Nukes, the Navy, and New Zealand

DESPITE a history of close ties based on shared interests and values, relations between the United States and New Zealand have been strained since 1985, when New Zealand's former Labour government decided no longer to allow visits by US Navy vessels if they are nuclear powered or potentially nuclear armed. In 1986 the Reagan administration cut off security links with our former ally. Based on developments in New Zealand and the wider world, however, I believe the time has come to consider lifting sanctio ns and restoring military relations.

The action of then Prime Minister David Lange's government precluded full military cooperation with the US, including under the ANZUS alliance among Australia, New Zealand, and our country. It also affected US interests elsewhere in the world, where the nuclear issue is often raised in connection with US military operations. That's because the US, for security reasons, will neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons with US forces.

Despite calls for broader action, the response of the Reagan administration was confined to the security area. The US cut off military relations, including intelligence sharing, and withdrew the security assistance and arms-export preferences enjoyed by New Zealand under its allied status. It also limited high-level contacts on military and security matters. The US's alliance commitments toward New Zealand were suspended.

The US and New Zealand have had a long and friendly relationship. Many Americans became familiar with New Zealand during World War II and as a result of its participation in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. More recently, New Zealand lent logistical support and medical assistance during the military conflict with Iraq. Influenced by antinuclear activists, however, the Labour government provoked a confrontation with the US over ship visits, actually forcing the Navy frigate Buchanan to turn around enroute. No t content merely to adopt a policy that excluded US naval vessels, the Labour government enacted it as law.

In 1987 I proposed legislation that would have reciprocated for the actions of the Labour government by enacting the Reagan administration's restrictions on security assistance into law. My intent in so doing was not to punish New Zealand, but to highlight the issue and keep up the pressure for its resolution. I felt then, and feel now, that to allow relations to continue in their current form would damage our long-term interests in the South Pacific and elsewhere in the world.

Since the rupture in our security relationship, the preparedness of the New Zealand military has declined. This affects not only New Zealand's traditional role in the South Pacific, but also its ability to play a constructive role in security developments outside the region, such as international peacekeeping operations.

Under the current National Party government in New Zealand, the atmosphere of bilateral relations has improved markedly. Prime Minister Jim Bolger has responded positively to President Bush's decision to remove nuclear weapons from US warships except strategic submarines, and has in effect invited the US Navy back. I believe that we should respond by moving to resolve this problem as speedily as possible and consider resuming port calls as well as other aspects of the military relationship.

Granted, it would be difficult for the US to resume normal military contacts, possibly even an alliance relationship, at this time. The New Zealand antinuclear legislation remains on the books and the current government, which is preoccupied with economic problems, may not seek to amend it during its present term. (The government has taken tentative steps on the nuclear-power issue by appointing a commission to study the safety of nuclear propulsion.)

Even if security ties cannot be completely resumed, however, consideration should be given to relaxing current sanctions to permit limited military and intelligence contacts. Despite the risks, Washington should seize the current opportunity to help the New Zealand government bring its country back into the Western system of military relations and alliances.

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