Dunne Speaks: Time to stop barbarism in the Southern Ocean

The announcement that Japan intends to resume scientific whaling, as it prefers to call blatant slaughter, in the Southern Ocean this season received surprisingly scant attention last week. There were the ritualistic expressions of outrage, the perfunctory Government statement of concern, and the muted calls to dispatch a naval vessel to the region to “sort things out”, but really that was it.

But Japan’s actions deserve a far greater response than that. After all, not only are they thumbing their noses at international opinion, they are also openly defying the rulings of the International Court of Justice. Indeed, this is the contemporary equivalent of France’s arrogant actions from the 1960s onwards of testing nuclear weapons, first in the atmosphere, and then underground at Mururoa Atoll in the Pacific.

And the comparisons do not end there. In both cases, these environmental assaults occurred in our broad neighbourhood, and in both cases, it was not unreasonable to expect New Zealand to take a leading role in opposing them. We did that admirably against French nuclear testing, from the time Norman Kirk sent a New Zealand frigate, complete with a Cabinet Minister on board, to Mururoa in 1973, at the same as he sent his Attorney-General Dr Martyn Finlay to the World Court to argue successfully the legal case against the French. Our staunch approach caused France to first move to underground testing, then inspired the dastardly terrorist attack against the Rainbow Warrior, but finally forced France under Mitterand in 1996 to abandon all testing, albeit 181 tests later. Along the way, hundreds of thousands of typical New Zealanders had been inspired to join the campaign for a nuclear free Pacific, and an end to nuclear testing.

If our outrage about Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean is as serious, we will need to adopt similar tactics to defeat it. The inclement weather of the Southern Ocean makes it impractical and dangerous to encourage protest flotillas into the area, but maritime patrols by either the Navy or the Air Force are surely an option to keep the focus of international attention and scorn on the whalers. Norman Kirk described the frigate HMNZS Otago as it set sail for Mururoa as “a silent witness with the power to bring alive the concerns of the world”. A modern Naval vessel or Air Force Orion shadowing or circling the whaling fleet could provide the same inspiration today.

At the same time, New Zealand should continue its efforts in the International Court of Justice, alongside Australia and other like-minded nations to hold the Japanese to international account.

From the time Peter Fraser signed the United Nations Charter in 1945, New Zealand has been strongly committed to a rules-based international system. We have consistently and properly upheld the primacy of the international institutions we helped create, so utilising those institutions in the fight against whaling is entirely appropriate.

New Zealand and Japan have a good relationship. Through the Trans Pacific Partnership that is about to become a little closer. We should not be afraid to use that relationship, the power of the international community, and our capacity to be a “silent witness” to bring Japan to end the barbarism of whaling in the Southern Ocean.

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