Jilted by US, antinuke New Zealand finds own way in military buildup. AFTER THE ANZUS PACT

``Pacifist of the Pacific.'' New Zealand earned the moniker three years ago by banning United States ships carrying nuclear weapons from its harbors. The rebuff by a long-time ally stunned the US. It ended the ANZUS defense alliance between Australia, New Zealand, and the US.

Ironically, New Zealand is now pumping growing sums into its biggest military buildup in more than a decade.

``By the mid-1990s, New Zealand's Air Force, Navy, and Army are going to be better equipped than they've been since Vietnam,'' says Steve Hoadley, a political-science professor at Auckland University.

The impetus for Kiwi rearmament is being provided by Prime Minister David Lange's antinuclear, go-it-alone stance. ``The breakup of ANZUS has legitimized, even among the Labor Party people who are normally antimilitary, the expenditure of resources for the reequipment program,'' says Mr. Hoadley.

This week the Royal New Zealand Navy received a new South Korean-made tanker - its first. Four modern custom-built frigates, estimated at $1.5 billion (New Zealand; US$1 billion), are on the drawing board. The Army has been promised a logistics support ship, new field gear, and 18,000 Austrian Steyr rifles in the next few years. Updates on electronics and weapons systems in warplanes are underway. And military and retirement pay has been increased.

The defense budget has risen to 2 percent of gross national product, with double-digit budget increases in each of the last two years. Some argue the expenditures are only keeping pace with inflation. But the increases have occurred against the backdrop of a flagging economy and cutbacks in federal budgets.

The funding hikes are being prompted by a post-ANZUS reassessment which has resulted in a new focus on regional security. New Zealand has been, in Lange's words, ``maintaining paper forces and covering for the deficiencies by pointing to security guarantees offered by our allies.''

For example, New Zealand's aging second-hand British frigates were built for short-cruises in the Atlantic. But New Zealand is a three-day sail from the nearest Australian port. Its security responsibilities include policing fishing grounds and providing hurricane relief for a number of Pacific island dependents. This effectively stretches New Zealand's armed forces over one-sixth of the earth's surface.

Yet, ``until now, New Zealand has had to rely on Australia or the US for refueling and replenishment for long-range cruises,'' points out Alan Burnett, author of ``The A-NZ-US Triangle.'' Also, New Zealand severed defense ties with coup-ridden Fiji last year, losing a crucial South Pacific refueling point. Thus, the significance of the just-delivered tanker and the need for a logistics support ship.

Overall, Lange's policy hasn't been easy for the New Zealand military to swallow. In 1985, the US drastically cut the flow of intelligence data to New Zealand, reduced personnel exchanges, and stopped all joint exercises.

Losing the US as a naval training partner has hurt morale. An estimated 10 percent of the mid- to senior-level officers left. It is difficult for a small Navy to compensate for the benefits of having access to the US Navy's top radar, sonar, electronics, and antisubmarine warfare experts, notes Hoadley.

But Defense Minister Bob Tizard says the new equipment and strategy is conquering morale problems. He boasts that New Zealand now enjoys ``a closer level of cooperation and planning with Australia.''

Indeed, New Zealand has no choice but to work more closely with its largest South Pacific neighbor. Australia isn't particularly enamored with the arrangement, which adds to its own defense costs. It now has a double schedule of training exercises - one with the US, and one with New Zealand.

But Mr. Tizard says Australia reaps certain economic benefits. New Zealand will be participating in the Australian frigate-building program. By adding four to Australia's eight planned frigates, unit costs decline. New Zealand will buy rifles through Australia and may add to its order for new helicopters.

Tizard admits losing the US as a military partner has hurt. But he argues New Zealand has stopped letting ``the US do our thinking for us. In terms of the regional threats we foresee, we've actually gained quite substantially.''

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