The U.S. government Tuesday called off scheduled naval maneuvers with Australia and New Zealand to protest New Zealand's refusal to permit a visit by a U.S. warship and, perhaps more important, to signal to other allies that the United States will respond to anti-nuclear gestures.
"Some Western countries have anti-nuclear and other movements which seek to diminish defense cooperation among the allied states," State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb said. "We would hope that our response to New Zealand would signal that the course these movements advocate would not be cost-free."
Kalb refused to spell out the countries he had in mind, but anti-nuclear organizations in Belgium and the Netherlands are urging their governments to back out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's program for deployment of cruise missiles. And peace groups in Japan long have urged their government to deny bases to American nuclear-armed ships and aircraft.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes, who formally announced U.S. withdrawal from the "Sea Eagle" exercise scheduled off Australia's east coast next month, expressed "grave concern" over New Zealand's decision to close its ports to a conventionally powered U.S. destroyer capable of carrying nuclear weapons. He hinted strongly at additional steps to punish the Wellington government.
"We are considering other actions that we might take, but at this time we have no further decisions and we have no further comment," Speakes said.
Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Me.) urged the Administration to retaliate by barring New Zealand from further military activities with the United States and releasing butter, a major New Zealand export, from surplus stocks into the open market. Administration officials had no immediate comment on Cohen's suggestion.
Speakes said the United States will reconsider its overall cooperation with New Zealand under the ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States) alliance, which was established in 1951 to defend the South Pacific region.
The alliance does not loom particularly large in current U.S. strategic thinking.
Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger's annual report released this week said: "We look to our ANZUS security partners to continue their contributions to the security of the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean and to cooperate with us to maintain the strength of the Western alliance." However, a map of the world showing the geographic reach of the Soviet military threat, published in the same report, superimposes a statistical table over the Australia-New Zealand region.
New Zealand is decidedly the junior partner in the three-nation alliance. In case of emergency, Australia and the United States clearly could carry out the defense of the region without New Zealand's participation. Still, New Zealand's troops fought alongside Australians and Americans in both world wars and in Korea and Vietnam, and both Washington and Canberra would like to maintain the alliance if possible.
One senior U.S. official said recently that New Zealand's geographic isolation permits its government leaders to "take strong moral stands" without giving as much consideration to the practical consequences, as the United States and some other governments must do.
New Zealand's Labor Party Prime Minister David Lange won election last year after pledging during the campaign that he would ban nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed ships from the country.
Despite the country's conservative background, the anti-nuclear movement has been gaining in strength, reflecting the public's concerns over French nuclear testing in the South Pacific and the possibility that American nuclear-armed and -powered ships could make the country a target in a nuclear war.
The United States refuses to say whether any particular U.S. Navy ships carry nuclear weapons, so Lange has barred the U.S. destroyer Buchanan, which is conventionally powered, because it is capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
In Wellington, Lange said Tuesday that cancellation of the naval exercise had been expected. But he said his government's policy would not be "changed, backed down upon, because of actions like that."