New Zealand: A Reality Check —
‘But Isn’t NZ Nuclear-Free And Out Of ANZUS?’
By Murray Horton in Christchurch, political activist and writer since 1969. He’s the Organiser for the Anti-Bases Campaign (ABC, www.converge.org.nz/abc), ( and also for the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA, www.cafca.org.nz)
I recently spoke at an Australian peace movement conference in my capacity as Organiser for the Anti-Bases Campaign. My speech involved the interesting exercise of having to look at my own country from an outsider’s perspective. Here’s an edited extract.
Viewed from Australia, New Zealand probably looks pretty good. For example, 2017 marks the 30th anniversary of the country having become nuclear free by law.
Despite there having been several changes of Government in those three decades, and threats to reverse it flaring up occasionally, it has now become the status quo, accepted by all political parties and adhered to regardless of which major party is in Government.
It has become part of the furniture, part of New Zealand’s “brand” of being “clean, green and nuclear-free”.
The last ‘flare up’
The campaign last flared up in the mid 90’s when our old mates the French, the same “ally” that murderously bombed the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland in the mid 80’s, arrogantly resumed nuclear testing in the South Pacific.
The grassroots NZ response was spontaneous and immediate, with mass actions on the streets and yet another peace squadron launched to join a long and honourable history of them. The French very quickly abandoned the whole thing and have never resumed Pacific testing.
A whole generation of young Kiwis has grown up knowing nothing else. As part of becoming nuclear free, New Zealand was unceremoniously kicked out of ANZUS by the Reagan Administration, aided and abetted by Australia’s Hawke government.
Despite dire warnings in the 1980s, the sky did not fall. A few months ago, I gave a speech at an Auckland university – afterwards, the young student journalist covering it thanked me, because she found what I said about ANZUS to be different to what she’d been taught in high school. My point is that, in NZ, ANZUS is taught in school as history.
NZ’s independent foreign policy
But wait, there’s more. To give a couple of examples, the illegal 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq marked the first foreign war which New Zealand refused to join.
And NZ played the key role in reaching a lasting peace settlement in Bougainville – under a National government, to boot. Looking back over the whole 70+ years of the US Empire, New Zealand has always been a much less gung ho junior satellite than Australia – none of our Prime Ministers has relished being anointed as the “Deputy Sheriff” by the US President of the day (as John Howard was by George Bush).
The last time US Marines had a base in NZ was during WW2; we don’t host a base of the sinister importance of Pine Gap.
To all appearances, NZ is a bit player. So, what’s the problem? Because all is not as rosy as it might appear in this South Pacific Garden of Heavenly Peace. Let’s start with the nuclear free law.
It was not bestowed from on high by David Lange or any other politician but was the result of a truly magnificent grassroots campaign that lasted for years, involved the whole country and was a model of its type to the rest of the world.
What tends to be forgotten is that the 1980s’ Lange Labour government tried to have its cake and eat it i.e. by going nuclear free and staying in ANZUS.
The Yanks were having none of that and kicked us out. Thank God – imagine being in ANZUS with Trump (Australians don’t have to imagine – they are).
And that same Labour government went to great lengths to assure our big brothers that we wouldn’t spread “the Kiwi disease” to any other countries, let alone fellow bit players in the US Empire. And we haven’t.
Iraq — where NZ is involved militarily
As for staying out of the 2003 Iraq War – well, the Clark Labour government did later send so-called “non-combat” forces there, who ended up helping the illegal occupiers’ combat forces. And the New Zealand military has been “training” the Iraqi military for the past several years, under the banner of “fighting ISIS”. So, New Zealand is a current military participant in the Iraq War.
Do an online search using the key words “Mosul white phosphorus” and you’ll be as surprised as I was to discover a New Zealand brigadier-general quoted, in June this year, as confirming the use of that horrible stuff in the battle for Mosul.
How come a New Zealand officer was speaking on behalf of the coalition forces fighting ISIS and what has defending the use of white phosphorus got to do with training the Iraqi military?
‘A loyal junior partner’
Despite being both nuclear free and out of ANZUS, NZ has continued to be a loyal junior partner to the US in American wars such as in Afghanistan (and NZ’s role in that war has been under the spotlight in 2017, with Nicky Hager’s new book “Hit & Run” proving that our “heroic” SAS has the blood of innocents on its hands).
The New Zealand military has been in Afghanistan since the start of the modern equivalent of the Hundred Years War and a handful remains there today (indeed, the Government has just, in August, acceded to a US request to slightly increase that handful). NZ’s past and present role in the war in Afghanistan is currently the subject of major scrutiny by the mainstream media.
