Some years ago, members of the staff of the London Times held a competition to see who could produce the most boring headline. From memory, the winning entry was along the lines of “Small Earthquake in South America: Few Hurt.” For many Americans, a crisis in U.S. relations with New Zealand, centered on the question of whether American naval vessels will be allowed to continue visiting New Zealand ports, is bound to appear in similarly unexciting terms: a case of “Minor Difficulties with Small Ally: Little at Stake.”
After all, as a country New Zealand is about as remote as they come—for Americans a real case of “a faraway country about which we know little”—and from the vantage point of New York or Washington, good peripheral vision is required to be aware of it at all. New Zealand has a population of only three million, owns no scarce resource, is internally stable, and suffers from no discernible external threat—hardly the stuff that international drama is made of. On the face of it, the immediate point at issue also appears trivial. Strategically and logistically, visits by U.S. vessels to New Zealand ports are not important, let alone essential. They are rest-and-recreational visits, and have been made infrequently.
What, it might therefore well be asked, is there to be concerned about, especially in a world in which so many urgent problems are already facing this country? If a more positive reaction than indifference is evoked, in an America which is increasingly impatient with allies and which rightly resents being put upon or taken for granted, it is likely to be exasperation. Indeed, one does detect some tendency to “kick the cat” in this instance—to vent on New Zealand some of the pent-up frustration felt about the behavior of other allies.
Unfortunately much too much is at stake for the confrontation between the U.S. and New Zealand either to be dismissed or used in this way. In the first place—and it is not a trivial point for those who stress the importance of ideology in U.S. foreign policy—New Zealand is an immaculately democratic country in a part of the world where there are few such and, the present episode apart, it has been an exemplary friend and ally to America. In fact, New Zealand and Australia—the other party immediately involved in the crisis—are the only two countries which have fought alongside the U.S. in all the four major wars of this century. Decency, as well as ideological considerations, requires that a falling out with such a country be treated seriously and carefully.
But for those who take a harsher and more pragmatic view of foreign policy there are also compelling reasons. First, because of the particularly intimate relationship between New Zealand and Australia, the confrontation puts the future of the ANZUS1 alliance as a whole in jeopardy. Second, it does so at a time when there is clear and disturbing evidence that the politico-strategic environment in the Southeast Asia-Southwest Pacific area is in danger of deteriorating seriously and when the need for an effective alliance is likely to be enhanced rather than diminished. Third, quite apart from regional considerations, the relationship with Australia is extremely important—perhaps even “vital”—in terms of the U.S.'s global network of defense communications and intelligence (a fact known to few Americans, but to every Australian schoolboy).
All these considerations point to the need to contain the damage caused to the ANZUS alliance by the dispute and to preserve its essential integrity, particularly its U.S.-Australian component. But there is also a very important counter-consideration. The U.S. has many allies, and the question of U.S. ship visits is an actual or potential source of friction in many of them. What is happening in the Antipodes is being watched closely in Western Europe, Tokyo, and, not least, Moscow. It is therefore a matter of deep concern to the U.S. that the New Zealand dispute be resolved in a way which does not create a precedent encouraging to anti-nuclear or anti-American elements elsewhere. This means either that New Zealand must be persuaded to change its policy, or that, if it persists, the cost to it of doing so must be made unattractively, and visibly, high.
In short, the crisis presents the Reagan administration with an extremely difficult problem, in that American interests require the simultaneous pursuit of two objectives which are not easily reconcilable.
The current crisis began in July 1984, when the New Zealand Labour2 party won an election and formed a government under Prime Minister David Lange. A notable feature of the new government is its extreme youth, the average age of cabinet members at the time of their appointment being forty-two. Lange's has the distinction therefore of being the first Western government composed mainly of members of the Vietnam generation, people who came to maturity in the 1960's and whose adult experience of international affairs corresponds almost entirely with the tormented, divisive years of that war, “détente,” and the indecisive Presidency of Jimmy Carter. As such the Lange government may have a significance beyond itself, as a portent of what is likely to come in other countries in the near future.
The new government quickly announced that it intended to implement a policy which had been a prominent part of the Labour party's election manifesto: the banning of nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered ships from New Zealand's ports. Indeed, even if the government had itself had doubts about the policy, which apparently it did not, it would have had little choice in the matter, for the policy had solid support in the Labour party and was very popular in the country at large. Opinion polls showed 58 percent of New Zealanders in favor of banning nuclear-armed ships, and in the 1984 election three out of the four competing parties (including a new breakaway right-wing group) had it as part of their platforms.
