|Arthur Dominic Villasanta |||Oct 20, 2016 06:38 PM EDT|
(Photo : US Navy) USS Sampson
The 32 year-old military estrangement between New Zealand and the United States takes a brief pause this November with the first visit of a U.S. Navy warship that New Zealand is certain isn't armed with any nuclear weapons.
The goodwill visit of the USS Sampson (DDG-102), an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, coincides with celebrations marking the Royal New Zealand Navy's 75th anniversary. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he had given clearance for the Sampson to visit and was certain the Sampson has no nuclear weapons on board.
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"I think it's a sign of the fact that the relationship between New Zealand and the United States is truly in the best shape it's been since the anti-nuclear legislation was passed," said Key. "All of those last vestiges of the dispute that we had have really been put to one side."
The Sampson's visit is a pleasant interregnum to the over three decades-long misunderstanding between both nations triggered in 1984 when the government of then Prime Minister David Lange barred nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships from using New Zealand ports or entering New Zealand waters under the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act.
This law declared the territorial sea, land and airspace of New Zealand nuclear-free zones. New Zealand's anti-nuclear campaign is the only successful movement of its type in the world that resulted in the nation's nuclear-weapon-free zone status being enshrined in legislation.
The U.S. responded to the law by downgrading its military ties with New Zealand
The Sampson's visit is symbolic in that it's the first by a U.S. Navy warship since 1984 and could signal more warship visits, and closer military cooperation with the Royal New Zealand Navy, in the years ahead.
Re-forging military links with small but militarily powerful New Zealand is vital to the U.S. Pivot to East Asia Regional Strategy of President Barack Obama adopted in 2012. The U.S. considers New Zealand part of East Asia.
Among the key areas of action in this pivot are strengthening bilateral security alliances; forging a broad-based military presence and advancing democracy and human rights.
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