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A region committed to peace: 38 years of the Treaty of Rarotonga

Saturday 12 August 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Editorials, Opinion


A region committed to peace: 38 years of the Treaty of Rarotonga
Australian High Commissioner to the Cook Islands Phoebe Smith. SUPPLIED/ 23081147

Nearly four decades since the Treaty of Rarotonga was signed, which established the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone, it is more important than ever before, writes Australian High Commissioner to the Cook Islands Phoebe Smith.

Like other countries of the South Pacific, Australia wants a world free of nuclear weapons and is proud to be part of the Pacific’s leading example to the world, of a region dedicated to peace.

This past Sunday marked 38 years since Australia joined the Cook Islands and six other partners in the South Pacific Forum (now the Pacific Islands Forum) signing the Treaty of Rarotonga, in 1985.

The day the Treaty was signed, the 6th of August, coincided with the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

The Treaty contributes to world peace and security.

It requires Australia, the Cook Islands and other countries that have signed up, not to manufacture or possess nuclear explosive devices.

It also prevents the stationing and testing of such devices.

The Pacific knows how catastrophic this can be, with first-hand experience of the terrible impacts of nuclear testing.

The Treaty reflects the commitment Australia, the Cook Islands and the Pacific family have to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and achieve the ambition of a world without nuclear weapons.

So it makes a wider global contribution, influencing other agreements that have helped prevent the spread, use and testing of nuclear weapons.

The Treaty of Rarotonga represents a truly united Pacific effort, the result of a decade’s work by Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, the Cook Islands and others to create a South Pacific nuclear weapons free zone.

It is unfortunate that since the treaty was signed, the threat of conflict has grown including in our part of the world.  

Australia strongly believes that small and medium countries must be able to make independent choices, in their best interests.

Big countries must not be able to dominate smaller countries.

If any country believes they can successfully dominate another, the region becomes unstable and the risk of conflict increases.

That is why Australia is investing in new technology, including AUKUS submarines, to help keep our region peaceful.

These submarines will be built in partnership with the UK and United States, and not have nuclear weapons but will be nuclear powered.

Australia is open and clear with Pacific partners on our approach and maintaining the highest standards of environmental protection and nuclear safety.

Cook Islands is chair of the Pacific Islands Forum in 2023, and Australia appreciates its leadership on a range of issues.

As with the Treaty of Rarotonga, the Pacific Islands Forum, under Cook Islands’ leadership, can act together to build a more peaceful, prosperous and resilient region.

Australia was grateful for Cook Islands’ leadership in 1985 and we remain grateful for that leadership today.