This extraordinary level of popular backing was a particular manifestation of a more general and very strong “nuclear allergy,” the existence of which, in a country so far removed from the centers of tension in the world and so improbable a target for nuclear attack, requires explanation. One important element in such an explanation is the bitter resentment felt by New Zealanders toward French nuclear testing in the South Pacific, on the Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia. New Zealand (like Australia) has protested against these tests repeatedly but in vain. Their persistence has done more than anything else to sensitize New Zealanders on the nuclear issue and to provide credibility and ammunition to the anti-nuclear movement. There is a twofold sense of outrage: first, against the threat of pollution (greatly exaggerated) to an environment which is both extraordinarily beautiful and otherwise virtually unsullied; and second, against what is seen as a gross intrusion into the region by an outside power.
The latter is particularly important. New Zealanders are accustomed to thinking of the South Pacific as their own backyard. In their eyes, the French tests (and, to a lesser though significant degree, American and Japanese proposals—for the time being shelved—to use the region as a dumping ground for nuclear waste) represent the treating of that yard as a sort of global vacant lot, in which great powers feel free to do what they would not dream of doing closer to home. In this respect, the banning of U.S.-ship visits represents a form of compensatory action: if nothing can be done about French testing, all the more reason for taking action to protect the region on a matter over which New Zealand does have control.
The need for compensation may also be a factor in a deeper sense, for recent decades have not been kind to New Zealand. Always the most “British” of the old dominions, it has seen its hitherto very intimate ties with the mother country weaken dramatically and has faced its own “end of empire” problem. Britain has withdrawn from east of Suez. It has joined the European Economic Community (EEC) and relegated the Commonwealth to secondary importance in its scheme of things. In 1948, 73 percent of New Zealand's exports went to Britain; by 1980, less than 14 percent. But the economic consequences are less important than the effects on the spirit—the sense of being abandoned, of ceasing any longer to be linked, by close association with a leading actor on the international stage, to the center of things, the big game.
For New Zealanders there is really no substitute for this lost British connection. The ties with Australia are close, but they are the ties of brotherhood not motherhood, and besides, Australia itself is too provincial and small to fit the bill. The U.S., on the other hand, is too big, and its interests too varied, its culture and ethos too different to serve the purpose. The decline both of Britain itself and of New Zealand's links with it has therefore brought home to New Zealanders the full extent of their isolation and marginality.
In the circumstances, the need to find some way of being relevant to the world, of being connected to larger events, of being attended to, assumes enormous importance. Yet for New Zealand the opportunities in this respect are very few: apart from the visit of American ships, it is virtually untouched by larger events; and apart from banning those ships, and presenting that act in modish terms as a regional contribution to the sacred cause of arms control, it is difficult to think of a plausible way New Zealand could find of attracting significant attention to itself in the world.
All this is not to deny that those who support the anti-nuclear movement in New Zealand have genuine convictions. Nor, for that matter, is it to deny that those who stress the influence of the pro-Soviet Left in manipulating public opinion may be identifying an important element in the situation (one can, in any case, take it for granted that the local Communists will have been trying their hardest to do this; and resolutions passed by the annual conference of the New Zealand Labour party to withdraw completely from ANZUS, as well as the affiliation of significant parts of the trade-union movement to the Soviet-led World Federation of Trade Unions, suggest that they have not been entirely unsuccessful in their efforts). It is rather to attempt to explain why those convictions are so widespread in a country where the nuclear risk appears so small, why those who propagate the cause have found such fertile ground for their efforts.
To return to the course of recent events, the announcement of the ban on nuclear-armed and powered ships effectively closed New Zealand to all American warships, since the U.S. has a firm policy of neither confirming nor denying whether any of its vessels is nuclear-armed, and since virtually all of them are capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. The U.S. responded to the announcement by making it clear that the new policy was unacceptable from an ally and that there would be no deviation from the neither-confirm-nor-deny rule. At the same time Washington did not press the issue and indicated that there would be no request for a visit through the rest of 1984, while the two governments reviewed their positions and discussed the matter. The New Zealand government, perhaps surprised by the firmness of the American reaction, concentrated its efforts on the feasibility of determining for itself whether or not a particular ship was carrying nuclear weapons, thus making it unnecessary to challenge the neither-confirm-nor-deny rule by requesting a statement from America.
