Hooton on Labour’s disconnect with US ship visits

Matthew Hooton provides some facts behind the proposed US ship visit…turns out it isn’t just US ships invited, but others from nuclear nations as well, but Labour has only focussed on US ships.

Whoever briefed TVNZ couldn’t have done a better job of driving a wedge, a week before its crucial conference, between the Labour Party’s Phil Goff faction and its foaming-at-the-mouth activists who want the local party to emulate the UK’s Jeremy Corbyn by heading off to the extreme left.

Perhaps to appease the latter, acting leader Annette King bizarrely went on the attack when first asked for comment on TVNZ’s story.  What she could have done is declare victory for Labour’s 30-year-old anti-nuclear policy.

It turns out the navy has asked 30 countries to send ships to its party.  This includes the US and at least four other nuclear powers, China, Russia, the UK and France, whose naval vessels have been happily received in New Zealand since the anti-nuclear legislation was put in place in 1987.  It is not clear if invitations have also been extended to the navies of India and Pakistan, also declared nuclear powers.

So Labour is against US ships but hasn’t said a word about other ship visits in the past and has said nothing about ship visits for the future.

Under New Zealand’s anti-nuclear legislation, the prime-minister of the day is required to make a determination, based on an assessment by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), about whether or not a ship is nuclear armed.  It’s public knowledge which are nuclear powered.  Only if the prime minister is satisfied that the ship is completely nuclear-free, can he or she give approval for it to enter New Zealand waters.

This procedure has been carried out many times over the years, with prime ministers Jim Bolger, Jenny Shipley, Helen Clark and John Key approving visits by British, French and Chinese warships.  The Russian navy has sent training vessels to New Zealand.

As prime minister, Ms Clark made clear US warships are also welcome in New Zealand as long as they are conventionally powered and if she could be satisfied – as she was with British, French and Chinese warships – that they are not carrying nuclear weapons.

On no occasion did Ms Clark, any of the other prime ministers or officials specifically ask the governments of the UK, France, China or Russia whether or not particular vessels were carrying nuclear weapons.  No great power will ever specifically confirm or deny what weapons its individual ships are carrying, for obvious operational reasons.

Instead, reference has been made in advice to prime ministers to the policy positions of the various governments.  For example, in approving visits by UK warships, Mr Bolger, Mrs Shipley, Ms Clark and Mr Key have taken on trust the June 1992 announcement by British Defence Secretary Malcolm Rifkind that the Royal Navy had removed all nuclear weapons from its surface ships.

For the US, President George H W Bush announced on September 27, 1991, that its navy would no longer carry nuclear weapons on its surface ships.  Following President Bush’s 1991 nuclear-free commitment, New Zealand prime ministers, including Ms Clark, have said they would be happy to welcome a conventionally powered US warship to our waters.

As foreign minister in 2007, Mr Goff tried to get the ball rolling by encouraging a visit by the US Coast Guard.

It would be incredible for Andrew Little’s Labour Party to now do a U-turn from that position and instead, as some of his activists are demanding, oppose all visits by the US Navy.

Labour aren’t opposed to ship visits per se, just ship visits from the Great Satan.

In terms of foreign policy, if the US accepts New Zealand’s invitation, it will remove the last chink in the “very, very, very good friendship” between the former allies and normalise relations in a post-Cold War world.

The two navies work extremely closely already, including in keeping shipping lanes open and in looking after New Zealand’s massive 30 million square-kilometre search and rescue region, one of the largest in the world, stretching from the equator to the Antarctic, halfway to Australia and halfway to Chile.

We can’t do that on our own, and it is ridiculous – a quarter century since President Bush’s 1991 announcement – that two Five Eyes partners have been unable to work out a diplomatic path for US personnel to enjoy the delights of Ponsonby, the Viaduct and other local attractions, and New Zealanders to get a close-up look at serious military kit, when US naval vessels are in the region.

In terms of domestic politics, the US accepting the invitation would prove that Labour has been right all along and National wrong when it periodically flirted with repealing the anti-nuclear legislation in exchange for a free-trade agreement, prior to Mr Key becoming leader.  With last month’s signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), any argument the anti-nuclear legislation would need to be “gone by lunchtime” to achieve a free-trade deal has been conclusively defeated.

Within the National Party, a ship visit would also be a victory for the dovish Mr McCully and Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee over some of the more hawkish voices of the past.

For all these reasons, you’d think Labour would feel the urge to put the boot into their opponents by celebrating the proposed ship visit at its weekend conference.  But, of course, for many in Labour, the policy has never been primarily about keeping New Zealand nuclear-free but about their visceral loathing of everything American.  The weekend will reveal which emotion is stronger for Mr Little.

Labour remain opposed to everything American, despite the fact a hard left idiot is currently the Democrat President of the US.



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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

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