Barry Soper: The visit of warship USS Sampson major backdown for US

Americans sending the USS Sampson to Auckland next month. Photo / U.S. Navy
Americans sending the USS Sampson to Auckland next month. Photo / U.S. Navy

It would have to have been one of the longest ever diplomatic standoffs between two like minded western countries.

Uncle Sam gave God's Own the bird more than 31 years ago when we said they couldn't send their aging rust bucket the USS Buchanan to our shores because David Lange had embarked on the wildly popular anti nuclear policy.

Within days Washington had severed its visible intelligence and military ties with Wellington and downgraded political and diplomatic exchanges.

The following year Lange met the Reagan Secretary of State, the brusque George Shultz in a hotel room in Manila, the first time in two years they'd met. Waiting in a corridor for the meeting to finish, Shultz's not so secret service suits told myself and a colleague that there was no way we were going to interview the American.

When Shultz emerged I called out to him, he approached just as my colleague was being garrotted and I was being slammed up against a wall and held there.

The microphone over the head of the assailant captured the words Shultz imparted to Lange: "We part company as friends, but we part company, as far as the (Anzus) alliance is concerned."

Lange was unfazed after being told America no longer felt bound to come to our aid, saying it was meaningless because we faced no threat from anyone. The Anzus alliance didn't require the US to defend us anyway, but Lange mused that if there was a full scale invasion of this country by the then Soviet Union he couldn't see America standing back and allowing it to happen.

So what began as a decades long road block, then a rock in the road, reducing to a pebble has now become tar seal with the Americans sending the USS Sampson to Auckland next month, their first warship to come here in 33 years.

But it's not a case of Uncle Sam waving the white flag, it's not altruistic its realistic.

The United States Vice President Joe Biden on his visit here recently was at pains to point out what a power his country was in the Pacific, they always have been and they're not going anywhere, he emphasised.

With the likes of China, India, Japan, Australia and Canada all sending warships here to commemorate our Navy's 75th anniversary in November, the United States had no choice but to stoke up the engines and join the rest of them while parking off to one side their neither confirm nor deny policy when it came to nuclear propulsion.

So one small step for New Zealand has become a major back down for the mighty world power!

- Newstalk ZB

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