It’s been a fairly important time in NZ politics this week, with Prime Minister Helen Clark meeting with Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday, and then George Bush on Wednesday (Rueters photos above). A free trade agreement (FTA) has always been at the forefront of any NZ mission to Capitol Hill, which was stymied some 20 years ago when NZ banned nuclear warships from NZ waters, effectively cancelling the 35-year ANZUS military alliance (joint Australia-New Zealand-US). The country’s new legislation established NZ as the first ever, single-nation, nuclear weapons-free zone, and the only country that has put its nuclear-free policy into law.
Wednesday’s big step seems to be that Bush conceded that New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy is strongly supported by Kiwis - some acknowledgment that America no longer seeks to change it.
NZ’s relations with the US goes a long way back, not as far as with the UK, of course (the ‘mother country’), but NZ is one of only two countries that has stood by the US in pretty much every war since WWII. We sent (and lost) troops to Korea, Vietnam, the Indonesia-Malaysian Confrontation, the Sinai, Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti, Kuwait, Kosovo, East Timor etc; NZ troops were sent to the first Gulf War and are currently serving in Afghanistan. And even though we officially condemned the current Iraq War, we sent defence force personnel there to help with post-war reconstruction and the provision of humanitarian aid.
In 1976, NZ’s new National Government announced that it would welcome nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed warships. There were massive street marches in response, and the USS Truxton was brought to a resounding halt by a spectacular protest fleet of 80 vessels, ranging from bathtubs to gin palaces, sailed, paddled or rowed out into Wellington Harbour (our capital), making a physical blockade to stop the US warship.
Election year again in 1984. As the election approached, as a result of intense public pressure, the Labour party committed itself to work actively for a nuclear-free Pacific, and to ban nuclear-powered or nuclear weapon carrying ships. The US decided to test the resolve of the new Labour Government by requesting permission for the USS Buchanan to visit, an obvious rust bucket but still operating under the neither-confirm-nor-deny policy whether it was nuclear-powered or carrying nuclear weapons. David Lange, the new Prime Minister, showed he meant business by saying, “No”.
So after Helen’s visit this week, the FTA is still hanging, but perhaps the US now recognizes that small countries can still support a super-power in general terms and yet appreciate that they can be a positive force for democracy by sticking to their (non-nuclear) guns within their own small borders.
PS. I had a real treat Thursday night - Canadian Ckayaker stayed with us on his journey from Florida back home to Quebec - and SandyBottom joined us for dinner. Just wonderful meeting this absolute gentleman and hearing all about his family and stories from his youth to present day. What a great tool these blogs can be. And one never knows, there could be a paddle way up north on the cards one day...