YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — U.S. Marines and soldiers rubbed noses with New Zealand troops at a native Maori meeting house Monday after participating in the first large-scale combat exercise involving the two nations in New Zealand in 27 years.
U.S. personnel have been in New Zealand for six weeks training alongside 1,500 of their Kiwi counterparts. Those in the training included 33 members of the California-based 1st Marine Division, two sailors, and 42 soldiers from the Hawaii-based 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment.
The combat training was the first conducted since the U.S. suspended ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, U.S.) Treaty obligations to New Zealand in 1986 after the country’s Labor government passed anti-nuclear legislation that banned nuclear-powered U.S. Navy ships from New Zealand’s waters.
Much of the exercise was conducted at Waiouru – a large training area with facilities on par with those at U.S. bases such as Camp Pendleton, Calif., according to 1st Lt. Nishan Campbell, 29, commander of the Marine detachment in New Zealand.
“It was such a successful exercise that I would guess that this would be something that happens again in the future,” he said.
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Ralph Cossa, who works with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Hawaii, said he doesn’t think the training signals a softening of U.S. attitudes to New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy. Unless New Zealand changes its nuclear policy, the U.S. won’t be interested in letting the country back into the ANZUS treaty, he said.
“It is good to see our troops training with one another,” Cossa said. But “you can’t be an ally but not allow half of your ally’s navy to come into port.”
U.S. acceptance of New Zealand’s anti-nuclear legislation would set a bad precedent, Cossa said.
“If you say it is OK for New Zealand, then you have empowered the entire anti-nuclear movement in Japan,” he said.
Despite their differences, the U.S. and New Zealand – allies through both world wars and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts - have cooperated in Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor in recent years.
Campbell said a Marine Corps band will be in New Zealand in June to mark the 70th anniversary of the Marines’ first landing there. Thousands of Marines trained in New Zealand before heading north to battle the Japanese at Guadalcanal in World War II.