When World War 2 ended, the strategic defence of New Zealand had been irreversibly altered. Gone were the days when Great Britain provided all of our military hardware. Gone were the days when it could be relied on to come to our aid in time of war. That had been replaced by the United States of America.
During the war the U.S. had stationed a Marine Division in New Zealand to provide protection against a Japanese attack. By the end of the war much of our military hardware was of American manufacture. America and the Soviet Union were very much the two major powers in the world after World War 2. The European powers, devastated by war had more immediate priorities than reclaiming far flung colonies. It was in the years immediately after this war that many nations were granted full independence.
American geopolitical strategy called for a number of alliances or treaties to contain the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The Australian New Zealand United States (A.N.Z.U.S.)alliance was one of these. The members of the alliance understood that an attack on one of the other members should be construed as an attack on them.
It was probably in the late 1950’s prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis that New Zealanders first began to have doubts about nuclear weapons. It stemmed from concerns about British nuclear testing, environmental impacts and the potential threat to humans. France acquired nuclear weapons in 1960. During the Government of Prime Ministers Norman Kirk/Bill Rowling, the Royal New Zealand Navy often sent ships to Mururoa, Fangataufa atolls to support the protests against nuclear tests conducted by the French.
In 1985 New Zealand left A.N.Z.U.S. as a result of its refusal to permit nuclear powered and/or armed ships into New Zealand waters. There was a significant American response to New Zealand’s decision. Aside from leading to a substantial cooling of the American-New Zealand military relationship and a cooler overall diplomatic relationship, it raised questions among western nations about New Zealand’s commitment to western ideals.
The best known reaction to this was from France, which thought New Zealand was becoming a bastion of anti-nuclear weapons sentiment, which is true. New Zealand has long supported the small south Pacific nations in their campaign to keep this part of the world free of nuclear weapons and power. The major causes were then, and still are now when the subject arises, that hosting warships from a foreign power with nuclear weapons on board may make New Zealand look more attractive in a nuclear war. But more seriously, and more likely, especially after the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown was the concern that there might be some sort of nuclear accident in our waters, which would have crippling environment, reputation and economic impacts on New Zealand.
Is A.N.Z.U.S. relevant in 2017? It depends on who one talks to. The Green Party and the far left of New Zealand politics will say no and insist that we reduce our defence ties to America. Others might say that if we are not supporting America then we must be supporting Chinese ambitions in the south Pacific, and it is true that China has global ambitions, which President Xi Jinping outlined a few months ago. But does that mean we necessarily support China? No.
New Zealand’s immediate security environment whether other nations like it or not, is the South Pacific. Australia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Niue, Tokelau, Federation of Micronesia are our neighbours. Not those in the Middle East. Not those in northeast Asia. We need to build up a comprehenisve defence relationship with all of these South Pacific nations and Australia. An attack on one or more of them by a foreign power is an attack on New Zealand.
Yes we might have a use – and we do – for American ECHELON communications. However we need to make clear that New Zealand intelligence agencies shall have a South Pacific orientation. This is not only in New Zealand’s interests, but as a nation that is perhaps more in tune with this part of world, perhaps in America’s interests as well.
When working in a hostile security environment alongside American or other foreign forces, New Zealand needs to be aware of its obligations to the Geneva Conventions when dealing with combatants, and the conduct military activity. We also need to be careful about ensuring local customs are respected. Unfortunately the United States has not always shown the due regard, and has been left wondering as a result why locals became hostile. As a nation we place great pride in our conduct and adherence to these, and the international community likewise recognizes our emphasis.
We still have a military relationship to the United States in 2017, but it is questionable whether a Cold War alliance is the best way to maintain that relationship.