Turbulence in the South Pacific

TODAY'S scheduled meeting between President Reagan and Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke comes at an opportune time. The ANZUS treaty, which links their two nations and New Zealand, is in need of being shored up. In terms of geopolitical significance ANZUS is hardly on a par with NATO. Yet it is symbolically important for its three members, longtime allies. And if serious security problems were to arise for any of the three, or in the South Pacific generally, the treaty could suddenly take on substantial military significance.

The immediate issue is New Zealand's decision this week to ban a United States destroyer from making a port visit. The decision, announced by Prime Minister David Lange, is in line with his nation's policy of banning any ship that is nuclear powered or carries nuclear weapons; the United States had refused to say whether the vessel carried nuclear arms.

In return the US canceled naval exercises among the three nations, scheduled for next month.

But the real issues are much deeper. One is the potential for ripple effect. Concern exists in Washington that if New Zealand is able to keep US vessels from its waters, other nations may face strong internal pressure to do the same thing. The US is particularly concerned about Japan and several European countries.

Then, too, there is the question of reciprocity. New Zealand has had the benefits of treaty protection afforded by American military might, which rests heavily on US nuclear armaments. In return, it would appear that New Zealand ought to permit American warships to enter its waters, and at least stop at its ports. Australia's Mr. Hawke was elected on a nonnuclear platform, but later relented to permit US warships to dock.

New Zealand's aim, to keep nuclear weapons out of its territory -- including its waters -- is certainly understandable. But the way to achieve certain banning of nuclear weapons in any area is through mutual and worldwide reduction of nuclear weapons by the big powers. Strictly regional efforts contain no guarantees.

All of this needs to be talked out among the three ANZUS members. Each should show respect for the views of the others. But accord does need to be reached: It is in the best interests of all three countries that harmony be restored to the treaty organization. Today's Reagan-Hawke meeting is a good place to start. ----30{et

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