Some New Zealand sources claim that progress was being made along these lines and that what wrecked the effort was the untimely leaking to the press of a letter from the Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, to Lange. While the letter was couched in moderate and polite terms, the fact that it expressed disagreement with New Zealand's policy at all caused a surge of nationalist resentment in New Zealand, which ruled out any modification of the ban.
It is certainly true that the leaking of Hawke's letter, on the eve of his meeting with Reagan in Washington, complicated matters, but given the strength of feeling in New Zealand generally and in the Labour party in particular, it is difficult to see how there could have been compromise in any case. Lange's economic policies, which involved a Reagan-like commitment to scrapping protectionism and limiting government intervention, were already unpopular with the Left and were only tolerated on the basis of a firm stand on the nuclear-ships issue.
At the beginning of 1985, after seven months, the U.S. finally put the matter to the test by requesting that the U.S.S. Buchanan, a conventionally-powered destroyer, be allowed to visit. The request was refused.
The American reaction was swift and sharp. Washington announced that while New Zealand was still a friend, it could no longer be considered an ally. ANZUS as a tripartite alliance was declared inoperative as long as the ban continued. New Zealand's access to high-grade American intelligence was abruptly cut off (hitherto, together with Australia, New Zealand had enjoyed access unmatched by any NATO country, other than Britain and Canada). Military exercises involving joint participation by the U.S. and New Zealand, exercises highly valued by the New Zealand services, were cancelled. The ANZUS Council meeting scheduled to be held in Canberra later in the year was indefinitely postponed—again a significant act, as the annual meeting of the Council is the most important fixed item on the New Zealand and Australian diplomatic calendars. While the U.S. announced that there would be no economic retaliation against New Zealand, it also indicated that, in the circumstances, the Reagan administration would find it hard to continue going to Congress to plead for special treatment for New Zealand as a valued ally—a matter of considerable interest to New Zealand, as the U.S. is the third largest market for its exports, and it has enjoyed special privileges until now. In fact, New Zealand has subsequently lost its immunity from the application of the “injury test” to its subsidized exports to the U.S.
In adopting all these measures, Washington took care to emphasize that bilateral ties between the U.S. and Australia were in no way impaired and that relations between the two countries remained excellent. To underscore the point, it was announced that Secretary of State George P. Shultz would visit the Australian capital in July, at the time the ANZUS Council meeting would normally have taken place.
Nevertheless, the whole episode has been extremely difficult and embarrassing for Australia. The Hawke Labor government is firmly committed to the ANZUS alliance, to maintaining the jointly controlled U.S. intelligence facilities, and to U.S.-ship visits. Hawke has made clear that he gives overriding priority to safeguarding Australia's relationship with America. In this he undoubtedly has the support of most Australians. At the same time he has had to keep two things very much in mind. First, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that Australia's relationship with New Zealand is a hallowed one and, whatever the difference on policy, any suggestion of deserting New Zealand, or of bullying it into submission, would meet strong resistance. Second, the Australian Labor party, as opposed to the government, is far from solid on the issue. It contains a large and powerful left-wing faction, one which controls 44 votes out of 99 in the annual conference of the party and which is opposed not only to ship visits but to ANZUS itself.
This faction regards the anti-Communist (and pro-Israel) Hawke as an enemy to be destroyed rather than as a leader to be supported. It has its representatives in the Cabinet and the support of two minority parties (the Australian Democrats and the Nuclear Disarmament party which between them polled 15 percent of the vote in recent Senate elections); of an anti-nuclear movement which put 300,000 people in the streets in March of this year; of a large part of the trade-union movement; and, not least, of much of what passes for the quality media in Australia.
For these elements, New Zealand's banning of U.S. ships has been an enormous free gift, accepted with unconcealed joy. It represents an opportunity to attack Hawke and the alliance simultaneously. Hawke has been characterized as bullying toward the New Zealanders and servile toward Washington. As far as ANZUS is concerned, the more sophisticated line is to argue for its “demystification” and fragmentation. An overall mutual-defense pact, it is argued, is really unnecessary; a series of discrete agreements dealing with particular aspects of the relationship would be better. This, one sympathetic journalist explains, will mean that “each element of the U.S. relationship can be considered separately without the cry going up that it is undermining ANZUS”—as neat a statement of the Stalinist “salami tactic” for destroying an enemy as one could hope to see.
