Secretary of State George P. Shultz appealed to Australia today to maintain and develop its alliance with the United States in the face of "a steady and disturbing" Soviet military buildup in the Pacific and "escapism and isolationism" that he said "have been exploited continually by our adversaries."
Shultz's references to "escapism and isolationism" seemed clearly aimed at New Zealand, which early this year caused a serious rupture in what had been a longstanding security pact among Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Shultz's pointed remarks today at the opening session of day-long security consultations here were a bid to shore up the remaining two legs of the previously three-legged ANZUS alliance.
New Zealand has been excluded from joint military exercises, U.S. intelligence sharing and most other alliance activities since its antinuclear Labor government refused in February to permit port calls of U.S. warships because they might be carrying nuclear weapons. New Zealand bars visits by nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed vessels, and the United States has a policy of refusing to say which ships carry nuclear arms.
In earlier years, today's U.S.-Australia consultations on security issues -- augmented by meetings with trade and economic ministers -- would have been in the form of an ANZUS council meeting including New Zealand. Because of the port call issue, New Zealand has been left out this year for the first time in the history of the 34-year-old alliance.
Shultz and Australian Foreign Minister William G. Hayden, in opening today's meeting, both expressed hope that, over time, New Zealand will take its place in alliance councils.
On the eve of the meeting, U.S. officials traveling with Shultz said there is "no sign" New Zealand is preparing to change its nonnuclear stand. On the contrary, the officials were disturbed by proposals of New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange to have Parliament put his ban on nuclear ships into law, an action that could bring new reprisals from the United States.
"If they take a formal action with respect to the way a standing treaty operates, certainly we have to examine that formal action to see in what way it formally may modify the treaty," Shultz told reporters en route to the meeting.
Other officials said the United States has expressed concern to New Zealand through diplomatic channels about the impact of such action, which would make the nuclear ship ban difficult to reverse. Some members of Congress already have suggested that passage by New Zealand of a law against nuclear ships should cause the United States to abandon all efforts to maintain the framework of the treaty against the day when New Zealand may change its policy.
Shultz called Australia's continuing security cooperation "an important and welcome development" that is being reciprocated by the United States in its actions toward Australia. The importance of U.S.-Australian military cooperation, Shultz said, has been underlined by a growing Soviet presence in the Pacific, including areas "where they haven't been before."
In his opening remarks today, Shultz said that "Soviet military forces have grown steadily and disturbingly over the last 20 years, not only in Europe but closer at hand -- in the northern Pacific, along the Chinese border, in Southeast Asia and around the Indian Ocean."
The recently announced agreement by the state of Kiribati, formerly the Gilbert Islands, to grant the Soviets fishing rights in its extensive waters in return for a reported $1.5 million yearly, was cited by Shultz earlier as "a matter of general concern."
Concern has been expressed that such a fishing deal could be the first step toward a more extensive Soviet presence. A New Zealand policy paper released April 1 warned:
"Strategic denial of the South Pacific to the Soviet Union is not only in overall western interests in sustaining a stable balance of power and in the interest of the United States, Australia and the Pacific island states, it is also very much in New Zealand's interests to keep the Soviet Union out of our part of the world."
New Zealand has taken the position that its refusal to accept U.S. nuclear warships should not interfere with other aspects of its ANZUS security relationship.
The United States, however, has treated port calls by its warships as an essential factor in the alliance.