Establishing a nuclear-powered fleet in Australia, the first step of the newly announced trilateral security partnership AUKUS, will see the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States partner with Australia to “significantly deepen cooperation on a range of security and defence capabilities.”
Speaking at a press conference on Sept. 16, Ardern said she was pleased to see the UK and the U.S.’s increased engagement in the Pacific because the region is currently being contested, but declared that Australia’s new nuclear subs would not be welcome in Kiwi territory.
“New Zealand’s position in relation to the prohibition of nuclear-powered vessels in our waters remains unchanged,” Ardern said.
“They couldn’t come into our internal waters. Our legislation means that nothing that is … partially or fully powered by nuclear energy is able to enter into our internal waters.”
Ardern also noted that she was not concerned that the new partnership would affect New Zealand’s foreign security arrangements with Australia.
“This is not a treaty level arrangement,” she said. ” It does not change our pre-existing relationships, including Five Eyes, or our close partnership with Australia on defence matters.”
“This is not at the level, for instance, of our existing partnerships that include the United States, the UK, Australia, and Canada, and this does not diminish the existence of that arrangement.”
She noted that she was told of the proposal on the same day by the Australian government.
“We stay in close touch on matters of importance to both of us. But as you can imagine, Prime Minister Morrison was also very aware New Zealand was unlikely to be interested in building nuclear-powered submarines,” she said.
New Zealand has taken a strong stance on nuclear power since the 1980’s when it banned nuclear-powered vessels from utilising its ports or entering into its territorial waters in 1984. The ban was lifted for U.S. warships in 2012.
In 1987 the NZ Labor government passed the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act, making NZ a nuclear-free zone.
While the Act was argued to be a defining moment for NZ sovereignty and self-determination, it did result in the U.S. suspending its ANZUS treaty obligations to NZ.
ANZUS—Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty—is a collective security agreement from 1951 that is non-binding between Australia, the U.S., and New Zealand. It ties the nations to respond to attacks on any other nation within the arrangement.
Despite Ardern’s assurances that AUKUS would not affect NZ, foreign affairs experts believe the new partnership will see the ANZUS treaty decline in importance.
“The ANZUS will fade into the background compared to this,” Joseph Siracusa, an adjunct professor of international diplomacy at Curtin University,