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The US, New Zealand and Australia had co-operated closely during World War II; however, an accident of geography meant the ANZAC nations1 were the only Western states left out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation formed in 1949. New Zealand and Australia were initially more concerned about the re-emergence of Japan than communism. At the outbreak of the Korean war, The US sought consent to Japanese rearmament from its World War II partners. An alliance was suggested by the US as a safeguard and readily accepted by the ANZACs. The treaty was concluded in San Francisco in 1951.
Unlike the NATO treaty text, in ANZUS the obligations of signatories are vague; there is little more than a duty to consult in the event of a crisis. However, reinforced by the SEATO alliance2, the treaty formed the basis of ANZAC thinking for 25 years. It was cited as a reason for frequent tripartate exercises, and the presence of electronic intelligence and communications bases in both Australia and New Zealand. Despite this the treaty was never invoked, even when the three nations fought together in Korea and Vietnam.
Bob Hawke and the MX - Australia offends Reagan
In the early 1980s, Australia's conservative government agreed to allow testing of the MX missile in the Tasman sea. It was widely rumoured that there were plans to base MX missiles in Australia. When Australian left-wing Prime Minster Bob Hawke was elected, he promptly withdrew Australia from the testing programme, provoking criticism from the Reagan administration. However, the matter was quietly dropped in the wake of a more dramatic policy change from the other side of the Tasman.
David Lange and Nuclear Ships - the US suspends New Zealand
The Lange-led Labour government of New Zealand banned nuclear armed or powered ships from its harbours in 1985. This was ostensibly due to concerns about safety, but an underlying reason was a protest against both superpowers' nuclear deterrent policy of 'Mutually Assured Destruction'. The new law stopped any vessel from visiting New Zealand unless it was certified free from nuclear weapons - certification Labour knew would breach the United States Navy's 'neither confirm nor deny' policy. Since the battle of the Coral Sea the USN occasionally sent vessels to New Zealand, essentially to give their sailors rest and recreation somewhere the locals could speak English, (or something like English, where all other vowels had sucumbed to a hostile take-over by the letter 'u'). The visits passed without incident, (occasional complaints of veneral disease excepted), until the mid-1970s, after which every American vessel was greeted by an anti-nuclear protest flotilla of local hippies in their yachts 3.
In retaliation, the United States 'suspended' its obligations under the ANZUS treaty to New Zealand.
There was a period of tension, during which New Zealand tried to find a compromise by telling the Americans the policy was not for export - although as David Lange toured Europe he did little to dissuade the European media's interest, quipping that a heckler at the Oxford Union had uranium on his breath, and when the US asked Britain to intervene, Lange accused Margaret Thatcher of addressing him as if he were the Nuremberg Rally. The US pressure to change the policy was interpreted by many as an attempt to remove the Lange government; it was widely suspected at the time that the fall of Australian Prime Minister Whitlam's anti-American government had been assisted by the CIA. Ronald Reagan denied any intention to directly interfere in New Zealand, dismissing the country as 'a dagger pointed at the heart of the Antarctic'. Lange too treated the matter as a joke:
Will the United States pull the rug on New Zealand? The answer is no. They might polish the lino a bit harder and hope that I execute a rather unseemly glide across it.
In a B-movie moment, French secret service agents blew up the Greenpeace anti-nuclear protest boat 'Rainbow Warrior' in Auckland harbour, only to be caught by the local neighbourhood watch. In the wake of this bombing, opinion polls showed a movement from the majority of the New Zealand public supporting ANZUS to opposing it: the unsubtle pressure had the reverse effect from that intended, as A248681 became an important part of Kiwi identity. Voter reaction to perceived Franco-American bullying forced the conservative National party to adopt the nuclear free policy in the late 1980s, and even the tiny extreme right wing ACT4. party suffered a plunge in popularity when it suggested changing the legislation.
As far as the alliance goes, although both sides make occasional noises of regret, neither seems particularly keen to restart the treaty - which would require New Zealand to permit nuclear weapons on its territory, or America to lift the 'suspension'.
Australia and Iraq - Howard's Reservations
The Treaty continues bilaterally between The United States and Australia, and between New Zealand and Australia, although whether it would be honoured remains uncertain. Australian Prime Minister John Howard expressed disappointment that the US did not send troops to East Timor under the ANZUS 'relationship' - though military commitment was clearly not required by the treaty. Australia made a point of using ANZUS to justify sending troops to Afghanistan, (though New Zealand sent troops regardless). Shortly afterwards, Howard sent Australian troops and bombers into Iraq; an action for which he was widely criticised internationally and domestically and which lead to an abortive attempt to arrest him as a war criminal. In 2004 Australian opposition Leader Mark Latham promised to bring Australian troops home from Iraq if elected. He was not. In response to the perception Australia was overly influenced by Washington, Howard distanced himself from ANZUS, saying Australia would not be bound by ANZUS if America provoked war with the bogey states of that moment, Iran and China.
More bizarrely, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark condemned the invasion of Iraq, and then proceeded to send a small number of troops to support it, without attracting any significant domestic or international criticism.
In 2005 the Australian Ambassador to the US suggested the treaty should be renegotiated 'in the context of terrorism'.
Australia has suggested New Zealand's low defence spending amounts to a breach of the treaty - being particularly upset about New Zealand's failure to buy more than two Australian built 'ANZAC' frigates, and the withdrawal of the A4K Skyhawks of the Royal New Zealand Air Force's5 Two Squadron from an Australian base at Nowra. New Zealand's most recent defence purchases have come from the UK and Europe. In contrast, Australia has progressively increased defence spending, and tends to buy largely US equipment, (most recently ordering F35 Joint Strike Fighters).
Since World War II, the ANZUS nations have fought together in Korea, Vietnam, in both Gulf Wars and Afghanistan. Without America, Australia and New Zealand fought together in preventing Indonesian-supported forces from annexing Malaysia, and recently co-operated in removing Indonesian-supported forces from East Timor. The ANZUS alliance was not invoked to justify these actions. In America it was - except for a brief moment in 1985 - an unimportant obscurity, as it was evident the ANZACs could be relied upon, with or with out it. In the last twenty years the ANZUS alliance has arguably done more to divide the three nations than bring them together. In both New Zealand and Australia the treaty became a shorthand focus for campaigners concerned about US policies largely unrelated to the defensive alliance itself. Throughout South East Asia, the dominoes remain standing. The communist threat now consists of little but North Korea. The Japanese have abandoned militarism, and seek world domination through autarchic trade policies, just the same as any NATO state. After 50 years, the treaty may now be becoming less relevant to all parties.