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New Zealand - U.S. Relations

By the year 2011 bilateral relations were the best they have been in decades. The United States and New Zealand share common elements of history and culture and a commitment to democratic principles. Senior-level officials regularly consult with each other on issues of mutual importance. One of the landmarks in the improving relationship was Secretary Hillary Clinton's November 2010 visit to New Zealand when she signed the "Wellington Declaration" with New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully. The Declaration is a bold statement reaffirming close ties between the two countries and outlining future practical cooperation in a number of specific areas.

The United States established consular representation in New Zealand in 1839 to represent and protect American shipping and whaling interests. Since the U.K. was responsible for New Zealand's foreign affairs, direct U.S.-New Zealand diplomatic ties were not established until 1942, when the Japanese threat encouraged close U.S.-New Zealand cooperation in the Pacific campaign. During the war, more than 400,000 American military personnel were stationed in New Zealand to prepare for crucial battles such as Tarawa and Guadalcanal.

New Zealand's relationship with the United States in the post-World War II period was closely associated with the Australia- New Zealand-United States (ANZUS) security treaty of 1951, under which signatories agreed to consult in case of an attack in the Pacific and to "act to meet the common danger." During the postwar period, access to New Zealand ports by U.S. vessels contributed to the flexibility and effectiveness of U.S. naval forces in the Pacific.

Growing concern about nuclear testing in the South Pacific and arms control issues contributed to the 1984 election of a Labour government committed to barring nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered warships from New Zealand ports. The government's nuclear-free policy proved incompatible with long-standing, worldwide U.S. policy of neither confirming nor denying the presence or absence of nuclear weapons onboard U.S. vessels.

Implementation of New Zealand's policy effectively prevented practical alliance cooperation under ANZUS, and after extensive efforts to resolve the issue proved unsuccessful, in August 1986 the United States suspended its ANZUS security obligations to New Zealand. Even after President George H.W. Bush's 1991 announcement that U.S. surface ships do not normally carry nuclear weapons, New Zealand's legislation prohibiting visits of nuclear-powered ships continues to preclude a bilateral security alliance with the U.S. The legislation enjoys broad public and political support in New Zealand. The United States would welcome New Zealand's reassessment of its legislation to permit that country's return to full ANZUS cooperation.

A ban on military exercises with the New Zealand Defense Force has been in effect since 1986, when, in response to New Zealand's anti-nuclear legislation, the U.S. suspended the New Zealand portion of the ANZUS Treaty. In addition, the U.S. placed numerous restrictions on U.S. - New Zealand military relations. Subsequent to the events of 1984-1986, many aspects of the U.S. - New Zealand military relationship have resumed. New Zealand buys U.S. military hardware, trains soldiers in U.S. military schools, and participates in U.S. hosted seminars and meetings. Most importantly, New Zealand Defense Forces serve alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan and in the Arabian Sea. The U.S. is willing to approve New Zealand Defense Force participation in exercises when those exercises support efforts in the Global War on Terrorism. The Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy country program directors for New Zealand report that the "specifics regarding exceptions to this policy are classified."23

Despite suspension of U.S. security obligations, the New Zealand Government has reaffirmed the importance it attaches to continued close political, economic, and social ties with the United States and Australia. New Zealand actively engages in peacekeeping and international security efforts around the world. It has deployed both SAS and regular armed forces personnel to Afghanistan, together with naval and air assets to the Persian Gulf. New Zealand has worked closely with the U.S. to promote free trade in the WTO, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group, and other multilateral fora. It is also actively working to conclude a trade agreement with the United States through the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The U.S. and New Zealand work together closely on scientific research in the Antarctic. Christchurch is the staging area for joint logistical support operations serving U.S. permanent bases at McMurdo Station and South Pole, and New Zealand's Scott base, (located just three kilometers from McMurdo Station in the Ross Sea region).

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:01:49 ZULU