Printer Friendly

The untold story behind New Zealand's ANZUS breakdown.

Twenty years after the Nuclear-Free Zone Disarmament and Arms Control Bill passed into law on 4 June 1987, the event has assumed a heroic mythology. New Zealand dared to stand up to the United States and forge its own independent foreign policy.

So powerful is the myth that in early 2007, John Key, the new leader of the National Party, made it clear that his party would adhere to the status quo on any potential visit by nuclear-powered warships. He recognised domestic political and cultural realities.

The success of the NZ peace movement in creating a doomsday panic was described by Merwyn Norrish, the secretary of foreign affairs, back in 1984: (1)

"There was much that was dispiriting in the way in which the public debate on nuclear matters and peace issues was conducted in the months leading up to the general election of November 1984.

"Assertions with no basis in fact were often made. Visitors like Helen and Bill Caldicott, the anti-nuclear campaigners, stated actual falsehoods with such astonishing self-assurance that they were uncritically believed.

"Prejudices, often those of small minorities, were paraded as though they were the will of the majority. Factors relating to the security of New Zealand, and quite different factors relating to superpower rivalry, were presented as one and the same thing.

"Government policy was alleged to be different from what it actually was. The differences between the main political parties were portrayed as wide, whereas they often were rather narrow. Emotion ran away with common sense."

By late 1986, the NZ peace movement contained 367 disparate groups; this in a population of under four million. One thousand, or one-fifth, of NZ doctors belonged to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). Town councils voted to become nuclear-free, erecting notices at their boundaries that one was entering a nuclear-free zone. By 1987, 70 per cent of New Zealand's population were living in such zones.

New Zealand was heralded as a shining example to the world. Its home-grown peace movement had triumphed, and is still giving most New Zealanders a sense of pride in their non-aligned status. They have created their own destiny.


However, previously untold evidence indicates that the anti-nuclear movement served the strategic interests of the Soviet Union. New Zealand was specifically targeted in a clandestine political operation, designed to remove it from the Western alliance.

In the late 1970s, policy-makers in the International Department of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) developed doctrine about exploiting what they termed the "correlation of forces" within a particular country to achieve a specific outcome. This implied expert direction of the "correlation".

A key force to be "correlated" was the New Zealand trade union movement. It would be helpful at this point to outline the changes that were occurring. Tony Neary (now deceased), the Irish leader of the Electrical Workers Union, chronicled the infiltration in a paper he gave at a conference in Washington DC, in March 1987, organized by Owen Harries under the auspices of the Hoover Institute.

Neary claimed that the Soviet Union, through one of its main front organisations, the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), had successfully infiltrated the New Zealand trade union movement and changed its direction.

He noted that, until the mid-1970s, there was a good working relationship between the NZ Federation of Labour (equivalent to the ACTU) and the United States labour federation, the AFL-CIO.

The change began in May 1979, when Jim Knox was elected New Zealand FOL president, and regular visits by NZ trade unionists to the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc countries commenced.

By 1986, known communists from the Moscow-aligned Socialist Unity Party (SUP) and the Maoist-leaning Workers Communist League (WCL), along with their sympathisers had considerable control in seven of the eight largest trades councils (branches of the FOL), covering 70 per cent of the FOL membership.

Bill Andersen, president of the SUP and the Auckland Trades Council, attended the 27th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in March 1986.

Joint communiques, signed by Jim Knox on behalf of the FOL and by the heads of visiting Soviet delegations, had been adopted by delegates at the 1984 and 1985 FOL conferences.

Behind Jim Knox was Ken Douglas, the affable, competent and powerful general secretary of the FOL and chairman of the SUP. In 1986, he took two months' "sick leave" to visit the Soviet Union.

That year, Jim Knox also visited the Soviet Union where, according to the Soviet news agency TASS (22 February), he pledged to "pool efforts in the struggle to prevent a new war with which the imperialist states, above all the United States administration, threatened mankind." He also said: "Soviet peace initiatives are highly appreciated in New Zealand and are supported by broad sections of the population."

TASS (February 1985) quoted Knox as saying that "contacts between the trade unions of New Zealand and the USSR grow stronger from year to year. New Zealand trade unionists follow with interest the Soviet people's strides, and come to see for themselves that the socialist system acts in the interests of the working people."

