In the mid 1960s the framework of New Zealand's foreign policy was tested by involvement in the Vietnam War in alliance with the United States. That involvement provoked the first substantial debate there had ever been in New Zealand on foreign policy: Labour and National disagreed as they had not since the mid 1930s; the consensus on an independent foreign policy collapsed. From 1968 onwards the United States was as committed to disengagement from the conflict as it had been in 1965 to engagement in it. Some of the points of difference between the parties and within public opinion in New Zealand over the war abated. But the war, and events associated with or parallel to it, also gave new meanings to the notion of independence in New Zealand foreign policy. We will consider those new meanings in a section following this chapter.
We can identify the characteristic elements of the independent foreign policy in the way different segments of opinion responded to the issues raised by the Vietnam War. Conservative opinion stressed publicly that participation in the war was necessary to stop Communism; privately, the importance of securing New Zealand's security guarantee was emphasised. In this formulation independence was defined in terms of interest, and interest clearly required New Zealand to cooperate with the United States, Australia, and their Asian allies. Domestic considerations fostered the pursuit of another interest--keeping the commitment of New Zealand resources to the war to a minimum. Labour opinion drew on elements from the independent foreign policy consensus of the early 1960s that were particularly important in its ideological tradition: the importance of economic and social rather than military solutions and of the role that both the Commonwealth and the United Nations could and should play in the resolution of the conflict.
Before 1965 involvement in Southeast Asia was broadly acceptable to both political parties. There were differences of emphasis between them but not of fundamentals. New Zealand forces were deployed in the region, but their