Saturday, July 29, 2017


The Public Consultative Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control (PACDAC) is a statutory body established under the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act 1987.     It is mandated to advise the Prime Minister on the implementation of the Act and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade on such aspects of disarmament and arms control as it thinks fit.   PACDAC also recommends grants from the Peace and Disarmament Education Trust (PADET) & approves grants from the Disarmament Education United Nations Implementation Fund (DEUNIF).

For whatever reason I have been a Member of PACDAC for the last little while.

On Thursday night we hosted a function in the Great Hall of Parliament to mark the 30th Anniversary of the passing of the Act.   It was attended by 186 invited guests including parliamentarians past and present, members of the diplomatic corps, government officials, peace and disarmament activists and a large delegation of secondary school students and young people interested in peace and disarmament issues.

There were a number of speakers including Dell Higgie who is our Ambassador at large for Disarmament and a key player in the recently concluded Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons adopted by 122 countries and open for signature on 20 September 2017.

But it was the address by ex-Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer that really caught my attention. He was of course front and centre in the drafting of the legislation and a major player in the decision to ban the entry of the USN Buchanan (DDG-14) which lead to the breakup of the ANZUS alliance.

Basically Palmer said the ban was a result of miss-communication between him and Prime Minister David Lange. 

Lets take a step back.   The Lange Labour Government was clear in its determination to pursue a policy that would make New Zealand a nuclear free country.   At the time the United States had in place a neither confirm nor deny policy as to which of its naval assets were nuclear armed.   The Lange Government recognised that this was an issue given our membership of the the ANZUS alliance and Lange took it upon himself to hold backdoor discussions with the Americans (with Palmer out of the loop) for them to request a port visit from a ship that (on the balance of probabilities) was unlikely to be nuclear armed with the implication that such a request would be approved.   The Americans took Lange at his word and sought permission for the USN Buchanan to make a port visit.   The Buchanan was laid down in 1959 and would have been over a quarter of a century old at the time of the proposed visit.   It was hardly a front-line ship and in fact was decommissioned and used for target practice just seven years later.

At the time the request was received Lange was incommunicado somewhere in the Tokalau Islands and could not be contacted.  Cabinet considered the request with Palmer in the Chair.   He took the view that the test as to whether the ship was nuclear armed should be the criminal standard (beyond reasonable doubt) and cabinet agreed with him with no-one aware of the backdoor discussions that Lange had held with the US Administration.   Palmer also made the point that the advice received from the NZDF as to whether the vessel was nuclear armed was "equivocal".  Permission was denied.   The Americans went ballistic taking the view that Lange had been playing them as fools.   The rest is history.

It was certainly fascinating to hear the 'inside take' on a part of our history that created so much passion at the time but in retrospect cemented in our position as an independent player on the world scene able to charter its own course but acknowledging our commitment to 'western' democratic values.

p.s.   Is it only me that can discern a certain similarity between a 'go it alone' Lange and Peters.  



gravedodger said...

That is as clear and accurate summation of how a shit sandwich destroyed a once very necessary and welcome alliance that is today with China Sabre Rattling and Islamic intransigence is more necessary than it ever was.

Question, how come with a Prime Minister's department did things go so wrong so easily or were they all on their hols with the orator par excellence.

The Veteran said...

GD ... the impression I got from Palmer was that Lange was very much acting as a one man band with the PM's Department left out in the cold as were his cabinet colleagues. Remember that at this stage of the political cycle Lange's star was in the ascendancy and, as Foreign Minister, he had pretty much of a free hand while the Douglas economic reforms captured much of the attention of the Party.

gravedodger said...

Sort of like dysfunctional like eh.
Norman Kirk had a paranoia to match.
You and I might spell Team while some try and find ways to have an "I" in there somewhere.

David said...

There is an I in team

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

A couple of years or so back, I read a similar story. By the time the actors woke up it was all over and the curtain had come down.

Mind you, it just goes to show all Labour administrations are just as stupid as today's bunch of Labour pretenders.

Mind you, the Republicans in the US are giving them a run for their money.

Anonymous said...

Veteran...fault on both sides. It takes two not to Tango. It was only a few short years before when the US was very short of friends that we sent troops to Vietnam. The UN had said no being involved, the UK had given the idea a very short shrift (the Suez betrayal was still fresh in their minds) France was out of the question and Germany was demilitarised.

So Pres. Johnson went on a charm offensive and visited little old us in Noo Zeeland and with considerable diplomatic skill and bribery* took us on board the SE Asian express.

We did not deserve the rebuff and no diplomatic effort was made to right what was an act of spite by biggest boy in school. It was they who shouted about democracy but could not live with a country whose democratically elected govt had a policy that may have encouraged other countries to to adopt those same policies. A few years later when it came to the big boys disarming NZ never received a mention as being in the vanguard.

*Bribery....... He dropped beef tariffs to the US and the National Party, in those days farmers to a man, rolled over and had their belly rubbed.

Lord Egbut

Noel said...

Visited on 19 October and on the 25th Holyoake had folowed hin to Manilla.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

FullaBullshit strikes again.

" those days farmers to a man, ...."


Muldoon? Marshall? Walker?

You are a dickhead of he first order.

The Veteran said...

Egbut .... I miss your point. What is the link between Vietnam and the decision to ban the Buchanan? As for the decision itself ... clearly there was a certain dysfunction between the main players and perhaps, just perhaps, if Lange had been back in country things might have panned out differently.

As a footnote Palmer also said that SoS Schultz understood NZs position. Clearly there was a will to manage a solution acceptable to both countries ... a pity that the management of that all went pear shaped.

Anonymous said...

Veteran...I though the point is perfectly clear, that the US did not have to take umbrage and cut us out of the loop altogether particularly in light of past favours. It was diplomatic spat that could have been solved anytime with a bit goodwill from the US. The ship part has really nothing to do with it....we had to be made an example of.

Interesting that I cannot find a Muldoon in the 34th Parliament of NZ and those National party members who did not come from farming families represented farming communities, even Troll Adolf DLT off his meds again or is he still confusing abuse with debate.

Lord Egbut Nobacon

The Veteran said...

Egbut ... the US took umbridge because, in their view, Lange encouraged them to seek permission for a port visit from a ship that certainly, on the balance of probabilities, was not nuclear armed in the expectation that it would be approved only to have the cabinet decline the request. They thought they had been set up. The rest is history.

Re the 34th Parliament elected in 1963. Muldoon was certainly there as the newly elected Member for Tamaki although what this has to do with the 1983 Parliament quite escapes me.

Anonymous said...

Veteran .....apologies, he certainly was but as newby without clout. The 34th parliament I was referring to was the one that rolled over and sent troops to Vietnam and as a reward beef tariffs were dropped.

Whatever the perceptions we have of that era now it was a cabinet decision in 1983 by a democratically elected Govt that had Nuclear Free as apart of it's election manifesto. It doesn't get any clearer than than that. As a country we accept the foibles and bizarre policy decisions of the Marmalade megalomaniac without throwing the toys out of the pram.

As I said before we were made an example of because it was bigger than NZ.

Lord Egbut