A vignette from that era illustrates the relationship. Each year, the Soviet embassy in Wellington invited delegates from the FOL conference to an embassy function. During the 1986 conference, most delegates attended this reception. To emphasise the importance of the NZ-USSR relationship, at the conference Jim Knox warmly presented the Soviet delegates with large expensive sheepskin rugs.

The American guest from the AFLCIO, received a small brown paper parcel. From the rostrum Knox told delegates that the parcel contained a book on New Zealand; but when the American visitor opened the paper, he found a small cheeseboard. The New Zealand Herald reported that "it was a case of hard cheese for the American delegate". (2)

Tony Neary had considerable public respect for the lonely struggle he undertook; but his criticisms of Soviet trade unions as mere appendages of the state were rejected within the FOL. He was regularly accused of seeing "Reds under the bed", to which he responded: (3)
 "In the New Zealand trade union movement, those who mutter about Reds
 under the beds must be joking. The Reds are already in the beds and
 have been there for some years. By now they are sitting up and
 getting breakfast brought in."

The "Reds" were the Socialist Action League (Trotskyites) and the Moscow-aligned Socialist Unity Party.



Oleg Gordievsky, a former high-ranking officer of the Soviet security service, the KGB,--who, from 1974, worked as a long-serving undercover agent for the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) until his formal defection in 1985--recalled: (4)
 "KGB activity in Australasia was ... increased as the result of the
 election of David Lange's Labour government in New Zealand on an
 antinuclear programme in 1984.... The [KGB] Centre ... was jubilant
 at Lange's election...."

Gordievsky visited New Zealand on four occasions from 1986 onwards to brief that country's Security Intelligence Service on Soviet clandestine activities in the region. For years, he said, New Zealand: (5)
 "... had been under massive propaganda and ideological attack from
 the KGB and the [Soviet] Central Committee, and the ruling Labour
 arty had seemed unaware of the extent to which the fabric of their
 society was being damaged by subversion....

 "In its attempts to draw New Zealand into nuclear-free activities,
 the Soviet authorities had made tremendous efforts to penetrate
 and strengthen the Labour Party, partly through the local Party of
 Socialist Unity (in effect the Communist Party of New Zealand) and
 partly through the Trades Union Congress."

Gordievsky alleged that New Zealand and Australian communists were being run by International Department of the CPSU. He said: (6)
 "I know the situation in New Zealand very well; only 500 members of
 the Socialist Unity Party, but they are invaluable because each was
 ready to do something. It was like the KGB had 500 agents in
 the country."

 He added: "Plus some of them penetrated the trade unions, and
 then they penetrated the left wing of the NZ Labour Party." (7)

Their aspirations were spelt out in a Socialist Unity Party (SUP) Auckland regional newsletter, dated 12 November 1980:
 "To date in the region the Peace Council (8) has made good progress
 among trade unions, but more effort must be made to build on this
 and take the peace question to the factory floor.

 "Also needed now is to broaden the Peace Council into other areas of
 the community, join up prominent personalities including MPs,
 increase church involvement, university involvement, other peace
 groups, community clubs etc.

 "Here branches and comrades can act as catalysts. We must be
 extremely careful that in building the Peace Council, it does not
 become overburdened with 'SUP' people, or be labelled as just
 another 'SUP' front.

 "If our Party is working correctly, only a few comrades, reporting
 back to the region and branches, and taking forward issues from
 the same sources, are necessary to ensure effective involvement in
 the peace movement. The broadest possible base is needed if we are
 to make the Council effective."

In July 1980, Labour Party council member and unionist Allan O'Neill claimed that the Socialist Action League and Socialist Unity Party were infiltrating the Labour Party. "It appears to be a new tactic of these political organisations to get their members into the party, to incite from within and push their own political dogmas."

Other Labour figures made similar accusations, but nothing was done. By the early 1980s, the SUP had gained control of the NZ Federation of Labour and most of the major unions in the engineering, dairy, hotel and transport industries.

These unions were affiliated to the Labour Party and enjoyed block voting rights at party conferences. Every financial member of an affiliated union was counted as a member of the Labour Party. This gave affiliated unions thousands of votes each, which, when coordinated, guaranteed the SUP's ability to choose the Labour Party's president, executive, policy council--and to influence policy on that council.

