New Zealand scans forecast for future of US defense umbrella

* New Zealand without Uncle Sam's protective defense umbrella. * New Zealand as the Sweden or Switzerland of the South Pacific, pursuing either armed neutrality or nonalignment.

Both scenarios have been opened up for debate here by a think tank of academics called, appropriately enough, the Commission of the Future.

The commission has been set up by the government to explore the range of options open to a small country struggling to "make it" economically and militarily in a cold, hard world.

Probably the bluntest warning to New Zealanders is that ANZUS, its prime defense treaty with Australia and the United States, has almost run its course.

In other words, unless a new pact can be forged, New Zealand will find itself alone in the not too distant future.

ANZUS was formed 25 years ago as a deterrent to the alleged hordes of Communist Chinese who were going to sweep through Asia into the South Pacific; and to give New Zealand the US nuclear guarantee.

Now, according to the commission's latest publication, "International Relations, Opportunities," New Zealand must reassess its relationship under ANZUS, with the US influence in the Pacific Basin constantly changing.

There are indications that New Zealand governments -- particularly the more conservative National Party administrations -- would be reluctant to cut loose from the American apron strings.

ANZUS, directly and indirectly, has given a small trading nation like New Zealand the confidence to pursue activities and associations abroad.

A left-leaning Labour Party government would be more pragmatic about cutting loose, as the last Labor administration showed between 1972-75 with its open opposition to American nuclear-powered warships visiting New Zealand ports. That policy has been reversed by the present National government.

Association with an armed nuclear power has always carried the risk of New Zealand involvement in nuclear conflict. It has been argued ANZUS restricts New Zealand's independence and its capacity to deal and trade with other nations. It is seen as a barrier to the adoption of policies that would more truly reflect New Zealand's geographical position.

The commission concludes that arguments for complete reliance on the United States in the future are likely to be strongly countered by interest in either armed neutrality or nonalignment.

Armed neutrality, it is argued, would allow New Zealand to stand aloof from problems in which its interest is far from obvious, but in which it might become involved if aligned with the United States. New Zealand would have an international reputation for detachment from military conflict. Nonalignment would not require such a detached political position.

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