Panetta surrenders to New Zealand in decades-old nuclear standoff!

As loyal Passport readers know, the United States and New Zealand have been locked in a bitter Cold War since 1985, when New Zealand denied port access to a U.S. destroyer because it could not determine whether the ship was armed with nuclear weapons. (New Zealand has a strictly enforced nuclear-free policy.) The United States ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Phil Walter/Getty Images
Phil Walter/Getty Images
Phil Walter/Getty Images

As loyal Passport readers know, the United States and New Zealand have been locked in a bitter Cold War since 1985, when New Zealand denied port access to a U.S. destroyer because it could not determine whether the ship was armed with nuclear weapons. (New Zealand has a strictly enforced nuclear-free policy.) The United States has prohibited New Zealand ships from using its ports ever since. The spat flared earlier this year when New Zealand ships were prohibited from docking at Pearl Harbor during a massive international naval exercise.

Well, Leon Panetta is currently in New Zealand -- the first U.S. defense secretary to visit since 1982 -- and  it appears that one side in the dispute has caved:

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Friday that New Zealand naval ships would be allowed to dock at U.S. bases, lifting a 26-year-old ban.

As loyal Passport readers know, the United States and New Zealand have been locked in a bitter Cold War since 1985, when New Zealand denied port access to a U.S. destroyer because it could not determine whether the ship was armed with nuclear weapons. (New Zealand has a strictly enforced nuclear-free policy.) The United States has prohibited New Zealand ships from using its ports ever since. The spat flared earlier this year when New Zealand ships were prohibited from docking at Pearl Harbor during a massive international naval exercise.

Well, Leon Panetta is currently in New Zealand — the first U.S. defense secretary to visit since 1982 — and  it appears that one side in the dispute has caved:

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Friday that New Zealand naval ships would be allowed to dock at U.S. bases, lifting a 26-year-old ban.

The decision, announced by Panetta at a news conference, eases the long-running dispute between the two countries over New Zealand’s refusal to allow U.S. warships carrying nuclear weapons or using nuclear power into its ports.

The U.S. move is an overture to New Zealand at a time when the Pentagon is rebuilding military relations in the region, in part to counter China’s growing clout in the South Pacific.

But there are few signs that New Zealand will reciprocate by easing its anti-nuclear law to allow a return of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships to its ports.

"While we acknowledge that our countries continue to have differences of opinion in some limited areas … we are embarking on a new course that will not let these differences stand in the way of greater engagement on security issues," Panetta said.

Asked whether the decision to give New Zealand access to American bases could lead to a resumption of U.S. Navy ship calls in New Zealand, Panetta said, "Let’s see where it takes us."

Appeasement, I say! Boycott the hobbit movie until full navigation rights are restored!

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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