As political and military alliances go, the ANZUS pact - which links together the United States, Australia, and New Zealand - is often overlooked when compared with other larger regional groupings, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The ANZUS pact, however, established back in 1951, remains vital for all three nations.
For that reason, it is to the advantage of the three nations that this year's ANZUS meeting is being held now - after Saturday's general election in New Zealand, but before the new Labour Party government of David Lange takes office in two weeks. Mr. Lange defeated the National Party government of Sir Robert Muldoon. Sir Robert has been prime minister since 1975.
Mr. Lange, and the Labour Party platform, have called for a ban on nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered ships in New Zealand waters. Although stressing New Zealand's commitment to the ANZUS pact, Lange still wants a review of his nation's further links to the pact.
It is important that all sides keep communications lines well open in working out this issue. There need not be any damage to the alliance, provided the parties explore differences in a low-key and deliberate manner. Indeed, that is already happening. Mr. Lange graciously flew from his home in Auckland to Wellington, where this year's ANZUS meetings are under way, to meet Secretary of State George Shultz when Mr. Shultz arrived in New Zealand over the weekend. And the two men are scheduled to meet again today. Equally important, the current ANZUS meetings are taking place with the participation of the outgoing National Party government, which means that there will be time for the new Labour government and the US to work out mutual arrangements involving New Zealand's future ties to the alliance. So far as the specific nuclear ship issue, the problem for the US is that the Americans do not identify which of their ships are nuclear.
If the Americans refuse to identify their nuclear vessels, they might have to keep all of their ships out of New Zealand waters.
Patience is in order from the US side. What the Americans might recall is that Mr. Lange will clearly have his work cut out for him during the weeks and months ahead in grappling with his nation's troubled economy. Unemployment is over 7 percent, a rate that is considered high by New Zealand standards. There is also a growing foreign debt.
The US and New Zealand share not only a common language, but many values. The links between the two nations must remain strong and enduring - notwithstanding occasional policy differences.