On the face of it, it doesn't look like much: one Orion aircraft, a liaison officer, and two customs staff sent from New Zealand to participate in multinational defense force exercises aimed at capturing ships carrying weapons of mass destruction.
But Operation Deep Sabre, taking place this week off Singapore's coast, is a rare instance, where US troops will be training alongside New Zealand troops.
Since New Zealand was thrown out of the ANZUS alliance, in which the US guarantees the security of New Zealand and Australia, New Zealand has mostly been out in the cold - missing out on the technological breakthroughs and experience of the past 20 years.
The US Embassy in New Zealand has refused to comment on whether this move means a thawing of relations. The US-New Zealand divide began in 1985, when in accordance with its new antinuclear stance, the latter refused a visit from a US warship. "The US strongly supports New Zealand's participation in the PSI (proliferation security initiative) so as a result we have issued a waiver in this situation so they can participate," an embassy spokesperson said in a statement published by the New Zealand Herald.
Since 9/11, the US has increased cooperation with countries who can help in the fight against terrorism. New Zealand sent troops to Afghanistan, and for a short time helped with the reconstruction of Iraq.
New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark has been strongly advocating opening negotiations with the US. The new US trade representative, Robert Portman, is regarded as being more sympathetic to Wellington than his predecessor.
Experts say these changes are more step-by-step than a revolutionary shift. "I regard the continuing exclusion of New Zealand as very strange," says former New Zealand cabinet minister, Derek Quigley, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University's …