A-Weapons Stir New Zealand Ire : French Testing, U.S. Warships Spark Debate

Times Staff Writer

St. Andrews of the Terrace, a Presbyterian church just around the corner from the Parliament building, has declared itself a nuclear weapons-free zone.

The designation is, as New Zealanders say, “just a patch” on the fabric of anti-nuclear sentiment in this country of 3.2 million people. New Zealand fairly glows with opposition to nuclear weapons and to nuclear testing in the South Pacific.

“In a way, it’s like a new religion here,” said Alison North, whose husband, Derek, is the New Zealand chairman of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

The main targets are French nuclear testing on the Polynesian atoll of Mururoa, near Tahiti, and the visits of U.S. Navy warships to New Zealand ports. Both issues have been in the spotlight this year.

In January, the Labor Party government of Prime Minister David Lange ruled against a proposed visit to Wellington by the U.S. destroyer Buchanan after Washington, applying a longstanding policy, would neither confirm nor deny that the conventionally powered Buchanan carried nuclear weapons. In banning the port call, Lange cited his government’s policy against visits by ships that are either nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed.


Defining that policy again at a press conference earlier this month, Lange said with characteristic bluntness, “If we’re not satisfied, then they don’t come.”

The U.S.-New Zealand hassle has put in jeopardy the ANZUS defense treaty, which also includes Australia.

The controversy over French nuclear testing was intensified by the bombing and sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, flagship of the Greenpeace protest fleet, in Auckland harbor July 10. A Greenpeace photographer was killed in the incident.

Two French agents were arrested in New Zealand and charged with arson and murder in connection with the bombing, and three others, now in France, are wanted here on similar charges.

David vs. 2 Goliaths

The two incidents have pitted little New Zealand against two of the world’s major powers, making it a sort of David against two Goliaths, a position that suits the New Zealanders’ character.

“We’re tired of being cast as nonentities,” said Elaine Shaw, nuclear spokesman for Greenpeace New Zealand.

In the environmental group’s busy and cluttered office in Auckland, she said: “The French take us for fools. They don’t understand the Pacific. They see French national interests supreme out here.”

On the walls hung posters of protest. “You Can’t Sink a Rainbow,” one declared. Another invited visitors to send a postcard to French President Francois Mitterrand, asking him to “Stop French Testing Now!” Prestamped, printed cards were available at the office. The newest poster depicts three frogs in diving gear under the legend, “ J’accuse " (“I accuse”).

‘Utterly Incredible’

The New Zealand government has not directly accused the French of murder in the sinking of the Greenpeace vessel, but Lange described a preliminary French report on the incident, which said there was no evidence that French agents had bombed the ship, as “utterly incredible.” And he seems little soothed by subsequent French pledges of further investigation.

In a press conference Sept. 5, he accused France of behaving like a “buccaneer” for its admitted deployment of undercover agents to spy on Greenpeace activities in New Zealand.

The prime minister’s rhetoric has been more subdued on the ANZUS dispute, and his government is seeking some sort of formula to bridge what appear to be intractable U.S. and New Zealand positions. But this dispute, too, is marked by the New Zealanders’ determination not to be bullied.

A young man in Christchurch, supporting the government’s view on nuclear-ship visits, said, “How would Americans like it if we shoved our 70 million sheep on the White House lawn?”

It is an improbable comparison, but it reflects the attitude of many New Zealanders. Media-sponsored polls show a strong majority--nearly 70%--in favor of retaining the ANZUS treaty, but nearly as many--55% to 65%--opposing visits by nuclear ships.

‘Walked Off the Job’

U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz has said the Lange government’s position means that “New Zealand walked off the job--the job of working with each other to defend our common security.”

Warren Cooper, foreign policy spokesman for New Zealand’s opposition National Party, which opposes French nuclear testing but approves the American position on ship visits, said in Wellington that the New Zealand military has been “very badly hurt” by the ANZUS dispute.

Diplomats say that the United States, in what they call punitive actions, has denied all but the most critical intelligence to New Zealand defense authorities. Mutual training exercises have been canceled, along with the posting of New Zealand exchange officers to U.S. military commands.

The National Party was in power from 1975 until Lange’s Labor Party regained control in the 1984 elections. During National Party rule, Cooper said, ANZUS pact meetings had provided New Zealand officials with a forum for discussion of global economic and military issues with the Americans. “That’s all gone now,” he lamented.

Calendar Wiped Clean

There were 28 ANZUS “events"--military exercises and meetings--scheduled for 1985, and they were canceled one by one after the Buchanan episode last January. Now the calendar has been wiped clean.