Under these sorts of pressures, and faced with the need to keep on good terms with two allies who are themselves on bad terms, Hawke has felt that caution and prudence are the better part of valor. He may be wrong. In the immediate aftermath of the U.S.S. Buchanan decision, he thought it necessary to guard his flanks by withdrawing permission for U.S. aircraft to use Australian airfields during the MX testing in the Pacific, a decision which projected weakness, was unpopular in the country as a whole, and for which he got no credit from the Left. Since then he has played it carefully down the middle, firmly reaffirming the commitment to the U.S. alliance but being forthcoming with help to New Zealand to overcome some of the consequences of its own action.
This is an understandable reaction, but it is hardly statesmanship. There has been no attempt to give a lead to resolve the crisis, no willingness to commit Hawke's considerable prestige and negotiating skills, no attempt to take the matter to the people and to confront the Left's case head-on. Instead, policy has been reactive, determined mainly by domestic political considerations. Whether such an approach will be adequate to prevent the destruction of ANZUS remains to be seen. Certainly the situation in Australia is a matter for deep concern from America's point of view, and it would be a serious mistake to assume that, while things have gone wrong in New Zealand, the future of Australia's attitude is not in doubt.
Formally and precisely, ANZUS is a security treaty, signed in 1951 by Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S., declaring that an armed attack on any of the three countries in “the Pacific Area” (left undefined) would be dangerous to the peace and safety of them all, and undertaking to collaborate in developing their collective capability to resist attack. In practice, ANZUS has come to be synonymous with the total political-strategic relationship among the three countries, as it has been fleshed out over the years.
A strong case can be made that of all the alliances entered into by the United States since World War II, ANZUS is easily the most cost-effective. Consider first the costs. The main one for the U.S. is that, in effect, the alliance extends the American security umbrella over the Antipodes (“in effect” because, strictly, the treaty does not commit each of the parties to do more than “meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional process”). For Australia and New Zealand this means (or has meant until recently) that the alliance constitutes a highly valued insurance policy. But for the U.S. it is in the nature of a bookkeeping entry rather than a real cost. For its two alliance partners suffer from no credible military threat, and short of a global conflict—which would involve the U.S. in any case—it is difficult to see such a threat emerging in the foreseeable future. That apart, the Guam (or Nixon) Doctrine suggests that in the event of any conflict not involving a major power—say a dispute with Indonesia—the U.S. would stand apart and expect Australia and New Zealand to deal with their own problem.
This was, in fact, the view taken by the Kennedy administration in the early 1960's—before the declaration at Guam—when Australia was at odds with Sukarno's Indonesia over West Irian; America's wider concern to keep on good terms with a large Third World country, which was in danger of falling under Communist control at the time, was given precedence over the ANZUS commitment. Circumstances, of course, can change rapidly and in ways that confound expectations, but as of now, the U.S. commitment to the defense of its two allies is both nominal, in that there is no credible threat, and highly qualified.
Nor does the alliance carry many other costs. Australia and New Zealand, almost uniquely among America's allies, have never asked for nor received any American aid. Unlike other important alliances, ANZUS does not entail the stationing of large numbers of American forces in close proximity to potential enemies nor, indeed, the deployment of significant American forces in any way other than would anyhow be required by American interests. Apart from the security guarantee, the major benefits of ANZUS to America's alliance partners have been privileged access to American intelligence, the purchase of American military equipment and technology on favorable terms, the opportunity to exercise with U.S. armed forces, and cooperation on defense-science matters. While these are highly valued by the recipients, none has meant significant costs to the U.S.