Understandably, the SUP took advantage of this preferential system, so that through the mid to late 1980s the majority of Labour Party senior officials were SUP sympathisers or secret members. The same infiltration was occurring at branch level, ensuring that the SUP became the leading power bloc in the Labour Party.

SUP members studying at the Lenin Institute in Moscow during the early 1980s were drilled extensively by their Russian tutors on the advantages to the Soviet Union that could accrue from the election of a Labour Government in New Zealand.

On 6 June 1984, SUP national secretary George Jackson addressed a meeting of his party's Hamilton branch. He explained the rationale for supporting Labour in the upcoming national elections. According to a party document, Jackson stated that: (9)
 "The Federation of Labour and Combined State Unions, later joined
 under the Council of Trade Unions banner, have more influence on
 the Labour Party than for many years. And the trade union
 structures have the ability to transform economic campaigns
 to political campaigns."


We now come to the previously untold story of how the SUP was itself infiltrated by a humble truck-driver, who was later selected to attend a specialist course at the Lenin Institute in Moscow.

John Van de Ven, a Dutch immigrant, resembled the mythical tugboat captain: stocky, powerfully built and full of restless energy. He chainsmoked thin cigars.

In the late-1970s, Van de Ven worked as a tanker-driver for Mobil and belonged to the Wellington Drivers' Union run by Ken Douglas. Van de Ven raced through his delivery rounds and received several warnings that his speed was upsetting the union's workplace rules. Undeterred, he raced on until called into the union office and forthrightly informed that, if he didn't play by the rules, he would lose his union card and not drive trucks in Wellington again.

"I was mad at being treated like this," Van de Ven told the authors of this article. "So I decided to get even. I had no firm plans, but I knew the union was run by the SUP and so I thought that if I can get in--then sometime down the track I'll get even. It was as simple as that." (10)

Van de Ven went to the union and performed obeisance. He apologised for his misdemeanours and offered to assist with menial tasks, even hand out copies of the SUP newspaper, Tribune. After a year's probationary period as a model unionist, his talents were recognised. Drivers' Union official and senior SUP member, Richie Gillespie, took him aside and said the union had big things planned for him, if he could prove himself.

Fortuitously, in 1977, Van de Ven discovered a legitimate grievance over tyre-safety issues on the tankers. When the company refused to make the changes, he led a prolonged strike that paralysed petrol supplies for weeks around the lower half of the North Island. Finally Mobil capitulated and conceded that the Drivers' Union, not the company, must have the final say on safety issues.

Ken Douglas, impressed with Van de Ven's leadership, personally invited him to join the SUP. In 1978, he joined the Porirua branch and studied Marxist-Leninist theory under a secret member (who was later appointed to senior positions in business). Within two years he took over the Porirua branch chairmanship and, in 1981, was the SUP candidate for Porirua at the general election.

Still on course to get even, Van de Ven contacted NZ's Security Intelligence Service (SIS), who asked him to stay in place. He was put on the payroll, assigned a handler and given the code-name "Joe Martin".

Van de Ven's common sense and "street smart" talents were recognised with selection for further training in Moscow from 29 October 1983 to February 12 1984. He went with three other SUP members, and one month later they were joined by Bill Andersen, George Jackson and Marilyn Tucker (all SUP central committee members).

The Moscow course had been shortened because of the developing situation in New Zealand. Van de Ven noted that his and his fellow-delegates' passports had to be surrendered and were not stamped, so as to leave no record of their having been in the USSR. He recalled:
 "On arrival in Moscow, we were quarantined for medical checks over
 four days and given new identities. I became John Van, Jim Thompson
 became Jimmy Brown, Allan Ware--Allan Wolf, Peter Devlin--Peter Jay.

 "This took place in an old mansion near Moscow. The ten acres of
 woodland was [sic] surrounded by high walls, so that nobody could
 look in or out. After that, we were transported in a mini-bus with
 black-curtained windows to the Lenin Institute for Higher Learning
 in Prospect Leningradski, across the road from Metro Aeroport,
 an underground station.

