By Keith Locke
AUCKLAND — New Zealand foreign minister Doug McKinnon has been visiting London and Washington trying to "bridge the impasse" between New Zealand's anti-nuclear law and British and US reluctance to disclose the presence of nuclear weapons on their warships.
He told journalists in Washington on May 14 that he believed "the US sees the new government in New Zealand as taking a more positive attitude on security issues ... Our contribution to the Gulf, our commitment to the ANZAC frigate project, all indicate that we want to be seen as a country with a positive attitude."
In London the previous month, McKinnon said he was trying to "encourage public opinion to return to the traditional [pro-nuclear and pro-alliance] mainstream of New Zealand foreign policy". That, he said, "will take time".
McKinnon pleaded with the British and US governments to help him in this. "We need, at least, a degree of understanding of what we are trying to do", he said.
But McKinnon ended up with egg on his face. The officials he met in Washington didn't concede anything. Assistant secretary of state Soloman said nothing in the relationship would change until the anti-nuclear law was altered.
The big stumbling block is what ordinary New Zealanders think. After meeting McKinnon on May 15, US deputy assistant secretary of defense Carl Ford said he didn't think "public opinion in New Zealand would support" negotiations at this time.
Ford is right. The May TV1/Heylen poll showed more New Zealanders than ever (54%) for severing alliance defence ties rather than allow visits by nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships.
This position is to the left of anything the Labour Party has ever advocated. Labour has always been pro-ANZUS. In an ANZAC Day speech in 1988, then Prime Minister David Lange talked of possibly withdrawing from ANZUS and was jumped on by all his colleagues. It was a major factor in his dumping as prime minister later that year.
The ANZUS alliance, and the myriad of secret agreements that relate to it, remain largely operational, particularly with Australia. Joint exercises with US forces, and official New Zealand attendance at ANZUS council meetings, are the only things that have stopped.
Only the NewLabour Party and the Greens stand for withdrawal from all military alliances, including ANZUS and the Five-Power Defence Agreement with Australia, Britain, Singapore and Malaysia.