On the other hand, the benefits flowing to the U.S. from the alliance are considerable. Until now—and please supply this phrase whenever applicable from here on—ANZUS has provided a stable, reliable alliance with two like-minded democracies, in a part of the world which is strategically important to the U.S. and in which such allies are otherwise hard to find. In Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand have been almost uniformly supportive of U.S. aims and policies. They joined the American-inspired Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO); they gave political and military support in Vietnam (when no other Western country was offering either); they took part in the containment of Communism in Malaysia and still keep a military presence on the peninsula; through the Colombo Plan they strengthened links between the emerging elites of the region and the West by providing education for thousands of Asian students; and, per capita, they have accepted more Vietnamese refugees than any other country. Because of their standing in and understanding of the region, they have often been able to act as valuable intermediaries on America's behalf, interpreting, defending, and sponsoring its policies more effectively than the U.S. itself would have been able to do, in a region where anti-Americanism is not unknown and where many are nervous about too close an association with superpowers.
In the Southwest Pacific, Australia and New Zealand have taken primary responsibility—until recently, with conspicuous success—for the security and development of the minute and very vulnerable island states, which are the outstanding political feature of the area. That this area does not receive much attention is due not to the fact that it is intrinsically unimportant (in terms of a struggle for naval supremacy in the Pacific it is potentially very important indeed) but to the fact that the strategy pursued by Australia and New Zealand of denying the Soviet Union a toehold there has so far succeeded. Dealing with these micro and mini-states requires a very delicate touch—a feel for the cultures involved, close personal contacts, and a fine sense of how much is enough; again it is doubtful whether the U.S. could do the job anything like as well as its ANZUS allies.
Even outside the treaty area, ANZUS brings important benefits to America. Australia and New Zealand are participants in the Multilateral Force and Observers (MFO) in the Sinai as they have been participants in earlier peacekeeping operations in the Middle East, largely because of their responsiveness to an American appeal. Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Australia has supplemented and supported the American surveillance of the Indian Ocean, providing staging facilities for B-52's in northern Australia and port facilities in Western Australia, as well as taking over extensive surveillance duties of its own (reportedly for the whole area south of the equator). In the UN, Australia and New Zealand have often been among the very small group which has regularly voted with the U.S. on contentious issues, including those involving Israel. For two countries living in a predominantly “Southern” or Third World environment, that support has not been without its costs.
There is one other major benefit to the U.S., one little known in America but which may in fact be the most important of all. Australia houses a range of American intelligence facilities of exceptional significance, particularly those located at the Pine Gap, Nurrungar, and North West Cape bases. The precise functions of these facilities are highly secret but James Bamford, the American specialist on satellite intelligence, says that they are “America's most important defense satellite earth stations” and in the view of Paul Wolfowitz, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, they are “critical.”
In a statement to the Australian Parliament in June 1984, Prime Minister Hawke maintained in measured terms that because of the role played by these facilities, Australia's contribution to arms control and strategic stability “will remain something more than modest. We contribute positively to verification and stable and effective deterrence.” According to the best available information, the functions of these bases include early warning, targeting information, the command and control of ballistic-missile submarines, and the processing of very sensitive signal intelligence. The same sources maintain that, while it will be possible (at a very great cost) to replace these facilities in a few years, as of now there is no substitute for them.
In terms of intelligence, then, it would seem that the U.S. gets even better than it gives to its ANZUS partners. Moreover, while the access to intelligence the U.S. provides to Australia involves little in the way of cost, the facilities it enjoys are strategically and politically expensive for Australia. They almost certainly give Australia a much more prominent and uncomfortable place on the Soviet's nuclear-targeting list than it would otherwise have; partly because of this, and partly because of the questions relating to sovereignty, the presence of the facilities is a very contentious issue in Australian politics (contentious enough for it to have been necessary to establish some form of “joint control” over their operation).
In view of the current travail, one last point deserves to be made in listing the benefits of ANZUS to the U.S. Until a year ago it was certainly the most harmonious and trouble-free of all America's alliances, one firmly based on compatible interests, shared values, and, not least, a commitment by the members to civility in dealing with one another. It has been a relationship which has caused America virtually no political embarrassment. When its ANZUS partners have been unable to agree with U.S. policy—as, for example, during the Suez Crisis in 1956 and the West Irian dispute—they (unlike many other allies) have expressed their disagreement in moderate terms and usually in private.
In view of all this it is clear that ANZUS—and particularly its Australian component—is an important alliance for the U.S., both intrinsically and in cost-benefit terms. Indications are that America's need for it is going to increase rather than diminish in the near future, for there are clear signs of imminent deterioration in the strategic situation in the Southeast Asia-Southwest Pacific area. Since the fall of Saigon ten years ago, Americans have tended, for understandable reasons, to turn away from this region. But its strategic importance remains what it was, and events have not come to a standstill because America's attention has shifted.
