ANZUS, the military alliance linking Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, is beset by turmoil and ill will. In its pursuit of an uncompromising anti-nuclear policy, New Zealand bars atomic-powered and nuclear-armed American naval vessels from its ports. In response, the United States has excluded New Zealand from military exercises and has otherwise frozen New Zealand out of intra-alliance affairs for more than a year. Officials in Washington and Wellington repeatedly exchange barbed accusations. U.S. leaders charge the New Zealand government with “shirking” its alliance responsibilities and are denounced in turn for engaging in “overbearing,” even “totalitarian” behavior. While relations between the United States and Australia have not reached such a nadir, serious stresses trouble that front as well.
Once considered an amicable democratic partnership and one of America’s most stable alliances, ANZUS is now subject to serious doubts about whether it has, or even ought to have, a future. The quarrel with New Zealand is providing the catalyst for a badly needed reassessment of the 35-year-old military association. U.S. policymakers must confront the reality that ANZUS has outlived whatever limited use it may have possessed at one time. The ultimate test of their statesmanship with respect to the alliance is whether they can now implement a strategic divorce without bitterness and recrimination.