Friendly Fire: Nuclear Politics and the Collapse of ANZUS, 1984-1987.

Author:Dingman, Roger
Position:Book review

FRIENDLY FIRE: Nuclear Politics and the Collapse of ANZUS, 1984-1987.

Author: Gerald Hensley

Published by: Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2013, 318pp, $45.

This book's title encapsulates its central argument: the 1984-87 dispute between New Zealand and the United States over port visits by possibly nuclear armed American warships discharged two volleys of 'friendly fire'. New Zealand's Labour government shot itself--and the country--in the foot by insisting and eventually legislating that no such vessels could enter New Zealand waters. The Reagan administration refused to budge from America's 'neither confirm nor deny' policy about the presence of nuclear arms aboard its ships and retaliated against New Zealand. The end result was the destruction of ANZUS.

How and why did that happen? Who was responsible for a difference of opinion escalating into bitter quarrel that even the best of diplomats could not resolve? Could the whole unhappy affair have been avoided? And what difference did the dispute make for New Zealand, its understanding of its role in the world, and its foreign relations?

Gerald Hensley is uniquely qualified to answer these questions. Readers of this journal may recall that he was head of the Prime Minister's Department at the time. He did not simply observe events but actively participated in meetings and negotiations meant to avert the breakup of ANZUS. As a distinguished retired civil servant, he was able to gain access to archives of his own, the American, and the Australian and British governments that remain dosed to non-offcial researchers. He has interviewed virtually all of the surviving participants in the events he describes. Hensley also brings to this work the insights of a talented historian evident in his two previously published books.

The book's dozen chapters fall logically into three sections. The first four focus on the origins of the dispute over ship visits and efforts to resolve it. 1984 elections in both countries portended trouble. New Zealand voters put a Labour party deeply divided over economic and nuclear issues in power. The new prime minister, David Lange, was an unpredictable, larger-than-life figure who worried officials and stirred suspicions within his own party. Ronald Reagan won a landslide vote that stiffened his administration's determination to continue its tough approach to the Soviet Union. Keeping Moscow guessing as to where America's strategic deterrents might be by refusing...

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