The USS Texas is met by the Peace Squadron as it arrives in Waitemata harbour, Auckland on August 2, 1983. The growing anti-nuclear movement in New Zealand was hostile to visits from US ships because the Americans refused to confirm or deny whether their ships carried nuclear weapons. Public opinion was increasingly in favour of banning these visits. Between 1978 and 1983 opposition to nuclear-armed ship visits rose from 32% to 72%. In 1985 the Government effectively banned nuclear ship visits. New Zealand was the first country to declare itself nuclear free when it passed legislation in 1987. Greenpeace / Gil Hanly

If the US Government sends a warship to visit New Zealand at the end of the year it will be on the nuclear free terms set by the people of New Zealand 30 years ago.

That is an amazing victory for the goal of a nuclear weapons free world, and it is an amazing victory for people power.

Thirty years ago the people of New Zealand drew a line in the sand on nuclear weapons and nuclear power. They said we will be nuclear free, so if any other government wants to send a warship to New Zealand it has to be free of nuclear weapons and not nuclear powered.

The US Government responded with an ultimatum - if you do this thing, they said, you will be forever isolated, and there will never be another US warship visit.

But the people of New Zealand stood firm. They stood firm on their right to make their own democratic decisions about their own country, and they stood firm on their vision of a nuclear free New Zealand.

This is something of which we can be proud and it is important - really important. It’s important because it is about standing up for democracy, and it’s important because it’s about standing up against the threat of nuclear annihilation.

Nuclear weapons are a threat to the future of all humanity. Nuclear war sits alongside climate change as the two global existential threats to our civilisation. And the threat of nuclear war is higher now than it has been for thirty years - the increased tension between the US and Russia, and the US and China, is a cause for global concern.

New Zealand’s stand against nuclear warship visits is part of a global struggle to ensure that we and our children can live free from the fear of nuclear annihilation. It says true security never comes from the barrel of a gun. True security comes from mutual respect, justice, human rights and environmental protection.

This is not to say that we should celebrate warships. The US military remains for many of us a symbol of extreme might, too often exerted unjustly and with devastating consequences.  The war in Iraq is perhaps the starkest example of this in recent times.  An unjust, illegal war that critically destabilised the region and laid the conditions for the rise of Islamic State.  

Neither can we be pleased, as Valerie Morse articulates, at the presence of those corporations that profit from the misery of war such as Lockheed Martin, who will be holding their annual arms trade fair in Auckland this year, to coincide with the Navy’s 75th anniversary.

But there are grounds for celebration of what the first US Ship visit in 33 years means. As Nicky Hager explains, it demonstrates the success of our long-standing nuclear free policy. New Zealand law requires that the New Zealand Prime Minister certify that the ship is nuclear free, something which the US always balked at.

We stood up to the mightiest military power on earth - and perhaps even more difficult - a traditional ally - and rejected their conditions of friendship. The consequence was ostracism from the ANZUS military alliance.  The US treated us as a poorly behaving little brother and figured that if we were punished and excluded for long enough we would see the error of our ways, give up our stance, and return to the fold.

We didn’t.  We held our ground.  Slowly but surely it has been the US in fact, that has backed down from its position.  And the US position has seemed more ridiculous over time with the recent example of a New Zealand ship being refused a port in Pearl harbour while a Chinese navy vessel was welcomed.

President Obama even invited New Zealand to be part of the nuclear security summit in 2010.  US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell commended New Zealand for sticking with its nuclear-free ideals for more than two decades and enduring the hits that came with that. Campbell said, "The truth is in many respects [the invitation] is recognition of the ideals and policies that New Zealand has espoused for decades."

If a US ship does choose to visit this year, we should celebrate this as the final mark of success for the people’s nuclear free campaign.  You can take on the big guys and win if you have truth on your side and you stick to your guns, so to speak.  And we should note that an anti-nuclear position is as relevant as ever in a world that is still overshadowed by the potential for nuclear war.

Let’s remember the bold stance the people and government of New Zealand took for a nuclear free Pacific and, we hope, one step towards a nuclear weapon free world.