In the ten years following the fall of South Vietnam, two more of the much derided dominoes have toppled and the whole of Indochina is now under Vietnamese control. A third domino—Thailand—has recently had Vietnamese soldiers fighting on its soil and the conditions exist for Hanoi to escalate its conflict with this country at any time it chooses. The Vietnamese conquest of its neighbors has been and is lavishly funded by the Soviet Union, which in return has acquired a base in Cam Ranh Bay astride the sea routes between the Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia on the one hand, and Northeast Asia on the other. It facilitates the ability of the Soviet Pacific fleet, which is now the Soviet's largest, to maintain a presence both in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean. But perhaps the most salient thing about Cam Ranh Bay is its symbolic significance: what a little over a decade ago was a major American base is now in Soviet hands and is, according to Secretary Shultz, “now the center of the largest concentration of Soviet naval units outside the USSR.”
Immediately facing Cam Ranh Bay, across the South China Sea, the Philippines are in terrible trouble. It is the familiar story of a friendly, corrupt, and inefficient authoritarian ruler on the skids, while an indigenous Communist movement gathers strength and the availability of a viable democratic alternative to either remains extremely uncertain. If Marcos's rule ends too abruptly, and without sufficient preparation for a democratic replacement, it is likely to leave chaos in its wake; if he hangs on too long, the continuing political and economic deterioration will provide fertile ground for the growth of the already formidable Communist movement.
Familiar as the story is, this particular version is of special significance to the U.S., for two reasons: because of America's unique historic ties with the Philippines and because its bases at Clark Field and Subic Bay are the linchpin of its forward defense strategy in the Pacific. It is by no means unlikely that a situation may develop, sooner rather than later, in which the American government and people will be faced with an excruciating choice: either to involve themselves in “another Vietnam” in the same part of the world, or to reconcile themselves to seeing the reality and the symbolism of Cam Ranh Bay repeated in the case of Clark and Subic.
This does not exhaust the potential for trouble in the region. In the islands of the Southwest Pacific there is one crisis in being, as well as troubling evidence of a growing interest in the region by the Soviet Union and its surrogates. The French territory of New Caledonia is in turmoil. The Melanesian Kanaks (who constitute 44 percent of the 135,000 population) want immediate independence while the Europeans (36 percent) are adamantly opposed to it. The French government, which neglected and mishandled the problem in its earlier stages, has no solution and indeed at this stage it is difficult to envisage one. Among those taking a close interest in the situation is Qaddafi's Libya, which has hosted a group of “Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front” members for military training.
On the other hand, New Caledonia's northern neighbor, Vanuatu (previously the New Hebrides, population 118,000), is being actively courted by Cuba, which sponsored its membership in the Non-Aligned Movement and which has gone to the trouble of acquiring diplomatic accreditation to the island state.
The Soviet Union itself, which has sought access to the region for some years, is set to succeed finally, by entering into a fishing agreement with Kiribati (previously the Gilbert Islands, population 57,000). If this agreement goes through, as seems almost certain, and if the Soviet Union handles things carefully in the early stages, other island states—perhaps Tonga and Tuvalu—will probably be tempted to follow. The prospect of Soviet personnel landing regularly in these minute island states within a year or two—ostensibly for rest, recreation, and servicing purposes—is therefore quite real. It is also extremely worrying, in terms of their obvious vulnerability to manipulation and the staging of coups. (The 1977 coup which, overnight, established a pro-Soviet regime in the Indian Ocean state of Seychelles provides a model.)
These are things that Australia and New Zealand have worked hard to prevent over the years, by the provision of aid, advice, and training. The fact that they may now be failing is due in no small part to the maladroitness of other Western powers, the U.S. as well as France. In particular, an American failure to take into account island sensitivities on fishing rights, and the importance of fish (particularly highly migratory species like tuna) to their economic stability, has caused a great deal of friction and ill will toward America. If the Soviet Union does establish a foothold in the region, it will be partly due to a failure by Washington to control the activities of the American Tunaboat Association.