NZ’s role as a junior cog in the US Empire
In July this year, 700 NZ military personnel took part in the regular Talisman Sabre exercise in northern Queensland with US and Australian forces. That is a straight out ANZUS exercise, so what is “out of ANZUS” New Zealand doing in it?
What’s more, it is an exercise which rehearses war with China – New Zealand’s biggest and most important trading partner. Also, this year, an NZ frigate stepped in to fill the gap in US Navy ranks in Asian waters when a US warship was taken out in a collision with a container ship – that deployment is arguably illegal under NZ’s nuclear-free law.
The fact of the matter is that NZ is a fully functioning, albeit junior, military and intelligence cog in the US Empire.
Two agreements signed in recent years – the 2010 Wellington Declaration and the 2012 Washington Declaration – have formalised that ANZUS-in-all-but-name alliance.
Wikileaks reveals NZ real role
A huge release by Wikileaks in 2010 of US documents about its relationship with NZ provided a very detailed account. The powers that be, both in NZ and the US, have been actively working to nullify those facts on the ground – NZ being nuclear free and out of ANZUS – to get around them, to subvert them, and to render them irrelevant.
To test the waters (pun intended), in 2016 a US warship was sent to Auckland to be the centrepiece of the NZ Navy’s 75th anniversary celebrations, a political propaganda role to soften up NZ public opinion by being the first US warship to visit NZ in more than 30 years.
Its presence in NZ waters coincided with the biggest earthquake NZ has experienced in recent years and that was seized on as public relations gold. That warship bypassed Auckland and joined quake relief operations at Kaikoura.
The US military base in’Peace City’ (Christchurch)
And NZ has bases – hence the existence of the Anti-Bases Campaign (ABC). Nothing on the scale of those in Aussie but bases nonetheless.
For more than 60 years my home city of Christchurch has hosted a medium-level, multi-purpose US military transport base at Christchurch International Airport (which has the wonderfully evocative acronym of CIA). It is not, and never has been, a combat base, but it’s worth noting that it is specifically exempt from the nuclear free law.
Its primary purpose is to service Antarctica but that has always covered many more directly military and intelligence functions. It used to be a key link in servicing the US bases in Australia, such as Pine Gap.
Its outright military role is much less important now but recent research by ABC has established that it still hosts US military flights that have nothing to do with Antarctica. The US keeps it as a contingency asset. So, Christchurch, which is a self-proclaimed Peace City, located in nuclear free NZ, hosts a US base.
The other two bases are nominally “New Zealand” ones, operated by the NZ Government Communications Security Bureau. Of the two bases run by the GCSB, by far the most important is the Waihopai spy base. New Zealand has been a member of the Five Eyes secret intelligence gathering alliance since it was founded in the 1940s.
It is the smallest member, behind the US, UK, Canada and Australia but a member nonetheless.
John Key, described Five Eyes as “the club” and went on the record as saying that NZ’s current military involvement in Iraq “is the price of the club”. We are the most loyal of junior satellites in this vitally important covert intelligence alliance, the secret ANZUS best illustrated by the Waihopai spy base.
Waihopai, and our very active membership of Five Eyes, are, by far, NZ’s most important contributions to the US Empire – much more so than a handful of SAS
soldiers in Afghanistan or NZ Army “trainers” in Iraq.
Just as there is bipartisan consensus among National and Labour in support of the nuclear free policy, there is simultaneously bipartisan support for Waihopai and NZ’s continued membership of Five Eyes.
David Lange, the Labour Prime Minister who gets the credit for the nuclear free law, was the same PM who approved the building of Waihopai. Both things – nuclear free law and go-ahead for Waihopai – happened in the same year, 1987.
Years after he quit politics, in his quite extraordinary Foreword to Nicky’s Hager’s “Secret Power” (still the definitive book on Waihopai and Five Eyes), Lange wrote: “But it was not until I read this book that I had any idea that we had been committed to an international integrated electronic network”.
Speaking of Nicky, he wrote: “an astonishing number of people have told him things that I, as Prime Minister in charge of the Intelligence services, was never told”.
But Labour in Government has never done anything about Waihopai or Five Eyes – the imminent election won’t make any difference to that. In a 2017 letter to an ABC member, Labour’s then Leader, Andrew Little, wrote: “Labour supports our remaining in the network” i.e. Five Eyes.
Waihopai, Five Eyes, the active military/intelligence alliance with the US, membership of the US Empire, foreign policy or New Zealand’s place in the world – none of that has even been mentioned in the election campaign by any of the parties. That is the reality check.