 "There were 3,500 communists from all over the world, being trained
 five and half days a week, according to the requirements of their
 home country. We were assigned three tutors who were specialists
 on New Zealand. They were a (first name unknown) Venediev, who
 lectured on the National Question (racial manipulation) and trade
 unions. He was also a staff member of the World Marxist Review. Other
 tutors included Bella Vorontsova (doctorate in history) and Eduard
 Nukhovich (doctorate in economics), both of whom visited New Zealand
 to liaise with SUP branches.

 "Peace was high on the agenda. As one tutor told us: 'We have many
 clever people in the Soviet Union, but no one has even been able to
 come up with a weapon potentially as powerful as the peace
 movement.' "

Van de Ven was told that the reason for the "condensed" 13-week course was that Soviet leader (and former KGB chief) Yuri Andropov had initiated a strategy for taking a social democratic country out of the Western alliance, by utilising the "correlation of forces" provided by the peace movement.

New Zealand was given a high priority by the Soviets, for its strategic propaganda potential. The Soviets prioritised countries according to their strategic interest. The United Kingdom, Chile, Argentina and South Africa were Category One. Tiny New Zealand was in Category Two--alongside the then Soviet client-state, India.

The particular circumstances of New Zealand, with a national election in late 1984, was seen as providing a suitable testing ground for this strategy. If it worked as intended, then the concept could be applied to countries such as Denmark.

There were two key aims:

* To get rid of ANZUS;

* For the Labour Government to steer nuclear-free legislation through Parliament.

Van de Ven described the techniques of the strategy as "brilliant", which, when applied within the trade unions, the peace movement and the Labour Party, worked as intended. He recalled:
 "Our role was to influence and steer the peace movement, not by
 taking the top jobs, but to be done in such a way that the top
 people in the various peace groups were seen as reasonably
 responsible by the average New Zealander.

 "So our training consisted of being able to train lesser-known
 communists, secret members, sympathisers and fellow-travellers,
 to take over these groups, unite them, but never take the leading
 roles. My own role was as a 'nuts and bolts' technician."

The overall project director was Gennady Yannaev, an engineer by training and later a leading member of the 1991 coup that overthrew Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Van de Ven got on well with Yannaev, and was several times invited to his home for meals and drinks. He found Yannaev a dedicated and honest communist, who frequently vented his disgust at the corruption within the Nomenklatura. He was informally questioned about the other members of the New Zealand delegation and Bill Andersen and Ken Douglas.

In 1985, with the Labour Government in power, the NZ SIS cut ties with John Van de Ven. A personable, talented man with considerable drive, he became successfully self-employed. Due to circumstances unrelated to his undercover work, he gassed himself in his car in April 1992.


The Socialist Unity Party, like its overseas counterparts, received funding from Moscow channelled through the Soviet embassy in Wellington. There were perks for members, such as sub-sidised or free trips to the Soviet Union; but under the then National Party Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, the SIS had kept tabs on transactions and occasionally they pounced.

No less than the Soviet ambassador himself, Vsevelod Sofinsky, was expelled on 24 January 1980, for handing over NZ$10,000 to the SUP. (11) In 1987, Labour Prime Minister David Lange ordered KGB resident Sergei Budnik to leave the country for too close a relationship with the SUP. (12)


These incidents were well publicised at the time, but were mere distractions from the ongoing successes of the New Zealand peace movement. They were assisted by Prime Minister Muldoon's insistence that the Americans send warships on visits to New Zealand.

This was revealed during a Fulbright lecture, delivered in Wellington four years ago by Dr Michael Bassett, a former Labour Government Cabinet minister. A Fulbright Professor of New Zealand Studies at Georgetown University in 2002, Dr Bassett, as Minister of Health in David Lange's reforming Labour Government, had a ringside seat as events unfolded, climaxing in New Zealand being taken out of ANZUS.

The speech, entitled "The Collapse of New Zealand's Military Ties with the United States: George Schultz and David Lange", received no publicity despite its sensational revelations and call for Labour's current Prime Minister Helen Clark to resolve the "needless irritation" with the United States.

Dr Bassett recalled the warship issue: (13)
 "Many Labour politicians, myself included, objected to the way he
 [Prime Minister Muldoon] played domestic politics with American ship
 visits. Denis McLean, Secretary of Defence in the 1980s and later
 Ambassador to Washington, confirmed in an interview that Muldoon
 sought more American ship visits than the Americans felt
 comfortable making.

