WELLINGTON, New Zealand — St. Andrews of the Terrace, a Presbyterian church just around the corner from the Parliament building, has declared itself a nuclear weapons-free zone.
The designation is, as New Zealanders say, "just a patch" on the fabric of anti-nuclear sentiment in this country of 3.2 million people. New Zealand fairly glows with opposition to nuclear weapons and to nuclear testing in the South Pacific.
"In a way, it's like a new religion here," said Alison North, whose husband, Derek, is the New Zealand chairman of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
The main targets are French nuclear testing on the Polynesian atoll of Mururoa, near Tahiti, and the visits of U.S. Navy warships to New Zealand ports. Both issues have been in the spotlight this year.
In January, the Labor Party government of Prime Minister David Lange ruled against a proposed visit to Wellington by the U.S. destroyer Buchanan after Washington, applying a longstanding policy, would neither confirm nor deny that the conventionally powered Buchanan carried nuclear weapons. In banning the port call, Lange cited his government's policy against visits by ships that are either nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed.
Defining that policy again at a press conference earlier this month, Lange said with characteristic bluntness, "If we're not satisfied, then they don't come."
The U.S.-New Zealand hassle has put in jeopardy the ANZUS defense treaty, which also includes Australia.
The controversy over French nuclear testing was intensified by the bombing and sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, flagship of the Greenpeace protest fleet, in Auckland harbor July 10. A Greenpeace photographer was killed in the incident.
Two French agents were arrested in New Zealand and charged with arson and murder in connection with the bombing, and three others, now in France, are wanted here on similar charges.
David vs. 2 Goliaths
The two incidents have pitted little New Zealand against two of the world's major powers, making it a sort of David against two Goliaths, a position that suits the New Zealanders' character.
"We're tired of being cast as nonentities," said Elaine Shaw, nuclear spokesman for Greenpeace New Zealand.
In the environmental group's busy and cluttered office in Auckland, she said: "The French take us for fools. They don't understand the Pacific. They see French national interests supreme out here."
On the walls hung posters of protest. "You Can't Sink a Rainbow," one declared. Another invited visitors to send a postcard to French President Francois Mitterrand, asking him to "Stop French Testing Now!" Prestamped, printed cards were available at the office. The newest poster depicts three frogs in diving gear under the legend, "\o7 J'accuse\f7 " ("I accuse").
The New Zealand government has not directly accused the French of murder in the sinking of the Greenpeace vessel, but Lange described a preliminary French report on the incident, which said there was no evidence that French agents had bombed the ship, as "utterly incredible." And he seems little soothed by subsequent French pledges of further investigation.
In a press conference Sept. 5, he accused France of behaving like a "buccaneer" for its admitted deployment of undercover agents to spy on Greenpeace activities in New Zealand.
The prime minister's rhetoric has been more subdued on the ANZUS dispute, and his government is seeking some sort of formula to bridge what appear to be intractable U.S. and New Zealand positions. But this dispute, too, is marked by the New Zealanders' determination not to be bullied.
A young man in Christchurch, supporting the government's view on nuclear-ship visits, said, "How would Americans like it if we shoved our 70 million sheep on the White House lawn?"
It is an improbable comparison, but it reflects the attitude of many New Zealanders. Media-sponsored polls show a strong majority--nearly 70%--in favor of retaining the ANZUS treaty, but nearly as many--55% to 65%--opposing visits by nuclear ships.
'Walked Off the Job'
U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz has said the Lange government's position means that "New Zealand walked off the job--the job of working with each other to defend our common security."
Warren Cooper, foreign policy spokesman for New Zealand's opposition National Party, which opposes French nuclear testing but approves the American position on ship visits, said in Wellington that the New Zealand military has been "very badly hurt" by the ANZUS dispute.
Diplomats say that the United States, in what they call punitive actions, has denied all but the most critical intelligence to New Zealand defense authorities. Mutual training exercises have been canceled, along with the posting of New Zealand exchange officers to U.S. military commands.