The recent announcement of a United States Navy warship visit to New Zealand for the Royal New Zealand Navy’s 75 Anniversary has delighted many, but dismayed others. And as the old arguments about the nuclear legislation surface once more it is time to look at the facts.
Let me be clear. The United States Navy has always been welcome in New Zealand waters, just so long as the ship/s entering our waters are not carrying nuclear weapons and are not partially or fully dependent on nuclear propulsion. Two key sections in the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Control, and Disarmament Act, 1987 (Section 9: Nuclear weapons, and Section 11: Nuclear propulsion) set this down explicitly. I have never had any problems with non-nuclear powered or armed warships visiting New Zealand. France has regularly sent over ships, as have Australia. Numerous countries are sending warships to participate in the 75th Anniversary celebrations of the Royal New Zealand Navy in December.
The United States by its own policy removed nuclear weapons from surface ships except for aircraft carriers in 1994. Submarines and aircraft carriers still carry nuclear weapons. Nuclear propulsion is now limited to aircraft carriers and submarines in the United States Navy.
The degree to which this will affect New Zealand/American military relations is unclear. New Zealand is not part of the A.N.Z.U.S. military alliance, despite our initials still appearing in the name. The annual meetings of the nations in A.N.Z.U.S. is now just Australia and the United States.
There has been a significant thawing of relations though with New Zealand ships now allowed to visit United States Navy and Coast Guard bases. New Zealand has also permitted United States marines to train here and has been a regular participant in the RIMPAC exercises which are held annually.
However I do not wish to see New Zealand rejoin A.N.Z.U.S. The treaty was established to contain the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War and is now obsolete. New Zealand’s security environment is also not the same as that of the United States. Whereas the United States one is global, the primary threats to New Zealand are likely to originate in the South Pacific because of the weak legal systems of the island nations, their reliance on foreign aid and internal instability. The bulk of our effort and focus should be firmly on the South Pacific.