 "Muldoon's practice appeared to be to request a visit whenever he
 was floundering in the polls, because he calculated he could win
 publicly from the protests... Few people knew of the American
 reluctance to play along with Muldoon."

The US warship visits were actually a boon to the burgeoning peace movement and made for visual propaganda. The evening television news showed the grey warship slowly making its way into harbour, surrounded by a huge flotilla of small craft carrying protesters. The image was of a Kiwi David standing up to an American Goliath.

The authors can recall one particular seminal incident. On 25 May, 1982, the guided missile cruiser USS Truxton was entering Wellington harbour, accompanied by a large protest fleet. A news team from Television NZ was allowed on board to interview the captain, which was shown later on the evening news. To the unsuspecting audience he sounded like an idiot, as if he couldn't understand simple questions.

Indeed, the captain watched the same interview, and immediately called the US Embassy, complaining that he had been set up. Calls were made to Television NZ at their Avalon Studio outside Wellington, and it was discovered that the news editor had deliberately spliced the interview tape. He admitted the deed, along with his sympathy for the peace movement. The head of news appeared irritated that his man had been caught and allowed that he would receive--a caution.

In his speech, Dr Bassett addressed a central mystery in the ANZUS breakup:
 "What hasn't been answered satisfactorily to date is why David Lange,
 given the commitments he made to [US Secretary of State] George
 Schultz in 1984, capitulated a few months later to those who wanted
 all 'nuclear-capable' ships excluded from New Zealand. The answer,
 I suggest, is inextricably linked to a political struggle within the
 Labour Party at the time."

Dr Bassett claimed that this struggle led Lange to make a unilateral, rather than a collective, Cabinet decision to rupture NZ's defence arrangements with the United States. In early 1985, Lange was Prime Minister, but leading the Labour Party in name only. He perceived that by rejecting a visit by the oil-fired destroyer USS Buchanan, he could at last win over his party. His Cabinet and Caucus were not fully in the picture, but went along with him because they too hoped to heal the rift inside the Labour Party. Dr Bassett recalled:
 "Frankly as ministers, we had increasing difficulty understanding
 the volume of words flowing from Lange's mouth at Cabinet and
 Caucus meetings, as he performed verbal cartwheels before falling
 into the hands of his sternest internal critics at the end of January
 1985.... My notes from meetings I attended fail to convey any
 consistent line in the Prime Minister's thinking as he thrashed
 around the dilemma posed by the American request for a ship visit..."

However, Dr Bassett admitted that Cabinet ministers were so occupied with the plethora of other economic and social issues, that they were not fully engaged with the ship visit, at the precise moment when it mattered.

There was also another bitter internal struggle diverting attention from the nuclear ships issue. Said Dr Bassett:
 "[The NZ] women's movement was nearing its peak. Several on the
 party's national executive, particularly the present Prime Minister,
 Helen Clark, and the present Attorney-General, Margaret Wilson, had
 agendas to implement. Access to abortion, pay equity, state-funded
 childcare and other forms of assistance to women were their
 principal causes, and the Labour Party their chosen vehicle. Their
 first objective was to capture its membership....

 "Set against this faction in the party was a generally older, more
 traditionally pro-family group that also favoured existing
 defence alliances.... Most of this group were already in Parliament.
 Their prospective leader was David Lange.... Lange had no
 parliamentary peer for oratory. At his best he was grand, sometimes
 inspiring. Even on an off day he could entertain. The women's
 movement, however, found him intolerable. On the issues they
 focused on, his mercurial, witty style conflicted with their

 "When Lange came within an ace of winning leadership of the
 parliamentary Labour Party on 12 December 1980, his opponents
 moved into top gear. Over the next two years they spared no effort
 to capture the hearts and minds of party activists and to poison
 them against Lange and his allies."

