Editorial: Cancellation of F16 Purchase by Government

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 15, Easter 2000
by Jim Consedine, August 2006

The cancellation of the deal with the US to buy 28 F16 fighter jets is a sign of New Zealand’s coming of age as an independent nation in the South Pacific. Against the wishes of the largest military empire ever created, the Coalition Government has signalled clearly that it no longer wishes to swing on the coat tails of either Britain or the US. Rather it is prepared to give leadership to a new vision of world order that is not based on military might and fear but on peace keeping and mutual aid. For this we congratulate the government.

It has taken real courage to withstand the external pressures from other western nations who sought to undermined this stand. Australia, the US and Britain all leaned heavily on Wellington to acquiesce. Thank God that in a world dominated still by the greed of the arms race and a culture of military violence, we have stood firm. It is a firmness that has won a 68 percent approval polling rate with the wider public, which perhaps indicates just how out of touch so many of the business leaders and old warrior voices are. It is a tribute to the years of action and witness by the peace movement and many churches to educate New Zealanders as to the folly of simply aping the military policy of the British, the Australians and the Americans.

The Cabinet is showing collective wisdom in its re-assessment of New Zealand’s defence needs. It recognise that a country such as ours best approach to defence is to have no enemies. It recognises too that we have maintained an active fighting air arm for too long, when what we needed was air surveillance and search and rescue aircraft. Its decision to focus on peacekeeping efforts is a positive moral step in a country that has often been first off the blocks in its desire to fight for empire elsewhere.

It is heartening to find much of this thinking reflects the submission made to the Defence Review in 1986 by the Christchurch-based Ploughshares Community, a forerunner of the Catholic Worker.

There is no permission for war in the pages of the New Testament. Indeed, many argue that Christian teaching rejects its possibility. Certainly that was the understanding Christians had in the first three centuries of the Church. There has been no one more vocal in speaking up for peace and disarmament than the current pope, John Paul II. He begged NATO not to go to war, knowing full well that it was a politically driven war that wouldn’t solve anything long term. He condemned the 1991 Gulf War unequivocally and has repeatedly called for the lifting of the sanctions against Iraq.

In particular Disarmament Minister Matt Robson is to be congratulated for his commitment to a visionary future that reflects something of the message that the Gospel teaches. Robson told the recent disarmament conference in Geneva that disarmament was an essential part of the New Zealand defence strategy and the cancelled F16 deal should be seen as a sign of commitment to that ideal. He called for a complete southern hemisphere nuclear weapons free zone and said that New Zealand’s nuclear weapon free position was ‘definitely for export.’ He challenged the major powers such as the United States, Britain and France to commit to not sending nuclear weapons south of the equator.

Our position is not popular. So many countries take it as a given that war is morally acceptable, despite the fact that today we can be certain that huge numbers of innocent civilians will be murdered, their homes wrecked, their land contaminated, their air poisoned. As we know from the Ploughshares vs Depleted Uranium action in Baltimore, radioactive fall-out from the use of nuclear tipped weapons has been a part of wars in the Gulf, in Bosnia, in Kosovo. Their land, people, cattle and crops will remain contaminated for generations.

For all that, we are not alone. A New Agenda coalition consisting of countries including Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa and Sweden wants swift and total nuclear disarmament. New Zealand has joined that coalition.

We should press for not just a nuclear disarmament but also the abandonment of the manufacture of arms. The manufacture of the weapons of war should be named publicly as the sin that it is. Those who profit from investment in such companies share that sin. Without the major weapons suppliers, there would have been no invasion of East Timor, no Vietnam War, no Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, no quagmire of violence in Yugoslavia, no potential uprising in the Solomon Islands. Three thousand lives would have been saved in Northern Ireland in the past 30 years. We should focus on arms manufacturers and name them for the pariahs they truly are. Heroin manufacturers and tobacco growers and distributors are small change compared to the evil generated by armament construction and sales. Major arms suppliers should be targeted and resisted at every turn.

Only then will we be on the way to building a lasting peace in the world.

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