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Region's bid for nuclear-free zone

Date

Damien Murphy

Anzus Treaty

Cloud over the Pacific … an earlier French test at Moruroa Atoll.

Cloud over the Pacific … an earlier French test at Moruroa Atoll.

THE south Pacific Ocean was a dangerous place in 1985. Paris was testing nuclear weapons in the French Polynesian atolls and New Zealand's Lange government had banned visits by United States nuclear warships, turning the ANZUS treaty into a two-out-of-three ain't bad thing.

In addition, there was pressure for a South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone.

And Australia was stretched looking to balance things between the demands of Pacific nations to keep the weapons out of their neighbourhood while keeping faith with the US.

On February 4, 1985, the government of the New Zealand prime minister, David Lange, refused to allow the visit of the USS Buchanan and, within days, Washington severed visible intelligence and military ties with New Zealand and downgraded political and diplomatic exchanges. The secretary of state, George Schultz, confirmed the US was no longer willing to maintain its security guarantee to New Zealand, although the ANZUS treaty structure remained in place.

On March 28, 1985, the foreign affairs minister, Bill Hayden, and the defence minister, Kim Beazley, made a joint submission to cabinet about ANZUS. The US considered ANZUS nearly inoperative and all trilateral defence and strategic arrangements had been suspended.

''Continuing stress should be publicly placed on the fact that the ANZUS Treaty remains in effect,'' the ministers said. ''[But] within the context of ANZUS, and as important as our defence relations are with New Zealand are, those with the USA are a dominant significance for Australia's security.''

The ministers said there was little prospect of the Lange government changing position but clumsy handling of the situation may further deter New Zealand's involvement in ANZUS.

With the ANZUS stalemate in full throat, cabinet considered a draft treaty for the establishment of a South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone on May 6, 1985.

The treaty was being prepared for the South Pacific Forum meeting in August that year.

Although it covered a lot of water, the treaty was only enforceable among signatories and would not prevent French tests in the South Pacific nor stop voyages of nuclear-armed ships.

Cabinet generally approved the idea of the treaty but refused to support bans on the testing of nuclear-capable weapons or visits or transits of possibly nuclear-armed planes and ships.

Most south Pacific nations signed the Treaty of Rarotonga on August 6, 1985.

The nuclear issue also erupted within ALP ranks with calls to ban the export of uranium.

The trade minister, Lionel Bowen, warned cabinet that Australia's reputation as a reliable supplier of uranium would be jeopardised by not honouring the $120 million-a-year contract with Electricite de France.

Bowen also warned a ban would hurt the future of Roxby Downs.

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