A bitter struggle was waged to seize control of Labour's policy formation process. "Meetings of the policy council became pitched battles ... between Labour members of parliament and party insurgents." Then Prime Minister Rob Muldoon called a snap election. Dr Bassett continued:
 "What has all this got to do with the anti-nuclear policy? What it
 meant was that when Lange became Prime Minister, he had been unable
 yet to place his stamp on his party or on its policy. Unlike previous
 Labour leaders, he hadn't risen to office through the party machine.
 He never fully understood its Byzantine rituals. He found himself
 unwelcome, sometimes insulted, at meetings of the party's national
 executive. He had neither the personal toughness, nor the
 negotiating experience, to bring his opposition to heel. They
 dismissed his oratory as empty rhetoric.

 "When Lange was sworn in as Prime Minister on 26 July 1984, he and
 his allies had ensured that [the insurgents] Helen Clark and
 Jim Anderton were not part of the ministry.... The insurgents leaked
 material to the press, and caused endless ructions. I penned a diary
 note on 23 November 1984: 'They have decided to kill this Govt [sic]
 rather than have it run by the people they dislike.' "

Two days after the election, George Schultz arrived in New Zealand from Canberra, to attend a meeting of the ANZUS Council. He was accompanied by Paul Wolfowitz (later architect of the Iraq regime-change policy) and the Commander-in-Chief of US Pacific Forces, Admiral William Crowe. Lange promised Schultz he would negotiate a way to allow some American naval vessels to enter New Zealand waters, but asked for a "comfortable amount of time" before the request was made. Recalled Dr Bassett:
 "When they eventually found out what was being proposed, Lange's
 Labour opponents set out to torpedo all visits by American naval
 vessels. In her capacity as chair of parliament's foreign affairs
 committee, Helen Clark had been hoping to influence the evolution
 of Labour's ship policy. But Lange kept quiet about what was
 happening; not even Frank O'Flynn, his Associate Minister of
 Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defence, who visited Admiral Crowe
 in Hawaii in October, was fully in the picture.

 "In December 1984, Helen Clark visited New York on an invitation
 from Kora Weiss of the anti-nuclear movement, and went on to
 Washington. On 12 December she lunched with New Zealand embassy
 officials and had appointments with peace movement activists.

 "The embassy gave nothing away about discussions between the two
 governments, but soon after her return to New Zealand she received
 a call from a Washington journalist who had picked up information
 about an imminent request from the Americans for a ship visit to
 New Zealand."

On 25 January, Margaret Wilson (then Labour Party president) met with three junior backbenchers, Helen Clark, Jim Anderton and Fran Wilde. The result: Wilson proposed, and had accepted by the national executive, that no ship even capable of carrying nuclear weapons should be allowed toenter New Zealand waters.

Prime Minister Helen Clark confirmed to Dr Bassett in March 2003, that the intention was to lock the Lange Government into its policy. A network of peace activists was kept fully informed, as were media sympathisers. Dr Bassett said:
 "A campaign to keep the [USS] Buchanan out of New Zealand was
 co-ordinated over the next few days from the back-bench offices
 of several Government MPs."

At this stage, ministers were returning to Wellington from their summer holidays. There had been a brief Cabinet meeting, but no discussion of the ship issue. Dr Bassett described what happened:
 "Unbeknown to us, that day [17 January 1985] a formal request for a
 visit by the Buchanan was received at the Ministry for Foreign
 Affairs. It was passed to the Prime Minister's office. But just as it
 was about to hit his desk, Lange took off on a visit to one of the
 most remote spots in the [South] Pacific--the Tokelau Islands--where
 no New Zealand Prime Minister had been for 40 years.

 "He was virtually incommunicado for several days, except for what
 he described as 'garbled reports from home' on a crackly ship radio
 The 'tramp steamer' taking him from Samoa to Fakeolo took 37 hours.
 Over [the next] four days he met people, swam, and was entertained.
 He then took another 49 hours returning to Samoa. There he was
 collected by an RNZAF Boeing 727 and returned to Wellington.

 "Was David Lange evading the issue of the Buchanan? The officials
 I've interviewed certainly thought so, and I agree with their
 assessment. Helen Clark would observe to me later that Lange always
 took the line of least resistance.

 "One thing is for sure: Lange had done none of the political
 spadework necessary to fulfil the commitments he'd earlier given to
 Secretary Schultz. Indeed, ministers were never told precisely by
 Lange what he had promised Schultz. Nor were we asked to support
 any campaign to ensure the public trusted his judgement...."

