It is twenty nine years ago today that the French sank the Rainbow Warrior. The event was a trigger for me and many of my compatriots to reevaluate how we viewed NZ’s relationship with our so-called allies. For those who are unfamiliar with the Rainbow Warrior Affair, I suggest reading the Wikipedia article Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior.
I felt NZ had been betrayed twice. Firstly by France. That a supposedly friendly nation could condemn the sinking as an act of terrorism — when it was in reality guilty of the act itself — was quite appalling. The second betrayal was the refusal of our allies to condemn the sinking once it was discovered that France was the guilty party. Both the U.S. and U.K. made it quite clear that they were not not interested in the sinking, and it was a matter to be resolved between NZ and France.
Even after NZ jailed two of the DGSE agents and NZ was being crippled by France’s blockade of our produce to Europe — mainly the U.K. — neither of our major allies were prepared to comment. To rub salt into the wound, the U.K. bought produce from France without so much as a murmer. A great way to discover who your friends aren’t.
NZ has always had an antinuclear stance but the reaction of our so-called allies shifted our attitude even further against Nuclear weapons. When the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act was passed in 1987, it was supported by 92% of the population.
In the wake of the Rainbow Warrior sinking, the U.S. made the mistake of testing NZ’s antinuclear stance by requesting access to our ports for the USS Buchanan. The ship was capable of launching nuclear depth bombs, and it would have been political suicide for the government to have accepted the visit. How could Reagan have misread NZ’s attitude so soon after the sinking? His reaction to the refusal was certainly not the way to retain a friend.
So how did the the Reagan administration react? They scrapped the ANZUS treaty. We could live with that. Judging by the support NZ received over the Rainbow Warrior affair, it would be a mistake to expect the treaty to be honoured. What was insulting was that NZ envoys were denied access to the U.S. administration. While so-called enemies such as the USSR and China could access the U.S. administration, NZ could not. There were elements of the administration that wanted to punish NZ with trade sanctions: “How dare a little country stand up against us”. Is it any wonder that anti American sentiment rose many fold?
It has taken the U.S. twenty five years to get over their perceived insult by NZ. We are finally allowed to participate in multinational military exercises, and can take part in trade negotiations with the U.S. The American right still want to have trade liberalisation tied to the scrapping of our antinuclear legislation, but it seems that the Obama administration accepts that is not going to happen.
Will NZ and America ever return to the close relationship that existed before 1984? Somehow I doubt it. The fallout from the Rainbow Warrior Affair has seen a profound Change in how NZers see our place in the world. Is it for the better? I’m not sure. Only time will tell.