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The eleven years between the end of World War II and the end of the Suez Crisis wrought many changes in how Australia, New Zealand and the United States worked with one another in response to issues of mutual concern. After their wartime alliance during World War II, these countries shared common interests in defending themselves against Communist expansion, preventing a revival of Japanese aggression and broadly preserving the peace and security of the Asia-Pacific region. In practice, however, the ANZUS countries struggled to act in a united fashion during the early years of the Cold War.

For Australia, the alliance provided formal protection and was viewed as a necessary security measure to offset Britain’s inability to meet Australian defence requirements. Policymakers in Canberra also hoped ANZUS would be a gateway to access information on US global strategic planning and influence world affairs. Across the Tasman, New Zealand also accepted that their country must rely on US protection but policymakers in Wellington wanted a less formal arrangement. A non-binding agreement with the United States, in short, was less likely to jeopardise New Zealand’s relationship with Britain; a critical issue for policymakers in Wellington. For the United States, the conclusion of ANZUS was a trade-off to ensure Australian and New Zealand acquiescence to the Japanese Peace Treaty. It also served as further support for the American position in Northeast Asia.

After Eisenhower entered the White House, the alliance began to evolve into a more complex and meaningful relationship, despite continued strategic disagreement. The alliance became especially important once a series of crises broke out in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions, such as those in Indochina, the Taiwan Straits, and the Suez Canal. Each response by Australia, New Zealand and the US provides interesting insights into the contrasting views of the ANZUS powers as well as their differing ideas about Britain’s post-war role in world affairs. The United States saw no major role for Britain without American cooperation, whereas Australia and New Zealand tended to favour the British position in these conflicts and erroneously thought that Britain was still capable of wielding enough influence to act without American support (particularly during the Suez Crisis). By 1956, events in Egypt ultimately demonstrated a critical point in alliance diplomacy in Canberra and Wellington: Australia and New Zealand were still prepared to pledge support for vital British interests instead of aligning all strategic policies with their chief protector, the United States.

As with any alliance, the extent to which a treaty such as ANZUS comes into fruition and works in practice often depends on the impact of individuals. Regardless of whether their impact was ultimately positive or negative, many diplomats played a critical role in the development of the ANZUS relationship. For instance, Australian External Affairs Minister Herbert Evatt loomed as a large yet divisive figure in trilateral relations during the late 1940s. Evatt caused more problems than he solved in regard to managing Australia’s relationships with New Zealand and the United States, especially when it came to his abrasive and non-consultative diplomatic style about matters relating to the Japanese occupation and the post-war control of the Pacific islands. Percy Spender, Evatt’s replacement as External Affairs Minister, then led the way in arguing for the conclusion of a mutual defence arrangement, despite pushback from his pro-British Prime Minister, Robert Menzies. Once Spender moved on to serve as Australian Ambassador in Washington, he and his replacement as External Affairs Minister, Richard Casey, charted a more active role for Australia during consultations with their US, New Zealand and British counterparts during the international crises of the 1950s.

Across the Tasman, Alister McIntosh—Head of the joint New Zealand Prime Minister’s and External Affairs Departments—was instrumental in shaping New Zealand’s post-war foreign policy with Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Britain, at the same time as steering a slow but noticeable movement toward establishing closer relations with the United States. In this endeavour, McIntosh was supported by other key New Zealand diplomats such as Carl Berendsen, Walter Nash, and Frank Corner, all of whom provided unique insights into their frequent distaste for Australian diplomats and their respective foreign policy agendas, the usefulness of ANZUS, and a continued affinity toward creating international policies through the lens of the British Commonwealth.

More well-known figures also played key roles, but not always to the benefit of establishing a closer trilateral relationship. John Foster Dulles, who served as chief US negotiator for the ANZUS Treaty in 1951, had a somewhat chequered record of dealing with the British Dominions. While he successfully negotiated an ANZUS Treaty draft that was acceptable for US plans in Japan and the wider region, he was unable to secure the inclusion of the Philippines to avoid negative perceptions of a “White Man’s Club” in Asia. Then, during his term as Secretary of State in the Eisenhower Administration, he consulted frequently with the Australians and New Zealanders to garner multilateral support for US policy vis-à-vis Indochina, the Taiwan Straits and Suez. Despite his wealth of experience in international affairs, Dulles was largely unsuccessful in securing trans-Tasman support in the face of contrasting British and American views on the most appropriate course of action.

In an episode that epitomised the challenge Dulles faced in securing Australian and New Zealand support for US policies, Robert Menzies and his New Zealand counterpart Sidney Holland severely strained their countries’ relations with the US when they both publicly declared support for British efforts in Suez despite widespread international condemnation (as well as private criticism from inside their respective Cabinets and External Affairs Departments). A mention must also go to British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, whose push for the use of force in Suez made him a chief instigator of frosty Anglo-American relations, and by extension, Australian-New Zealand-American-British relations.

The early Cold War period was certainly one of great change and consequence for the future of relations between Australia, New Zealand and the United States. For instance, Australia and New Zealand began to agree more consistently over defence and foreign policies in their region, highlighted by their joint participation in the Vietnam War during the 1960s and 1970s despite British non-participation. Later, after New Zealand formally adopted a nuclear-free policy in response to protestations over harbouring American nuclear vessels during the mid-1980s, the United States suspended its security guarantee to New Zealand in 1985. There were complicated reasons for this suspension, yet it was perhaps fitting that New Zealand, the country that often questioned its close relationship with the United States during the early Cold War, was later suspended from the treaty that neither country had initially wanted. Meanwhile Australia, the country that had been most eager to conclude a security arrangement in the first place, became the first signatory to formally invoke ANZUS in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September 2001. Taking future developments into account, major strategic and diplomatic issues between Australia, New Zealand and the United States throughout the following decades can certainly be traced to the post-war period. The early ANZUS Alliance, in short, had a decisive impact on the future of the relationship between these countries and their interactions with the wider world.

© 2018 Andrew Kelly, CC BY 4.0