Letters – Issue 104

Kia ora koutou

Congratulations on the Maori name and the digital archive, which works very well and will be a wonderful resource. I will let researchers know.

Ka mau te wehi i a koutou!

Paul Diamond

Curator, Maori, Alexander Turnbull Library



Friendly fire – a flawed history

You recently published an excellent review by Nicky Hager of Gerald Hensley’s Friendly Fire: Nuclear Politics & the Collapse of ANZUS, 1984-1987 (NZB, Spring 2013). As Hager’s review shows, this is a history seriously marred by displays of Hensley’s extreme dislike of our nuclear-free policy and legislation, and of everyone associated with it, including David Lange and his Labour Government, through bias in Hensley’s presentation in favour of the traditional allies he knew, the US, Britain and Australia.

Hensley’s book is marred by mistakes, small and large. A very serious mistake, and misrepresentation of Labour’s 1984 election policy, occurs on p73 where Hensley writes that the policy “barred ships that might be nuclear-armed or -powered from the country’s territorial waters”. The policy was that Labour would legislate to make New Zealand and its territorial waters nuclear-free. Sections 5 to 7 of the legislation made clear that this meant no manufacture, acquisition, development, storage or deployment of nuclear weapons therein. Hensley was head of the Prime Minister’s Department under David Lange and must have known and understood this policy and the resulting legislation in detail.

Further, as Hensley also should have known, the United Nations convention on the law of the sea guarantees the right of innocent passage for all ships, including warships through our territorial waters, and the legislation acknowledges this in section 12. Restrictions on ship visits, as spelled out in sections 9 and 11 of the legislation, apply only within our internal waters, any areas of the sea that are on the landward side of the baseline of the territorial sea, our ports essentially. This is an extremely serious mistake and misrepresentation of Labour policy and subsequent legislation, likely either to mislead readers relying on Hensley’s claims or to make them think that New Zealand was ignorant of international law in this area.

An example of the extent of Hensley’s bias is his deliberate misrepresentation of Labour’s policy on ANZUS on pp300-301. He writes that it called for “the acceptance of absolutely equal partnership” and also “an absolute guarantee of the complete integrity of New Zealand sovereignty”. This insistence, he claims, showed a strange lack of confidence in the country’s ability to hold its own in dealing even with friendly countries; others were called on to guarantee its absolute independence. It was a sign of how the treaty had become a focus for feelings of national inadequacy.

The Labour election policy manifesto as given by Margaret Wilson, Labour Party president at the time, actually read:

the next Labour Government will re-negotiate the terms of our association with Australia and the United States for the purpose  of ensuring the economic, social and political stability of the South East Asian and Pacific regions. The basic requirements of such an updated agreement will be:

(a) New Zealand’s unconditional anti-nuclear stance;

(b) the active promotion of a Nuclear Weapons-Free South Pacific;

(c) the acceptance of absolute equal partnership on all issues handled within the terms of the agreement and unanimous agreement on all decisions taken under those terms;

(d) an absolute guarantee of the complete integrity of New Zealand’s sovereignty.


This was described by Wilson as an attempted updating of the ANZUS Treaty to recognise changes in the positions of the signatories in its more-than-30-year life. It was an attempt “to preserve a relationship with the United States while embarking upon a more independent foreign policy”, a completely different interpretation from that proposed by Hensley.

This is an unfortunate book. It reflects badly on the author and, through inaccuracy, misrepresentation and bias, is misleading for readers.

Robert White

Former Director, Centre for Peace Studies

University of Auckland



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