All this may seem to be very small beer, and even as sensible a journal as the London Economist recently referred dismissively to “all those dreamy dots in the Pacific.” Well, yes, but it is not so long ago that the Caribbean seemed almost equally “dreamy,” the home of calypso rather than the source of a threat to American interests. Once a pro-Soviet regime was installed there, perceptions changed utterly.
It is against this broad picture of a troubled region, rather than as an isolated incident down on the bottom right-hand corner of the world map, that the ANZUS crisis must be seen. Depending on how the crisis is handled, ANZUS will either become another and important addition to the lengthening list of problems facing America in the region, or remain what it has been in the past, an effective instrument to help deal with these problems.
But that is to understate the matter. For if the former happens, the consequence will be more than merely the loss of an instrument. To many it will constitute conclusive evidence of the collapse of America's power and influence in the region. For if the U.S. can no longer successfully maintain a longstanding alliance with the region's only two stable democracies, the question will arise: What can the U.S. do?
If this were all there was to the matter, the proper policy for the U.S. would be clear: put up with the New Zealand ban, foolish though it is, and do what is necessary to preserve the alliance, unpalatable though it might be.
But as was indicated at the outset, that is not all there is to the matter. Up until now, and despite claims to the contrary by some supporters of New Zealand's new policy, none of America's allies has banned visits by U.S. warships or demanded to know whether they are nuclear-armed as a condition for entry. If New Zealand is allowed to persist in its policy, without suffering severe costs, this will change. A “ripple effect” is not only likely but certain. Anti-nuclear movements will be enormously encouraged and the determination of Western governments to resist them will be diminished—all the more so because the precedent will have been set by such a respectable and loyal friend of America's.
Reports indicate that New Zealand has been discussed more in NATO in the last six months than in the preceding thirty-five years. In Britain the Labour party leader, Neil Kinnock, has already expressed his “full-hearted” agreement with New Zealand's policy, going on to say that the “logic” that his party follows on nuclear weapons is very similar to that being argued by New Zealand's Prime Minister Lange. For good reason, the issue is being watched closely in Japan, a country with a powerful anti-nuclear movement. Until now Japan has finessed the question of visits of nuclear-armed ships by simply not putting the question and assuming that American ships visiting Japanese ports do not carry nuclear weapons. If the issue acquires greater salience, such a way of dealing with the problem is not long likely to prove sustainable.
In discussions of a ripple effect, it is the examples of Western Europe and Japan that have usually been cited. But in terms of what has already been said about the prospects for the Philippines, it is worth considering that case. A post-Marcos government, under pressure from a Communist Left on the issue of the American bases—a very likely scenario—could well find that the New Zealand precedent offered an attractive way of solving its problem. Even if the Philippines did not spontaneously adopt the New Zealand model, there would certainly be pressure for it to do so. After all, if a charter member of the Western alliance had already set a precedent and got away with it, why not the Philippines?
The Soviet Union has tracked what Tass calls “the New Zealand phenomenon” closely from the beginning. On the first day after the election of the Lange government, Radio Moscow thoughtfully observed in its broadcast to the Pacific that “implementation of New Zealand Labour's election pledges might set off a chain reaction leading to the collapse of the ANZUS bloc.” As the crisis has developed, so has the prominence of Soviet press coverage—even to the extent of a cartoon on the front page of Pravda—with the two themes of the collapse of ANZUS and the spread of “nuclear allergy” being given equal emphasis.
Soviet interest has not been restricted to press coverage. Earlier this year, Lange felt it necessary to call in the Soviet ambassador to tell him to mind his own business and not to interfere in New Zealand's affairs—a sensitive matter, since the ambassador's predecessor, identified as a KGB agent by British intelligence, was expelled in 1980 after being caught in the act of passing a large sum of money to the pro-Soviet Socialist Unity party. At the same time, Australian fears are also being played upon in the crudest fashion. A visiting Soviet official recently assured Australians that if their country broke with the U.S. and removed the joint intelligence facilities, Soviet armed forces would not target Australia with nuclear weapons.
There is no doubt that, in the wake of the New Zealand ban, breaking the ANZUS alliance is a serious Soviet aim, and there is no ground for complacency regarding its chances of success. Neither is there any doubt that, if New Zealand succeeds in having its cake and eating it too on this matter, the flow-on effect will create serious problems for American foreign and defense policies in a variety of other places.