Dr Bassett says that Gerald Hensley, former head of the PM's Department, told him that American sources at the embassy in Wellington confided that they had realised, in December 1984, that Lange was undertaking none of the spadework necessary to sell the deal which his officials were working on.
 "When Lange established Cabinet committees at the end of July 1984,
 there was none to discuss the nuclear ships issue. Nor did the Prime
 Minister appear to have any colleagues with whom he regularly
 consulted on the nuclear ships issue. I acted as Minister of Foreign
 Affairs while Lange was in New York in September 1984 [for a second
 meeting with Schultz] and received no briefing about the meeting.

 "American and New Zealand officials realised with growing alarm that
 Lange's Cabinet colleagues were not in the loop about what was
 being negotiated ... nor did Cabinet discuss the implications of any
 request for a ship visit until just before Christmas.... Lange said
 virtually nothing to his colleagues. Instead, he went on holiday,
 and then to the Tokelaus."

While Lange was there far away, Margaret Wilson advised the Acting Prime Minister, Geoffrey Palmer, about the national executive's new policy of no nuclear-capable ships.
 "On hearing this, Palmer took fright. In a memo to Lange that he read
 on his flight back to Wellington, Palmer suggested the [American]
 request for a visit from the Buchanan be declined. Floods of letters
 and telegrams, many drummed up by his Caucus critics, awaited
 Lange's return."


Back in Wellington, and under huge pressure, Lange--after failing to prepare the ground politically--was seeking a way out. Dr Bassett recalls:
 "It slowly dawned on the rest of us that our lack of information
 over such a long period meant we had lost the initiative. Ministers
 turned instead to discussing how to minimise the political fallout.

 "Throughout Lange's political career he hated confrontation. It
 sometimes made him physically ill. And he naturally craved acceptance
 and endorsement form the party he led. His opponents knew all these
 things. While, as Gerald Hensley observed to me, Lange was angry
 that Labour's national executive was 'running this pin into his
 bottom', he decided it was easier to live with the pain than with
 his commitment to Schultz.

 "After Cabinet on 28 January, Lange received a deputation from some
 members of Labour's national executive. He seems not to have
 disputed Margaret Wilson's unilateral re-definition of Labour
 policy, although he recognised it for what it was."

The Nuclear-Free Zone Disarmament and Arms Control Bill passed into law on 4 June 1987. Dr Bassett indicates the strength of feeling with this account:
 "At a gathering in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the end of 1992, Schultz
 was approached by Denis McLean who introduced himself as New
 Zealand's new ambassador to Washington. Schultz glared at him
 and barked: 'Your Prime Minister lied to me!', then walked away...

 "Why did Lange take so few steps to deliver on the assurance he gave
 George Schultz...? It is my belief that Lange's desire to be loved by
 the Labour Party ... got the better of him in the end. He was never
 much interested in party policy, and had neither the political
 instincts, the negotiating skills, or the capacity to use his
 leader's authority that others, like Peter Fraser, Norman Kirk,
 Bob Hawke and, I should add, Helen Clark, possessed in abundance.

 "Lange took virtually no political counsel from his Cabinet
 colleagues, probably knowing that they would recommend confronting
 people, something of which he was incapable. Lange allowed himself
 to become isolated from his closest allies who had promoted and
 protected him in the past.

 "As a result, Helen Clark, Margaret Wilson and Jim Anderton cornered
 him. They eye-balled him till he blinked. It became easier for him
 to sacrifice the American connection than to fight. He would settle
 for what he was beginning to sense could be a popular diversion at
 home, something with theatrical potential. While his ministers were
 re-structuring the economy, he'd become a 'nuke-buster'. They could
 look after the bread, he'd handle the circuses."

After the famous Oxford Union debate with American morals crusader Rev. Jerry Falwell on 1 March 1985, Lange returned a national hero. His retort to a young conservative interjector: "I can smell the uranium on your breath!" delighted the country. Dr Bassett observed that now Lange was slowly parted from his original Cabinet and Caucus supporters. Margaret Wilson suggested weekly meetings, and he found himself beguiled and embraced by his former mortal enemies.


Gerald Hensley published his memoirs Final Approaches in 2006. (14) A former diplomat, he served as head of the Prime Minister's Department under both Muldoon and Lange, and was Secretary of Defence during 1991-1999.