The United States continues its treaty activities with the Australians, and the Australians carry out bilateral operations with New Zealand. But there is no ANZUS cooperation between Washington and Wellington.

“Mr. Lange wants to have his cake (the nuclear ship ban) and eat it too (retention of the ANZUS treaty),” Cooper said. He accused the government of seeking to enjoy the “luxury of antipodean (opposite side of the Earth) isolation.”

Isolationism is one of the factors cited in the growth of anti-nuclear sentiment here, a belief that New Zealand, far “down under” from the tensions of the Northern Hemisphere, simply wants to deal itself out of the world’s troubles.

But this is a trading nation, highly dependent on its agricultural exports, and few New Zealanders express isolationist views. They are a well-traveled people. Their troops have joined their alliance partners in the major wars of this century, including Vietnam.

Origins of Movement

The origins of the anti-nuclear movement here are varied and complex, but some stand out:

--Blessed with a scenic country, relatively free of industrial pollution, most New Zealanders tilt towards protecting the environment.

In the early 1970s, citizens--mostly middle-class and middle-aged--joined a successful campaign to oppose a smelter’s plan to raise the level of a South Island lake.

“It made them realize that if people pushed hard enough, they could get what they wanted,” said Roderick Alley, a professor of political science at the University of Victoria in Wellington.

The struggle continues. An Auckland art gallery owner, lamenting lumbering operations in the country, referred to the matter last week by saying, “A New Zealand man with a chainsaw in his hands goes a bit mad.”

--The worldwide peace and disarmament movement, particularly during the Vietnam War era, energized the country’s political left. Both major parties remain strongly pro-Western but a small minority of “red raggers” are active among the ruling Laborites, a diplomat said.

And even during the years of National Party rule “peace squadrons” of private vessels disrupted the visits of U.S. Navy ships here.

An earlier Labor government sent a navy frigate to join a “peace flotilla” protesting French testing at Mururoa, more than 3,000 miles northeast of here, in the early 1970s and also joined Australia in taking the issue to the International Court of Justice.

The French ignored the court proceedings but discontinued atmospheric testing in 1974 and have since conducted only underground tests. According to Greenpeace, there have been 70 French underground blasts to date.

Mitterrand made a surprise visit to the test site late last week, apparently to reaffirm his country’s intention to continue the testing program despite New Zealand’s protests.

--The growing role of women in partisan politics and cause groups has tended to support anti-nuclear sentiment.

“I used to go down in Queen Street to pass out literature, and the women said they’d have to ask their husbands what position to take,” Greenpeace spokesman Shaw said in Auckland. “Now the women run this movement.”

New Zealand women are said to have identified strongly with the recent missile debate in Western Europe, particularly women’s protests against U.S. missiles at Greenham Common in Britain.

--As superpower confrontations continued north of the Equator, New Zealand politicians began to develop a more regional view. Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community in 1973 curtailed New Zealand’s access to the market of its Commonwealth partner, Alley said, and New Zealanders started seeing the future of their trade in terms of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Nuclear-Free Zone

In July, New Zealand joined Australia and the small island republics of the South Pacific Forum in declaring a nuclear-free zone opposed to the testing, deployment or manufacture of nuclear weapons in the region but allowing each government to decide for itself whether to allow visits by nuclear ships.

The ANZUS pact dispute on port calls and the French testing issue continue to be the key elements of the anti-nuclear campaigns here.

Two vessels left Auckland this month for the waters off Mururoa to “bear witness” against French testing, and a new Greenpeace flagship has sailed from Europe to join them, replacing the Rainbow Warrior.

Prime Minister Lange, closely watched by the left wing of his party for any policy slippage, is dispatching Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer to Washington to see Shultz this week for talks on the ANZUS issue.

‘Trust Me’ Approach

Palmer and Shultz are expected to discuss the Lange formula for resolving the dispute.

In what the New Zealand press calls Lange’s “trust me” approach, the United States would not be asked to confirm or deny that any U.S. warship is carrying nuclear weapons, but the New Zealand government would retain the right to reject a visit based on its independent determination of the ship’s armament. Vessels determined to be nuclear-armed or -propelled would still be barred, which in the American view would continue to leave New Zealand “off the job” as an alliance partner.

Meanwhile, no U.S. Navy ship has called at a New Zealand port since the frigate Wadsworth in the spring of 1984. In the meantime, Alley, the political science professor, noted, “the sky did not fall; the Russians did not arrive with snow on their boots; the Vietnamese did not show up on their bicycles.”