Australia, New Zealand Part Ways on Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

Seen from a distance, the differences between Australia and its smaller neighbor, New Zealand, appear slight, even microscopic - like their two accents, which outsiders often have trouble differentiating.

That was Peter Saunders's assumption, when he first joined the Center for Independent Studies, a libertarian think tank here. But the British sociologist is surprised by how much of his time and attention is spent on Australia's increasingly testy ties with New Zealand.

"Something is happening here that deserves careful attention," he says with a slight frown.

This past year has seen previously unimaginable cracks opening in what was once a watertight relationship. While the two continue to share much in terms of culture, colonial history, language, and religion, "the way in which the two are thinking about the development of ... foreign policy is very, very different in 2003," says Dr. Saunders. "I mean, just look at the Iraq situation."

Many Australians and New Zealanders have been looking.

This year, more than 1,000 Australian troops were rushed to the Middle East to join the opening coalition assault on Iraq, their presence constituting the third-largest national commitment to the Anglo-American forces gathered behind the US. For the first time in the two countries' history, New Zealand troops were not on hand to fight alongside their cousins in an international conflict.

Instead, the left-leaning government of the smaller of the two nations pinned its hopes on the role of the United Nations and multilateral diplomacy for dealing with the Iraqi regime.

New Zealand's Premier Helen Clark has warned repeatedly of what her administration sees as being the potential for the world to revert to a 19th century "law of the jungle" style of international relations, which could leave small countries like New Zealand at the mercy of the great powers, without the ameliorative influence of institutions like the UN.

Australia, meanwhile, believes its future lies in closer relations with the American superpower. This past April 25 - the date each year when New Zealand and Australia commemorate their war dead - the globetrotting itineraries of leaders from both countries suggests the extent of the divergence. …