The buggers who run the NZ Herald seem to be conducting a campaign to sully the name of Rob Muldoon.
Or further sully it, fair to say. Rob wasn’t the most popular of prime ministers – let’s face it – and did some daft stuff with his economic policies. Alf thought he was a bit of a bully, actually, although Mrs Grumble said she rather liked the dimple in his cheek.
Anyway, the Herald people a few days ago published a smear under the heading “Muldoon tried to get US to mislead NZ public”.
And today, so help us, they are dishing up more muck under the heading “NZ linked to nuclear missile test plan”.
Someone somewhere in that organisation obviously is carrying a grudge against our former leader.
The first of the reports was based on the contents of confidential 1983 Australian cabinet papers – although they can be hardly regarded as confidential now that the media have blurted what they say.
The truth is they were released by the National Archives in Australia, at which point clearly they were not confidential.
The important thing, however, is that they show the limits Washington had placed on military commitments to defend the Anzac countries under the Anzus alliance. .
And Rob Muldoon – it transpires – did not behave as badly as the headline implies.
He was afraid support for the alliance would be undermined if New Zealanders understood those limits.
And while the then Secretary of State, George Shultz, had explained those limits “quite categorically” during talks between alliance ministers, both the US and New Zealand fudged the reality of America’s position in the communique the Anzus Council issued.
So that’s it?
The realities were “fudged” in a communique?
But politicians are fudging things all the time. If we didn’t fudge, we would not need political commentators to explain what we mean.
How many bloody journalists would be out of work then, eh?
As things turned out, the voters in New Zealand two years later got a rush of blood and elected a Labour Government.
And before you could say “nuclear holocaust”, a ban had been slapped on nuclear ship visits.
New Zealand was suspended from Anzus and that was that.
The Herald report says Australia was under no illusions about the limits of American readiness to come to our defence: they were clear in both the wording of the 1952 treaty and in former President Richard Nixon’s 1969 Guam doctrine.
This said that while the US would fulfil all treaty commitments and defend an ally threatened by a nuclear power, and supply military and economic assistance during other acts of aggression, it expected allies to provide for their own defence.
The source for this stuff is a submission to the Australian Cabinet by Foreign Minister Bill Hayden, who said New Zealand wanted to present a different picture because of its limited resources and to avoid giving its public the impression of any weakening of the value that successive National Party governments had placed on the alliance.
“The New Zealand side was, not unexpectedly, reluctant to engage in any constructive recognition of the implications of greater regional self-reliance obligations arising from the so-called Guam doctrine,” the submission said. “Above and beyond that there is no doubt that the New Zealanders’ attitude was very much conditioned by domestic political considerations.
“It is quite obvious that they are hoping to get the New Zealand Labor Opposition wrong-footed by presenting Anzus as a firm and unwavering guarantee of military commitment by other members in all threat/attack circumstances. Anzus is not such a guarantee.”
In the upshot, thanks to Kiwi pressure, the Americans hauled back from Shultz’s statements that Anzus guaranteed no more than a “response” from other members in the event a threat against, or an attack on, a member country.
“As a consequence of this New Zealand sensitivity, both the US and New Zealand were reluctant to spell out in detail in the communique that there could be a range of responses other than direct military support in the event of an attack or threat,” Mr Hayden’s submission said. Australia and New Zealand could expect the US to “assist” in circumstances of a great power conflict, but that this could not be taken for granted in a lesser contingency involving the use of force.
And if Muldoon somehow persuaded the Yanks to go along with something that would wrong-foot Labour, good on him, Alf says.
But the Herald wasn’t finished. Today the HoS has come up with a more dubious account of something Muldoon may or may not have done.
Again, the contents of this report have been dragged out of papers just released from the Australian archive.
They reveal a plan for America to test-fire long-range MX missiles into the Tasman Sea in the early 1980s.
The missiles were to have been launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and to have cruised over 13,000km of water to splash down between Tasmania and the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island.
Anyway, the HoS has seized on this stuff and given it some Kiwi spin.
Secret details have emerged of an extraordinary plan for America to test-fire long-range MX missiles into the Tasman Sea in the early 1980s.
The Australian prime minister quietly signed off the plan, and New Zealand’s prime minister Robert Muldoon may have done the same – without consulting his key Cabinet ministers, as did his Australian counterpart, Malcolm Fraser.
You’ve got to admire the gall of the HoS.
It does not actually know if Muldoon signed off on the plan.
It says he may have signed off on it.
He may have done lots of things.
The best that can be said is that the 1981 proposal, declassified by the National Archives last week, was signed off by Fraser
– and under the terms of the ANZUS Treaty, the US would also have sought Muldoon’s approval.
“Sought” it, note. But not necessarily secured it.
But hey, this has given the HoS a pretext to talk with Alf’s old mate Warren Cooper, who was our foreign affairs minister at the time.
Warren would have been chuffed to be remembered, and said Muldoon had never briefed him on the “far-fetched” plan.
But when push comes to shove, we are left with an Australian account of what happened, and in Alf’s experience Aussie politicians are bigger fudgers than Kiwi ones.
Bearing that in mind, let’s read on:
Fraser outlined the proposal in classified Cabinet papers: “The Government has agreed to the US request and that two test launches will occur in January/February 1984. I would emphasise that the tests do not involve warheads as such and the missiles will not contain any nuclear material,” he wrote.
“The missile launch point is to be Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The flight path does not pass over the Australian mainland or Tasmania. The nearest point to the Australian mainland will be some 220 kilometres east of Cape Pillar in Tasmania.”
He said it was unlikely the missile would move off the pre-computed flight path, but it would be destroyed if it did.
Details of the missile tests were kept confidential to prevent activists from gathering support and planning protests, which Alf regards as eminently sensible.
The tests were timed to avoid the Australian elections, lest activists learn of them.
That was sensible, too.
Alas, Fraser was succeeded by Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke, who withdrew approval for the missile tests.
And in this country, Muldoon made way for the Labour mob under David Lange, and under Labour NZ got all squeamish about port visits by US warships that may or may not be capable of launching nuclear depth bombs, and before we knew it the ANZUS Treaty was in tatters.
As for the Herald on Sunday’s description of the missile-testing plan as “extraordinary”, let’s get real.
The only extraordinary aspect of it Alf can discern is that the missiles would have carried no war-heads and landed in the ocean.
Much more worth while, they should have carried war-heads and been test-fired to destroy Mongrel Mob, Black Power and other gang headquarters.