New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemns Russia, calls for nuclear weapons ban in UN speech

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Jacinda Ardern delivers a speech to the UN General Assembly in New York.
Photo: RNZ / Craig McCulloch

Just days after the Kremlin threatened nuclear war, Jacinda Ardern took the stage at the United Nations to condemn Russia and call for a complete ban on all nuclear weapons.

The prime minister also used her to speak to demand reform of the UN, saying it was irrelevant if the veto of the permanent members of the Security Council were not overturned.

Ardern addressed the general assembly on Saturday at 5 a.m. (NZT) after a week in which the Russian invasion of Ukraine has dominated matters.

“Let’s all be clear: the war in Russia is illegal. It’s immoral,” she said.

“It’s a direct attack on the UN Charter and the international rules-based system and everything this community should stand for.”

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Ardern told the audience that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent rhetoric proved his war was “based on a lie”.

“What country that claims to be a liberator threatens to destroy the citizens they claim to have liberated?”

In August, Ardern wrote a rare op-ed: the guard calling on nations to “step back from the nuclear abyss”.

She repeated her appeal on Saturday, saying the only way to ensure the safety of “the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons” was not to let them exist.

“In New Zealand, we have never accepted the wisdom of mutually assured destruction.

“It takes one country to believe that their cause is more noble, their power stronger, their people more willing to be sacrificed.

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“None of us can stand on this platform and turn a blind eye to the fact that there are already leaders among us who believe this.”

New Zealand would not be deterred by the “backward step” that saw Russia block progress on the Non-Proliferation Treaty, she said.

Ardern said the Security Council had failed to act in defense of global peace and security in March when Russia used its veto power to block a resolution to end the war.

“[The Council] failed to fulfill his mandate because of a permanent member who was willing to abuse his privileged position.”

She said the institution needed modernization suitable for today’s “tumultuous waters”.

“To ensure that the United Nations maintains its relevance and that it is truly the voice of all the countries it represents, the veto must be abolished and permanent members must exercise their responsibilities for the benefit of international peace and security, rather than of the pursuit of national interest.”

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Ardern expanded her criticism beyond nuclear weapons to also warn leaders against underestimating one of the new weapons of war: “productive disinformation.”

“How do you successfully end a war when people are led to believe that the reason for its existence is not only legal, but also noble?

“How do you deal with climate change if people don’t believe it exists?”

She encouraged countries to join the Christchurch Call – a commitment to eliminate extremist content online – led by New Zealand and France.

Ardern will return to Wellington on Monday.

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