Why the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act of 1987 Changed the History of New Zealand

Emily Wilcox is a student at the University of New Hampshire and is an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Dunedin, New Zealand.

One of the courses I am taking during my time studying abroad in Dunedin is called “New Zealand in the World from the 18th Century.” This history class has taught me a lot about the young nation’s past, including important historical events that have shaped New Zealand into the country it is today. For my final term paper, we chose from ten questions and formulated a researched response to it.

The question I chose to write about was as follows: “Explain why New Zealand became a nuclear free nation in 1987. What were the international consequences for the country in taking this stand?”

I learned a lot in my class about this fascinating topic, and this post will focus on the basics behind New Zealand being a nuclear free zone and how this contributed to their independence.

To give a brief background, in the years prior to 1987, the Maori people were already strongly against the use of nuclear products. One reason for this stemmed from the frequent nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean, which had direct consequences on the natives who lived in these regions. In addition to this, there were many moral reasons why New Zealand disagreed with harboring and using nuclear machinery, with one being that the Maori didn’t believe that having this dangerous invention would keep them safe- rather, they believed it would harm both people and the environment. At the time, New Zealand was part of the ANZUS treaty along with Australia and the United States, which, to summarize, meant they were allies. When New Zealand decided to become a nuclear free zone, the United States was not too happy with this because they were not allowed to classify whether their ships contained nuclear products or materials.

So, how did becoming a nuclear free nation contribute to New Zealand’s independence? Well, to put it simply, New Zealand is a small island country surrounded by large areas of ocean, making them largely dependent on larger countries for resources and war assistance (this one of the reasons why New Zealand joined ANZUS in the first place). However, if New Zealand just conformed to whatever their allies wanted them to do, they would never truly have control of what they wanted their country to be like. By implementing the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act of 1987, they took a step towards independence by enforcing an act that the majority of the country’s people already agreed with. Even though conflicts arose as a result, it was a positive step for New Zealand, as they were able to assert their moral and political beliefs to the world.

Photo Credit- ISA

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