Monday 20 Aug 2018 | 01:02 | SYDNEY
Monday 20 Aug 2018 | 01:02 | SYDNEY

Can the US hug a Kiwi?


Graeme Dobell

7 May 2010 09:18

Barack Obama has copped a lot of abuse for being polite to US enemies. The Obama readiness to be flexible on the international stage means his administration might be able to take a little pain to hug an old friend.

The Obama moment offers the best chance in 25 years to end the alliance split between the US and New Zealand, but can the Kiwis accept a hug?

The original divorce was precipitated by New Zealand and enforced by the US. Today, the US would probably have no problem in finessing the issue. The true difficulty in bringing ANZUS out of the deep freeze lies with the Kiwis. And maybe Australia isn’t too fussed either about restoring the old trilateral alliance.

Obama has shown his willingness to think new thoughts about US nuclear policy. That was an important element in the US willingness to sign the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. And now the US has announced it is ready to drink to the full that bubbly Pacific cocktail, pronounced SPiNFiZ. Hillary Clinton says the US will ratify the Treaty of Rarotonga, which established the South Pacific Nuclear Weapons Free Zone.

SPiNFiZ was a product of a strange, fraught period in 1985. New Zealand was crashing out of the alliance over the issue of US nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered ships. The Clouseaus of the French secret service were murdering innocents by blowing up a Greenpeace protest ship in Auckland harbour.

The Hawke Government needed SPiNFiZ to placate the left of the Labor Party and to ensure the Kiwi nuke allergy didn’t spread too virulently across the Pacific. The South Pacific Forum mixed up SPiNFiZ in August 1985. The treaty prohibits the testing, production, acquisition, possession or stationing of nuclear weapons in the South Pacific.

From Canberra’s perspective, the beauty of the Hawke cocktail is that the treaty does not stop US ships sailing through the zone — or docking in Australian ports. The protocols of the treaty were signed by China and the Soviet Union in 1987; the US, Britain and France signed in 1996. Ratifying will complete this process for the US.

If the US can embrace the nuclear allergies contained within the ASEAN TAC and the Forum SPiNFiZ, then it is not a huge leap of imagination to revisit the 1986 decision to expel New Zealand from ANZUS.

The US War on Terror didn’t provide a vehicle for the US to forgive New Zealand, although it certainly warmed up relations. No New Zealand government could have changed its nuclear stance to do a deal with George W. Bush. Changing the no nukes policy to join hands with Bush would have been political poison in New Zealand.

The political stars in Washington are as well aligned today as they’re ever likely to be if Wellington truly wants to revive the alliance. A hug from Obama is far more palatable in Kiwi politics than even a handshake from Bush. Witness the words of former New Zealand Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, on how Obama can help the Kiwis move beyond the nuclear issue.

Without harming US military power in any way, Obama has brushed aside some Cold War policy debris standing in the way of better relations with Asia and now with the Pacific Forum. Obama confronts New Zealand with a question: Can Kiwi politicians actually brace the voters to re-enter the military embrace of the US?

However marginal a shift, that hug would require a change in the wording (if not the reality) of the Kiwi nuclear allergy.

Photo by Flickr user Sheep"R"Us, used under a Creative Commons licence.