Anti-nuclear movement reflected Pacific people power
Author looks at how the anti-nuclear movement galvanised widespread people power in the Pacific during the 1980s.
An author says there's no reason why grassroots movements across the Pacific region can't once again galvanise the kind of people power that the anti-nuclear movement galvanised during the 1980s.
A recently-published book,'Peace, Power & Politics' examines how the anti-nuclear movement changed New Zealand's foreign policy and identity as a nation.
The book also chronicles the extensive anti-nuclear activism throughout the Pacific.
Its author, Mairie Leadbetter, spoke to Johnny Blades about the depth of the movement in the Pacific leading up to its peak in the 1980s and since.
MAIRE LEADBETTER: Fiji had at that stage, strong people's movements, had strong unions. It was very multi-racial at that stage too. The whole beginnings of the Fiji anti-nuclear movement were very much... I guess it was in the university to a considerable extent, but it was very much a multi-racial movement and very sophisticated in many ways. And they were successful in bringing on board people from around the Pacific because FIji of course hosted the University of the South Pacific which also brought Pacific islanders together to discuss their common concerns.
JOHNNY BLADES: And for a brief time there in that important year 1987, Fiji had an anti-nuclear government.
ML: Oh yes... that's something I still feel extremely sad about. The potential that the government under Dr Timothy Bavandra had for pushing forward our regional goals for a nuclear-free Pacific, for working together on issues of decolonisation, was just amazing. And they only had a month in power before they were ousted by a military coup. Dr Bavandra was another politician potentially in the same mould as Father Walter Lini in Vanuatu. He was equally outspoken as Father Walter Lini was about self-determination and the rights of Pacific people to determine their own destinies, and a strong opponent not just of the nuclearisation but the colonisation of the Pacific.
JB: And as your book points out, Vanuatu under Father Walter was also very much on board this movement.
ML: Yes, absolutely at the leading edge. One of the most significant conferences perhaps was the one that was held in Vanuatu in 1983 by this time a nuclear free and independent conference rather than just a nuclear free Pacific conference to take account of that drive for the decolonisation of the region. People who attended that were very impressed.
JB: Were Fiji and Vanuatu's stances on this shared across the region? How strong was the anti-nuclear movement across the Pacific?
ML: At one point it was so strong that - and I love this quote - there was a former US ambassador to Fiji, a gentleman called William Bodde Jr, who was very worried about this movement and said the most potentially disruptive development for US relations with the South Pacific is the growing anti-nuclear movement in the region. A nuclear-free zone would be unacceptable to the US, given our strategic needs, and I'm convinced that the US must do everything possible to counter this movement. At that point, in the early 1980s, it was certainly worrying the United States and other powers that had ongoing strategic interests in the Pacific.
JB: So would Washington have been leaning hard on its allies in the Pacific?
ML: Yes of course. They leant on us (New Zealand) when we went nuclear-free with the election in 1984. They leant on us extremely hard. The extent to which they leant on other countries in the Pacific, it's always hard to pinpoint exactly but there was a time there in the 1980s when some of those kind of different organisations and National Endowment for Democracy and other conservative US agencies were operating quite strongly in the Pacific and there were fears all the time that these were there to undermine the independence developments.
JB: What would you say the movement achieved for the Pacific region?
ML: Well, we did achieve finally in 1985 a South Pacific nuclear-free zone. At the time we were very critical of that zone because it seemed to be a limited kind of nuclear-free zone. It didn't keep the warships out, nor did it keep the bases out. There were many nuclear developments that could still continue despite that treaty. But nonetheless it was an advance, and I guess the nuclear-free zone movement continued too so you just about have the whole of the southern hemisphere covered with nuclear-free zones at the present time, not too many gaps in it. We would have liked to... even if you look at the northern Pacific, the Marshall Islands... In times gone past we campaigned very strongly for proper redress of the victims of the terrible nuclear testing that happened up in that area. That's still an ongoing struggle. They still haven't had any real justice of the long term impacts.
JB: Is it the same with Mururoa over in French Polynesia?
ML: Well, yes I think so, to some extent. Of course the people in Polynesia still continue to raise the issues of the radioactive damage to their islands and their people and the health impacts and so on. But I don't think they've had full redress by any manner or means, or full disclosure either.
JB: Almost thirty years on from that period we have been talking about, do you think that what was done then still has significance?
ML: Yes. It would be wonderful to see a revival of that kind of networking across the Pacific that we had in the 80s. To some extent it continued through the 1990s of course but it isn't anywhere near the level that it was in those years. There's no real reason why we couldn't network again across the Pacific and try and support each other as we once did.
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