So far, the Reagan administration has handled the issue extremely well, finding the right balance of patience and firmness. It has understood that the proper target for its efforts is not the dedicated members of the anti-nuclear movement in New Zealand and Australia, who are irreconcilable and usually anti-American. Nor is it the governments of the two countries, whose freedom of maneuver is severely limited by domestic political factors. It is rather the people of Australia and New Zealand. Over the years the great majority of these has steadfastly supported the alliance. In recent times disturbing numbers of them have begun to change their minds on the nuclear issue. Apart from natural abhorrence toward nuclear weapons, they have changed because they have heard the anti-nuclear case presented with increasing frequency and with much more conviction and passion than the opposing case, whose supporters have become defensive and halfhearted. Nor have most Australians and New Zealanders been made clearly aware that the changes they are being exhorted to endorse carry substantial costs.
Until this trend is reversed and diffuse popular support for anti-nuclear policies diminishes, appeals to the New Zealand government to alter its policies are likely to be futile and expectations of resolute action by the Australian government to be disappointed. A new course cannot be brought about by clever diplomacy. It can only be done openly—by argument, persuasion, and action—and it must be done with sufficient force to convey the message clearly and with sufficient sensitivity to ensure that the hard-core anti-nuclear elements are given as little as possible to exploit in the way of aggrieved nationalism.
Whether by luck, accident, or clear design, American policy has substantially met these tests. It has proceeded in the spirit not of breaking an adversary but of persuading friendly peoples, and of emphasizing the necessary cost of the course they have adopted. Patience has been exercised—an initial seven-month wait before putting the issue to a test—and when action has been taken it has been carefully measured to indicate the gravity of the situation without being unnecessarily inflammatory. Charges of bullying and lack of respect for the sovereignty of very sensitive nations have, of course, been made by the anti-American/ anti-nuclear people, but one suspects that they have not carried the conviction nor aroused the emotions that were hoped for.
Wolfowitz and others have put the American case with intelligence and restraint. They have argued that the cause of peace is not served by the weakening of the deterrent capability of the strongest democracy, nor the cause of arms control by setting an example that only encourages potential adversaries to wait things out for further signs of unilateralism and anti-nuclear sentiment in the West. They have pointed out that what is required in order to make sense of the New Zealand claim (that while they renounce nuclear weapons they remain allies in good standing) is not possible. As Wolfowitz put it in his congressional testimony: “We have only one navy—not one conventionally-capable navy and one nuclear-capable navy; not one navy to accommodate one country's policy and another navy for the rest of the world.” They have insisted that the alliance cannot be sustained practically or politically without fair burden-sharing, that no U.S. government can obligate its men and women to the defense of a country that does not welcome those men and women and will not let American ships into their ports. They have shown full respect for New Zealand's sovereignty, for its right to determine its own policy, but they have insisted, unanswerably, that the U.S., too, as a sovereign nation, has an equal right to determine how to adjust its own policies to meet the changed situation thus created. Most important of all, they have brought home the necessity for choice on the part of New Zealanders: the alliance or the ban.
These arguments, together with the actions taken following the U.S.S. Buchanan episode, have had some effect. Last year when an opinion poll simply put the question of support or opposition to the banning of ships, 58 percent were in favor and only 30 percent against. But when, after the Buchanan, the question was put in terms of support for the ban even if it means the end of ANZUS, the result was 45 percent for, 45 percent against.
Nevertheless there is still a long way to go. An important part of the problem is that in making its case the U.S. is dependent largely on media which, in Australia at least, are at worst hostile and at best skeptical. Consideration should be given to overcoming this by setting out a comprehensive and forceful statement of the American case and making it freely, widely, and directly available to the general public in Australia and New Zealand.
To say that the right policy of patience and firmness is being pursued, and that the essential thing is not to deviate from it in the direction of either impatience or compromise, is not an exciting conclusion. It will not satisfy everyone in an America which is tired of being taken for granted and misrepresented. But too much is at stake merely to indulge a desire for decisiveness. Recent American experience has demonstrated that an incremental approach is not the right one in dealing with a fanatical enemy, but there is much to be said for such an approach in dealing with a mistaken friend. In the last resort more drastic action may be necessary; but one should treat the last resort as exactly that.
1 ANZUS, of course, is the acronym for “Australia-New Zealand-United States.”
2 The New Zealand party uses the British spelling; the Australian Labor party, the American.