The New Zealand opposition has raised concerns about Australia’s AUKUS defense deal, saying it makes New Zealand less safe, while questioning whether the deal will ever go through.
Australia is New Zealand’s only military ally, but New Zealand is not involved in the Australia-US-UK military alliance, from which Australia will receive nuclear technology to power submarines.
Wellington, like many Pacific capitals, is staunchly anti-nuclear.
New Zealand has legislated to make its airspace and maritime waters nuclear-weapon-free zones.
The AUKUS deal has left many in New Zealand concerned about future interoperability between Anzac defense forces and the inability for Australian submarines to visit.
In addition, there is the question of whether the deal antagonizes China, as it seeks to build security from the regional superpower, rather than alongside it.
Foreign affairs spokesman for the New Zealand National Party, Gerry Brownlee, has concerns on both fronts.
When asked directly if AUKUS makes New Zealand safer, Brownlee was clear.
“No, I don’t think it will,” he told AAP.
“What I don’t like is the concept that we seem to be dividing the world.
“Where before were the communists, the European communist bloc and the rest of us, with a degree of uncertainty about very closed China.
“(We’re in a) position now where we say, ‘Well, Russia has gotten itself into a big mess. NATO is pretty strong. The Chinese want to assert themselves a little more on the world stage… so they must be the enemy and we have to worry about them.’
“I’m not sure that’s the right kind of thinking.
“I suppose you don’t want to be caught off guard. And that’s what Australia is deciding to do.”
Brownlee insisted that he welcomed increased US interest in the Pacific and more aid to Pacific nations.
The senior opposition MP, who was deputy national leader in the last election and defense minister in Sir John Key’s government, said he was also concerned about how Australia and New Zealand might work together in the Pacific under the AUKUS deal.
Many states on the Blue Continent also hold strident anti-nuclear views as a legacy of testing in the region.
Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Simon Kofe has made his country’s concerns clear with AUKUS, while Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa has tiptoed diplomatically on the issue on her recent trip to Australia.
Brownlee said the deal could lead to problems.
“We only have one alliance. It’s with Australia,” Brownlee said.
“Our position is that we need to continue to be as interoperable as possible with the Australians.
“If the Pacific has become an area of military competence, the question will be, how does that manifest itself?
“Where would I be if the Australians decided they wanted a submarine to visit? We can not do that. We will not change our laws. So there’s potentially going to be a little bit of an issue around that.”
The Christchurch-based MP said many of the concerns remained hypothetical until the AUKUS submarines were delivered.
“It is going to pose some problems for New Zealand. Nothing to get too excited about at the moment (as) Australia won’t have any of its submarines for another seven years at the earliest,” she said.
“If it happens to its full extent, who knows.”