Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

Newspaper Columns


23/12/03 Foreshore and Seabed
09/12/03 Leadership
25/11/03 Legal Aid
11/11/03 CYF and the Government
28/10/03 National Leadership
14/10/03 United States - New Zealand
30/09/03 Child Poverty
16/09/03 The Courts
02/09/03 Racial Distinctions
19/08/03 ARC Rates and the Herald
05/08/03 Maurice Williamson
24/06/03 Maori definitions
10/06/03 Police Priorities
27/05/03 Waitangi Tribunal Troubles
13/05/03 Maori Seats
29/04/03 Child Obesity
15/04/03 Victory in Iraq
01/04/03 The War
18/03/03 New Zealand and the UN
06/03/03 Big Spending
18/02/03 Rural Health
04/02/03 Sir John Turei
21/01/03 Summer Journalism
07/01/03 Future Prospects
24/12/02 Local Government
10/12/02 Reflections on the US
26/11/02 Election aftermath
12/11/02 US mid-term elections
29/10/02 The Washington Sniper
15/10/02 The Democrats
01/10/02 American Elections
17/09/02 The American mood
03/09/02 Unions
20/08/02 The media
06/08/02 Immigration
29/07/02 Whatever Happened To National?
09/07/02 Inflation
26/06/02 MMP
12/06/02 Apologies
29/05/02 Dirty tricks?
15/05/02 Health
04/05/02 Don Brash
01/05/02 Welfare
17/04/02 National's Predicament
03/04/02 Self Help
20/03/02 John Banks
06/03/02 Health is a Killer
23/02/02 Jim Anderton
20/02/02 Luck
06/02/02 Treaty of Waitangi
23/01/02 GE
09/01/02 Floating dollar

United States - New Zealand

Diplomacy is often more posturing than substance. At the height of the Cold War in 1984-5, when United States military vessels and planes bristled with nuclear weapons, and surface ships were mostly nuclear powered, New Zealanders decided to make an anti-nuclear statement. It cost us effective membership of the ANZUS Treaty. Despite American protests, the Lange Labour Government went further. In the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987 Parliament put our unwillingness to harbour nuclear-armed or nuclear-powered vessels into law. New Zealanders felt good, so good, in fact, that on the eve of the 1990 election the National Party, which had opposed anti-nuclearism, thought it prudent to adopt Labour's policy.

We were posturing, of course. There was no way that our gesture would alter American policy, and no other countries followed suit. Even the Japanese who are the only nation unfortunate enough to have experienced nuclear warfare, have a less rigid set of rules about American ship visits than we do. The fact that no nation caught what some Americans called "the New Zealand disease" probably resulted from American posturing at the time. So heavy-handed were they with us that they discouraged others.

Times changed. The Berlin wall fell at the end of 1989 and the Cold War became a thing of the past. The ever-upward thrust in American military expenditure drooped. In September 1991 President George Bush Sr ordered that nuclear weapons be removed from all surface ships of the US Navy. Soon new US Navy vessels came on stream that weren't nuclear powered either. By the late 1990s, we could have welcomed any number of American naval vessels into our harbours in the certainty they didn't offend against our 1987 legislation. Jenny Shipley's government made overtures to the Americans over ship visits, but then desisted in 1999, knowing that New Zealanders, most of whom think in slogans when they think at all about foreign policy, would need time to understand. The incoming Clark Government couldn't be bothered trying. Dependent on the Greens whose grey cells are in a permanent state of discombobulation on foreign policy issues, they let the charade continue. New Zealand would forbid visits from nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered vessels even though there weren't many left.

The irony of the present situation is that in the 1980s Helen Clark, Jim Anderton and Margaret Wilson did more to ensure we rejected visits from US ships than anyone else except David Lange. And in Washington, the same people who were misled by Lange's earlier assurances to Secretary of State George Shultz in 1984 that a way would be found for visits to continue, are in office once more. The current Deputy Secretary of Defence, Paul Wolfowitz, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, remember only too well the imbroglio with New Zealand. They aren't in any hurry to ease our way back into Washington's good graces.

If I read Ambassador Swindells' tortuously constructed (and shamefully received) speech correctly, one cleared in Washington at a high level, it isn't the re-starting of ship visits to New Zealand that the Americans want so much as a major domestic controversy in this country. Why must the 1987 legislation be repealed? There is now no impediment to visits by most US surface naval ships since none is nuclear armed, and few are nuclear powered. Mr Swindells and his Republican friends seem to be demanding some grovelling as well. Despite the official line that trade and foreign policy are handled separately by Washington, the Republicans clearly aren't observing this rule over a free trade agreement for us. Is Mr Swindells telling us that a few Americans in high places want the normalisation of relations between us made as difficult as possible?

Playing games and nursing old grudges are a poor foundation for foreign policy by either country. Surely there is enough political talent in both governments to overcome current difficulties? Neither of us has all that many friends these days. Renegotiating ANZUS isn't fundamentally necessary, though closer defence ties in today's dangerous world are obviously desirable. And every effort should be made to boost trade. If Helen Clark chose to invite an American ship, only the lunatic fringe would protest. The rest could safely trust her judgement about its compliance with the 1987 legislation. An invitation would sit well with our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and should make amends for any insults given in the 1980s. Surely Mr Swindell's masters could accept that?