Australia and New Zealand, Relations with

views updated


AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND, RELATIONS WITH. Countless Americans have traveled to Australia and New Zealand. Many important commercial contacts were made in the earliest years of Australian colonization, from the first settlement of free citizens in New South Wales in the 1790s to the gold fever years in Victoria in the 1850s. Yankee sailors, whalers, and explorers made their presence known in this area of the Southwest Pacific for the next century. None was more significant, however, than the impact of the 1 million American soldiers and sailors who poured into Australia during World War II, helping to lift the despair felt in that wholly unprepared nation of 7 million people from the fall of Singapore in February 1942 to the Battle of the Coral Sea the following May. History and geography have been of vital importance to Australia and New Zealand's perception of external affairs and the usefulness of force, but in different ways. New Zealand has been relatively free of the anxieties engendered by the proximity of hostile neighbors, whereas Australia has stood almost defenseless on the doorstep of a threatening Asia. New Zealand was once noted for its staunch and compliant membership in alliances—with Britain and then with the United States. Yet since the 1980s a revulsion against nuclear weapons has stimulated a peace movement there, which is determined to keep the nation nuclear free. But Australia, with its more clearly defined perception of threat and security, forged a formal place for itself within the U.S. security systems from early in the Cold War.

Whatever their particular perspective, however, the common national security interests of Australia, New Zealand, and the United States have made their citizen-soldiers comrades in arms five times in the twentieth century. In World War I the three nations helped defeat Imperial Germany, with Australia alone losing 59,000 out of a population of 5 million. In World War II, particularly in the Pacific theater, Australia and New Zealand contributed substantial naval and air forces and the ANZACs (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) fought ferociously in New Guinea. Australia and New Zealand both contributed, each in its own way, to the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War.

The heart of the modern Australian-New Zealand-American security relationship has been the ANZUS Treaty, or what is left of it after Ronald Reagan's administration pushed aside the nuclear-sensitive New Zealanders in the 1980s. The treaty was signed in San Francisco on 1 September 1951, ratified by President Harry S. Truman on 15 April 1952, and entered into force two weeks later. Conceived in connection with the conclusion of a "soft" Japanese peace treaty, and—despite charges of subservience on the side of the junior partners—the ANZUS Treaty was negotiated after much tough bargaining. Canberra and Wellington wanted strategic reassurance that America would come to their aid in their next time of troubles; Washington merely wanted cooperation, especially the opportunity to take advantage of Australia's unique geographical position and its overall political position in Southeast Asia. Neither got exactly what it wanted.

For over fifty years the primary goal of Australian foreign policy has been to have an engaged United States as the ultimate guarantor of Australian sovereignty; for Washington, Australia remains the southern anchor of America's security arrangements (with Japan as the northern anchor), standing astride both the Indian and Pacific Oceans and intermediate between California and Southeast Asia.


Grattan, C. Hartley. The United States and the Southwest Pacific. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961.

Harper, Norman. A Great and Powerful Friend. St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia: Queensland University Press, 1987.

Siracusa, Joseph M., and Yeong-Han Cheong. America's Australia: Australia's America. Claremont, CA: Regina Books, 1997.

Joseph M.Siracusa

See alsoWorld War II ; World War II, Navy in .

About this article

Australia and New Zealand, Relations with

Updated About content Print Article