In his chapter, entitled "The Elusive David Lange", he gives an intimate account of the nuclear ships issue, but also the aftermath. He acknowledges that the Americans felt deceived, and mentions meeting Paul Wolfowitz in Honolulu 10 years later and still angry. "I went out on a limb for you guys," he complained.

Hensley described the bleak task of doing the rounds of the agencies in Washington, accompanied by Simon Murdoch (then a counsellor at the NZ embassy). It was like an excommunication. Michael H. Armacost, the Under-Secretary of State, told them that it was not the US which was filing for divorce. It had been told that it couldn't come into the bedroom.

A senior official in the State Department commented, "I thought you guys must have been smoking pot, you were in some dreamland." He said that the overriding American interest now in the Cold War, was to protect its other alliances.

In an intriguing aside, he mentioned that the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher herself had stressed to President Reagan the importance of maintaining New Zealand's intelligence flow, "The British have been all over us."

David Lange died on 13 August, 2005, honoured as the nationalist leader who stood up to the United States for New Zealand's independence. But as Hensley observed: "What could be more independent than quarrelling with our old friends and our wartime saviour?"

The Cold War is now a distant memory, but in the 1980s the Soviet Union was still engaged in a relentless struggle to gain hegemony over the West. The source of the strategic initiative to remove New Zealand from ANZUS has been revealed as none other than the International Department of the CPSU.

A key question is: to what extent did those people on the Labour Party's national executive, who played a leading role in taking NZ out of ANZUS, understand that they were serving the strategic interests of a hostile foreign power?


BERNARD MORAN is a journalist with an interest in defence matters. He has served in territorial army units in Britain and New Zealand. He was formerly the NZ correspondent for Defence 2000 (Melbourne), and occasionally writes for News Weekly.

TREVOR LOUDON, a Christchurch businessman, is a specialist on the hard Left in New Zealand. His New Zeal blog and website can be reached at:

(1.) Merwyn Norrish, "Prospects for New Zealand", International Review, Vol. 9, No. 5 (September/October 1984), pp.24-25.

(2.) Tim Donoghue, "Hard cheese", New Zealand Herald, 23 May 1986, p.8.

(3.) Tony Neary and Jack Kelleher, The Price of Principle (Auckland: Harlen Books, 1986), p.206.

(4.) Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, KGB: The Inside Story of its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990), p.513.

(5.) Oleg Gordievsky, Next Stop Execution: The Autobiography of Oleg Gordievsky (London: Macmillan, 1995), pp.365-6.

(6.) Gordievsky, quoted by Greg Ansley in the New Zealand Herald, 15 October 1990. (Ansley was quoting interviews that Gordievsky had given to Australian journalist James O'Brien, which had appeared in the Melbourne Herald Sun and Brisbane Courier-Mail.)

(7.) Ibid.

(8.) The "Peace Council" here refers to the New Zealand Council for World Peace (NZCWP), the SUP-controlled affiliate of the Soviet-run World Peace Council. The NZCWP later became the Peace Council of Aotearoa/NZ.

(9.) George Jackson's address to Hamilton branch meeting of the Moscow-aligned Socialist Unity Party, 6 June 1984.

(10.) John Van de Ven was interviewed by Bernard Moran and Trevor Loudon in February 1990 and again in 1991.

(11.) Andrew and Gordievsky, op. cit., p.513.

(12.) Graeme Hunt, Spies and Revolutionaries: A History of New Zealand Subversion (Auckland: Reed Publishing, 2007), p.254

(13.) Michael Bassett, "The collapse of New Zealand's military ties with the United States: George Schultz and David Lange", Fulbright lecture (revised version), delivered in Wellington, New Zealand, on 15 August 2003. URL: article_fulbright.htm

(14.) Gerald Hensley, Final Approaches: A Memoir (Auckland University Press, 2006).
COPYRIGHT 2007 Council for the National Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Moran, Bernard; Loudon, Trevor
Publication:National Observer - Australia and World Affairs
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Mar 22, 2007
Previous Article:Australia's new government should understand the following.
Next Article:Liberating intelligence from suffocating bureaucracy.

Related Articles
Australian and US military cooperation; fighting common enemies.
In this issue.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |