New Zealand military says defense rift with US hurts

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

New Zealand's government is putting on a brave face about the effects of dwindling defense cooperation with the United States after the ANZUS pact split, but the military says the split is hurting. Washington cut off military intelligence, training facilities, and exercises with New Zealand forces in February 1985, after the Labour government had banned nuclear ship visits by its long-time ally. And in August of this year, the US suspended its security obligations to New Zealand under the 1951 ANZUS (Australia-New Zealand-US) treaty linking both nations with Australia.

New Zealand's military chiefs of staff recently went public with their concerns about the government's anti-nuclear policy. In an Oct. 1 meeting with parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the military chiefs and the Defense Ministry said in a written statement that the loss of defense cooperation with the US had lowered operational standards in New Zealand's Army, Navy, and Air Force and had cut the flow of intelligence from the US by 80 percent.

``Inability to exercise and train with US forces will lead to a general decline in knowledge of wider military affairs, especially of military operation at the higher levels, and to a loss in professional standards,'' the military said.

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About intelligence-gathering, the military chiefs said New Zealand had an incomplete picture of ship movements in the South Pacific. ``New Zealand now does not have the resources to maintain a comprehensive intelligence database. . . ,'' they said.

The time required to obtain spare parts for the US-made equipment the military uses -- including Orion and Skyhawk aircraft, Boeing 727 jets, and Hercules transport planes -- had increased significantly, the military chiefs said. Although New Zealand gets spare parts and other logistical support from the US under a five-year agreement still in effect, it is no longer getting the fast-track preferential treatment accorded allies.

Meanwhile, the government has reaffirmed its anti-nuclear policy, but says it is ready to meet its ANZUS obligations in conventional defense terms. Prime Minister David Lange rejected the Defense Ministry's claims, saying they were ``factually incorrect.'' In a press conference last week, Mr. Lange noted an impeded intelligence flow but declined to discuss intelligence matters in detail.

Gerald Hensley, head of the Prime Minister's Department, said that New Zealand had lost up-to-date information on the global strategic balance previously supplied by the US.

The govenment says it is meeting the new situation in two ways -- improving its own defense capabilities and stepping up bilateral cooperation with neighboring Australia, which continues despite the ANZUS rupture.

Deputy Defense Minister Fraser Colman recently revealed that the government is exploring new links with Canada, in a bid to make up for the loss of US intelligence. But other defense officals have pointed out that this may be difficult because of Canada's membership in NATO. The Canadians, they say, could find it hard to forge closer defense ties with New Zealand while Wellington maintained its anti-nuclear stance. The government says the drive for greater defense self-sufficiency will help not only New Zealand, but allies like the US.

``As New Zealand develops a more self-reliant defense capability, we will be the better able to uphold not only our own but also broader Western interests in the South Pacific,'' Defense Minister Francis O'Flynn said in his recent annual report to parliament. But he also warned that as a small country, New Zealand was in danger of being overwhelmed by the cost of modern defense technology and the scale of the reequipment program needed to maintain effective forces.

Defense officials have warned that greater self-reliance means a bigger defense budget. But a government committee looking into future defense needs has been told to assume there will be no rise in spending above the current level of about 2 percent of gross domestic product.

Meanwhile, the government's long-awaited anti-nuclear legislation is not likely to be voted on by parliament before the end of the year.

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