New Zealand declares nuclear free zone 1963-1985

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionPDF versionPDF version
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
The time period ends somewhere between 1985 and 1987.
Location and Goals
New Zealand
French Polynesia
Location Description: 
New Zealand citizens protested against all forms of nuclear power which included protests on the New Zealand mainland and also protests by sailing out to the near by French Polynesian Islands.
To declare New Zealand and its surrounding territories as nuclear free zones.

In 1963, the CND began their campaign by organizing a petition they called “No Bombs South of the Line,” which argued for the establishment of a nuclear free zone in southern New Zealand. The CND collected over 80,000 signatures which was the largest petition in New Zealand since the petition calling for equal voting rights between women and men collected in 1893.

Despite the petition’s strength, in July of 1966, the government of New Zealand allowed the French to conduct their first nuclear test off the coast of New Zealand Atoll Mururoa. The French test sparked outrage and in 1972, activists started a new petition calling for the government of New Zealand to halt France’s nuclear testing on Atoll Mururoa. The CND collected about 10,000 signatures on this petition.

That same year, Greenpeace and the CND came together in a coalition and sent a yacht they called Vega into the nuclear testing zone near the Atoll of Mururoa. One year later, in 1973 many more people joined the protest and set sail on their yachts along with the Vega for its second voyage to the nuclear testing grounds. This time, the French met the protestors with sharper and more radical opposition. The Vega was rammed by a war vessel belonging to the French Navy, and the Vega’s captain David McTaggart was badly beaten by the attacking French navy men. The photos from this protest spread worldwide and generated support for the activists’ cause. In response to French aggression, in June of 1973, the International Court of Justice ordered the discontinuation of nuclear testing in the Mururoa Atoll, but the French ignored the ruling and continued their tests. Also in 1973, in response to the French breach of the order to stop nuclear testing, numerous protesting yachts once again set sail for the Muruoa Atoll. The French Navy met the yachts with little opposition but the protesters did not receive the attention or recognition they sought.

By 1976, despite the efforts at sea, the government of New Zealand continued to support nuclear power and welcome nuclear armed warships into their ports. In response to the visiting nuclear armed American warships, numerous times between 1976 and 1983, protesters took to the streets while ship owners took to the ocean. With each visiting nuclear armed warship, the opposition grew. When the USS Truxton visited in 1976, the warship was forced to a stop by the massive 80 vessel volunteer fleet. As the protesters became more resolved in their opposition, a new antinuclear coalition was formed in March 1976 named the Campaign for Non-Nuclear Futures or the CNNF. The CNNF coalition was made up of over twenty environmental and antinuclear groups including the CND and Greenpeace. Later in 1976, the CNNF sent out a petition and collected 333,087 signatures which was about ten percent of the total population.

The CNNF continued to organize protests against visiting nuclear armed naval vessels, including one against the USS Pintado in 1978 and the ISS Haddo in 1979. With every United States’ nuclear armed ship that sailed into New Zealand’s ports, citizens of all social classes and ages took to the streets in protest. Eventually, because the opposition became more resolved, the United States began to decline to answer whether their visiting warships contained nuclear weapons. The citizens continued protesting in the streets and with their own ships. Along with these mass demonstrations, a brand-new type of opposition took root in the form of citizens declaring houses, boroughs, and city councils nuclear free areas. Along with the citizens, local governments began drafting nuclear free legislation, and by 1984, about 86 legal nuclear free boroughs existed. In the time span between 1978 and 1983, antinuclear sentiments around the use of armed warships rose from 32 to 72 percent, as measured by public opinion polls.

To demonstrate that the majority of the population supported the rising anti-nuclear sentiment, the CNNF declared an International Women’s Day for Nuclear Disarmament on 24 May 1983, and in the city of Auckland, 25,000 women marched to protest visiting nuclear ships. Similar movements and protests for the International Women’s Day for Nuclear Disarmament were conducted across New Zealand including a rally in Wellington, New Zealand, in addition to demonstrations as far away as a rally in Greenham, England. In the meantime, protesters in Wellington wore elaborate masks and carried papier-mâché sculptures of the Statue of Liberty wielding a nuclear missile. With no policy changes by 1985, a yacht sponsored by Greenpeace named Rainbow Warrior made another voyage to again protest the continuation of French nuclear testing, but the French government bombed the protesting vessel, provoking international outrage. People took to the streets periodically to march and demand the government ban the visiting of US nuclear warships and the French testing off the New Zealand coast.

After a long and arduous campaign, in 1987, the government of New Zealand passed the Disarmament and Arms Control Act which made New Zealand a nuclear free country. Although the CND’s goal was achieved, they continued to fight for the disarmament of the entire Pacific. The organization and its international counterparts still exist and hold protests as of 2017.

Research Notes

The protesters of New Zealand were influenced and were influencing simultaneous protests happening globally including anti-nuclear movements occurring in France, Germany, Australia, and the Philippines.

Additional Notes: 
This case is connected to the Tahitians campaign to stop French nuclear testing.
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Madison Shoraka, 09/02/2017