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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

New Zealand: U.S. Security Cooperation and the U.S. Rebalancing to Asia Strategy

Bruce Vaughn
Acting Section Research Manager

As part of its strategy to rebalance toward Asia the Obama Administration has greatly expanded cooperation and reestablished close ties with New Zealand. Changes in the security realm have been particularly notable as the two sides have restored close defense cooperation, which was suspended in the mid-1980s due to differences over nuclear policy. The two nations are now working together increasingly closely in the area of defense and security cooperation while also seeking to coordinate efforts in the South Pacific. The United States and New Zealand are also working together to help shape emerging architectures in the Asia-Pacific such as the 11-nation Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement negotiation in which New Zealand has played a key role.

Members of Congress interested in oversight of the Obama Administration’s rebalancing to Asia strategy and the United States’ presence in the South Pacific as well as Members associated with the Friends of New Zealand Congressional Caucus may be interested in these new developments in the bilateral relationship. Congressional interest has also been demonstrated through Members’ participation in the Pacific Partnership Forum with New Zealand.

In discussing how the United States is updating alliances to address new demands and “building new partnerships,” then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton cited in November 2011 the outreach effort to New Zealand, among other countries, as “part of a broader effort to ensure a more comprehensive approach to American strategy and engagement in the region.” She added that “We are asking these emerging partners to join us in shaping and participating in a rulesbased regional and global order.” It is of interest to note that New Zealand, a nation that like Australia has fought alongside the United States in most of its wars, is now being reconceived as a “new” partner.

While the current right-of-center government of Prime Minister John Key has moved forward in restoring bilateral ties with the United States, some analysts in New Zealand are concerned that if this trend is taken too far it may threaten New Zealand’s trade interests with China. Others in New Zealand are also concerned that moving too far too fast with the United States may jeopardize New Zealand’s independence in foreign policy.

The Obama Administration’s move away from old restrictions on bilateral ties, as demonstrated by the opening of U.S. naval ports to New Zealand ships, will likely continue to move bilateral ties forward. This desire on both sides to continue to strengthen relations was demonstrated by the 2010 Wellington Declaration and the 2012 Washington Declaration. In the view of many, the improvement in bilateral relations marked by these two agreements will better enable both nations to navigate the shifting geopolitical dynamics of both the South Pacific and the larger the Asia Pacific region, including the rise of China. New Zealand’s national identity, values, and economic interests will all likely influence its external engagement in the years ahead. Values, as well as interests, have played a role in explaining past differences between the United States and New Zealand and why the two nations are once again close Pacific partners.

Date of Report: March 8, 2013
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R42993
Price: $29.95

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