NZ’s nuclear resolve

The fleeting visit by United States vice-president Joe Biden demonstrated again the growing warmth and strength of the relationship between New Zealand and the US.

The visit by Mr Biden, and his granddaughters, was significant in many ways.

Apart from the visit by former president Bill Clinton during an Apec summit in 1999, New Zealanders need to look back 30 years or so to a visit by former vice-president Spiro Agnew to find a visit as important and significant.

The relationship between the two countries went from strong - with New Zealand included in the Anzus treaty with Australia and the US - to being damaged after the anti-nuclear policy adopted and embraced by Kiwis.

In 1987, Labour passed the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act, meeting an election promise.

In a largely symbolic response, the US Congress retaliated with the Broomfield Act, downgrading New Zealand's status from ally to friend.

Former prime minister David Lange said if the security alliance was the price New Zealand must pay to remain nuclear-free, it was the price the country was prepared to pay.

In 1989, 52% of New Zealanders indicated they would rather break defence ties than admit nuclear-armed ships.

By 1990, National had signed up to the anti-nuclear stance.

There the situation has remained until Mr Biden accepted an invitation for the US to send a ship to the Royal New Zealand Navy's 75th birthday in November.

The acceptance is another expression of the close and co-operative relationship between the two countries.

The relationship has certainly improved in recent years.

New Zealand soldiers have served overseas alongside US troops, sometimes without the knowledge of the New Zealand public until after the event.

New Zealand wisely does not get involved in every conflict but it has provided valuable training for troops in war zones.

Prime Minister John Key has cultivated a warm relationship with US President Barack Obama, even to the extent of playing golf together while both leaders are on holiday in Hawaii.

New Zealand is consistently said to have made a difference in peace-keeping activities around the world, being an independent thinker when it comes to solving complex security issues.

New Zealand is part of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing network.

Although New Zealand is not seen as reliable as Australia as an ally, it does have qualities which it can bring to any situation.

So despite the urging of Mr Key, the return to New Zealand waters by a US ship in November cannot be taken lightly.

It is a win for the resolve of Kiwis to keep this country nuclear free.

It is not known if the US ship will be a warship or something tamer.

Under New Zealand's law, Mr Key has to sign a declaration he is satisfied the ship complies with New Zealand law, something he says he has done about 40 times since he became prime minister.

Publicly available information will make it possible for watchers of maritime issues to identify if the ship is nuclear-armed or nuclear-powered.

One of the major issues for New Zealand is the future of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which is opposed by the two presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

New Zealand has put a lot of effort into securing the TPP, which was signed in Auckland.

Without US support, the trade deal will not continue and negotiations will need to start again with perhaps a different group of nations, possibly led by China and Asia.

A ship visit will clearly signal US acceptance of New Zealand's nuclear-free policy.

Mr Biden also indicated the US would not veto the chances of former Labour prime minister Helen Clark's chances to become the next secretary-general of the United Nations.

Miss Clark was part of the Lange government which banned the visits by US ships in 1987.

A clearer indication the relationship between the two countries has changed would be hard to identify.

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