New Zealand Marches to Its Own Beat; Australia Takes Up Military Slack for Pacifist, Anti-Nuke Neighbor

Article excerpt

Byline: Janaki Kremmer, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

SYDNEY, Australia - In a region isolated by distance from the rest of the world but close to failing states like the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, New Zealand's reluctance to shoulder more of the defense burden in the South Pacific has been a source of irritation for Australia for more than two decades.

"The fact that New Zealand never committed [itself] to the levels of defense spending required for keeping up a full range of hardware for all capabilities was what gave Australia so much tension," said Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University.

"It had an army, navy and air force, but put no money into maintaining them," he said.

And since New Zealand was evicted from the 1951 ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States) treaty in 1986 for refusing to allow American nuclear-powered or nuclear-weapons-carrying ships in its waters, governments on the east side of the Tasman Sea have been moving steadily away from Australia because Canberra is closely allied to Washington.

"New Zealand's anti-nuclear, pacifist stance has now become a part of its identity and what keeps it fiercely independent from the only superpower in the world," said Peter Cozens, executive director of the Center for Strategic Studies, an independent national think tank at Victoria University at Wellington, New Zealand's capital.

But along the way, it was also denied access to U.S. intelligence and communications.

F-16 lease canceled

In 2000, New Zealand canceled a lease-to-buy deal for 28 American F-16 fighter jets because of budget constraints. It cut back its number of modern warships to two, and reduced its air force.

These drastic moves toward further isolation dismayed its own generals and affected the morale of its armed forces.

"It left the defense forces gasping for sustenance," said Mr. Cozens. "A lot of people have felt uncomfortable about these decisions in the past, and now, with the realization that the end of the Cold War has only opened a Pandora's box and created more trouble spots, its time, they feel, to contribute in the best way possible," he added.

Army getting boost

A country with under 4 million people - less than the population of Maryland - it has now decided to boost defense spending by (U.S.) $3.3 billion to be spent over the next 10 years, mainly to modernize equipment and add hundreds more ground troops.

It currently spends the equivalent of $856 million per year on defense - less than 1 percent of its gross domestic product.

By the end of the 10-year funding package, New Zealand will have increased its defense force operational baseline funding by 51 percent since the present government took office in 1999.

"It's about recognizing that it's time to complete the job of reversing the decay of the 1990s," New Zealand Defense Minister Mark Burton told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. when the budget was announced early this month.

"Not everyone doing a little bit of everything, but rather that we can make realistic contributions," Mr. Burton added.

Doing what it can

In other words, the New Zealand military will concentrate on where it can, and has in the past best contributed to peacekeeping, leaving the heavy lifting to Australia, which has five times as many people as New Zealand. …