f] and its contracts with Serco Project Engineering Ltd (whose parent company co-manages Britain's atomic weapons establishments) for logistic support at NZ army bases. [g]

This hypocrisy is also evident in the NZ government's silence around the recent US and British decisions to pursue new nuclear weapons development. Both the US and British governments are signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and among their obligations are those in Article VI: "Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control".

Yet while the NZ government has been vocal in condemning the nuclear weapons programmes of India, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran, not a word about the US and Britain.

Furthermore, involvement in the PSI ties the NZ government more closely into the execution of US foreign policy, something the government (if no-one else) hopes to increase. When announcing in 2005 that NZ armed forces would be taking part in Operation Deep Sabre (the 16th PSI exercise) with those of the US, Phil Goff said: "He hoped the option of a waiver allowing New Zealand to exercise with the US would be taken more often, especially as the two countries were fighting alongside each other in Afghanistan against terrorism." [h]

Although the impression given in that article was that was the first NZ involvement in a PSI exercise, NZ observers have taken part in at least one previous PSI exercise, Exercise Team Samurai hosted by the Japanese government in October 2004.

And the reference to "future exercises" in Phil Goff's media release below makes it likely that NZ involvement will be increasing. Curious that this announcement was made by him in his role as Minister of Defence, he is after all also Minister of Disarmament and Arms Control which is what the PSI is supposed to be about.

Media release from Phil Goff

NZ to host international security meeting
22 March 2007

New Zealand will host officials from 20 countries at a meeting of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) in Auckland next week, Defence Minister Phil Goff said today.

"The PSI aims to foster cooperation among participating states to counter the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), in line with relevant domestic and international law. New Zealand's participation is consistent with our broad non-proliferation objectives.

"The PSI provides a clear deterrent to WMD movements, and a means of preventing or stopping those movements if deterrence alone is not enough.

"Under the auspices of the PSI a cooperative network of countries has been established to prevent terrorists and rogue states getting hold of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

"The PSI was formed in 2003 in Krakow, Poland and New Zealand endorsed the PSI principles in 2004 and eighty countries now participate in the PSI.

"Officials from twenty of those nations, including Australia, Japan, Singapore, Argentina, the UK and the United States, are expected to attend the Auckland meeting. Participants will review recent developments, discuss future exercises and provide strategic direction for the coming six months", said Mr Goff.

If you would like to send your views on NZ involvement in the PSI to Phil Goff, his contact details are: post to Parliament Buildings, Wellington 6010, fax to 04 495 8444, or email. It is very helpful for our work if you can send a copy of any letter, fax, or message you send (and of any replies you receive) to: Peace Movement Aotearoa, PO Box 9314, Wellington; fax (04) 382 8173; email.

Links to more information

  • On the Proliferation Security Initiative
  • - US Department of State's Proliferation Security Initiative web page;

    - Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Proliferation Security Initiative web page;

    - 'Goff hopes US thaw is pointer to future', Audrey Young, 18 August 2005, article on 'Operation Deep Sabre' PSI exercise;

    - 'For security's sake, old rift with New Zealand overlooked by US', Christian Science Monitor, 19 August 2005;

    - 'The New Multilateralism?' Treasa Dunworth, Senior Lecturer in International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Auckland, May 2006, paper with comment about the PSI and international law;

    - 'Reviving the disarmament and non-proliferation agenda of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty: some reflections on global and regional initiatives', Peter Cozens, Director of the Centre for Strategic Studies, May-June 2006, paper with comment about the PSI in the context of nuclear disarmament.

  • Information and comment on new US nuclear weapons
  • - 'US Selects Design for New Nuclear Warhead', Washington Post, 3 March 2007;

    - 'New US Nuclear Weapons', Institute for Public Accuracy, 5 March 2007;

    - 'US Nukes Plan Viewed as Provocative', Eli Clifton, 22 March 2007;

    - Complex 2030: Nukes Forever! Western States Legal Foundation - "Complex 2030 is the latest euphemism assigned to the United States nuclear weapons research and manufacturing complex of the future. The United States plans to spend $150 billion over the next 25 years to replace its entire nuclear arsenal with new 'Reliable Replacement Warheads' by the year 2030, and to establish the capability to produce new nuclear weapons designs.";

    - 'Complex 2030: US Plans for Nukes Forever' Jacqueline Cabasso, Executive Director, Western States Legal Foundation, article for the forthcoming Information Bulletin of the International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation.

  • Information and comment on new British nuclear weapons
  • - '95 Labour MPs say no. But Blair gets his missile', The Guardian, 15 March 2007;

    - 'Stuck in the cold war', Leader, The Guardian, 15 March 2007;

    - 'The UK Trident Vote Explained', Dr Ian Davis, BASIC Co-Executive Director, 15 March 2007;

    - 'Q&A: Trident', The Guardian, 14 March 2007.


    [a] Robert Alvarez in 'New US Nuclear Weapons', Institute for Public Accuracy, 5 March 2007

    [b] 'The Proliferation Security Initiative: A Challenge Too Narrow', Foreign Policy in Focus, October 2003

    [c] Paper by Sharon Squassoni, Specialist in National Defense, Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division, Congressional Research Service, September 14, 2006

    [d] 'The New Multilateralism?' Treasa Dunworth, May 2006

    [e] Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Proliferation Security Initiative web page

    [f] See for example 'Super Fund must stop investing our taxes in nuclear bombs', Russel Norman, Green Party Co-Leader, 9 February 2007

    [g] See for example the 2006 'Guided Missiles and Misguided Men' Award Recipient information on Phil Goff

    [h] 'Goff hopes US thaw is pointer to future', Audrey Young, 18 August 2005

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