Members of CANWAR (Campaign Against Nuclear Warships) on a yacht in Wellington Harbour, protesting against the entrance of US nuclear warships into Wellington, 13 August 1976. Original photograph taken for the Evening Post newspaper by an unidentified photographer. (Photo: Alexander Turnball Library)

Journalist Nicky Hager delivered this year’s Michael King Memorial Lecture. As his topic, he chose the momentous events of 1985 when, against great resistance, New Zealand banned nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered warships — a national-scale protest against nuclear weapons.

Here, he shares not just the known history of that period — but a secret set of events too, which he says point to an ongoing threat to our democracy.


The setting for this story is late in the Cold War. The conflict was feeling close to home for us in the South Pacific, with nuclear weapons testing happening on our doorstep, and great pressure for New Zealand to align ourselves with British and American foreign policy.

The South Pacific was also a base for secret nuclear command and control facilities. It was a huge thing for our three-million strong, ex-British empire country to refuse to fall into line with the Anglo-American allies and to distance itself from the nuclear arms race.

Like other major public-interest social and political changes in New Zealand, the nuclear-free policy was strongly resisted, vigorously fought for, and eventually became part of the national identity of the country.

The nuclear-free policy was the product of a huge outpouring of public concern and effort. When the last nuclear armed and powered US warship (the USS Texas) visited Wellington in August 1983, it was met by a flotilla of protest boats at the harbour mouth, trade union strikes on the wharves, protest services in central city churches, school student protests, women for peace protests, and 10,000 people marching through the streets, accompanied by a parade of grotesque sculptures built by the city’s artists — the culmination of years of organising, debate and protest.

The Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific movement connected the New Zealand protests into a Pacific-wide struggle. David Lange, then leader of the opposition, called the Texas visit “a calculated unfriendly act” by the American government “in cahoots with the National government.”

Less than a year after the Texas visit, David Lange’s Labour government was elected to power and — to the disbelief and then anger of the US and Australian governments — the nuclear-free policy was adopted by cabinet. A few years after that, public opinion was so strong that the National Party adopted the nuclear-free policy as well. It was made of generations of public feeling about nuclear weapons and anti-war feelings dating from the horrors of World War One and later the Vietnam war.

No government has dared to change it since. But it could have all been different.

There was a major counter campaign that tried to stop the nuclear-free policy ever being born. That is the subject of this lecture: “The battle for and against New Zealand’s nuclear free policy — a secret history,” where the secret history bit refers to hopefully interesting new information that I can add to the story.

The lessons of this piece of history are very relevant today, in what they show about the way officials work to influence government foreign and defence policy; lessons that may help us to understand and spot when the same politics play out today.

A year before David Lange was elected in New Zealand, a new Labour government had been elected in Australia as well, headed by Prime Minister Bob Hawke. A New York Times article explained what happened there.

“The Australian Labour Party,” it said, “when out of office, campaigned on an anti-nuclear platform. After taking office in 1983, Mr Hawke agreed to continue military ties with the United States, including visits by nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed ships.”

It was assumed by opponents of the New Zealand policy, inside and outside the country, that our new government would do the same as the Australian government and drop the promised ban on visits by nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed ships.

The example of supposedly “nuclear-free” Japan also pointed this way. The same New York Times article noted that:

“Japan, which has long had a policy barring nuclear weapons from its territory, has not forced the United States to affirm each time a ship visits that it does not carry such weapons.”

What this meant in practice was that Japan routinely had visits by US aircraft carriers and other vessels that were very likely to be equipped with nuclear weapons. The Japanese policy was (and still is) a sham. The idea among opponents of New Zealand’s nuclear-free policy was that it should be the same as Japan, where the US Navy would “neither confirm nor deny” the presence of nuclear weapons on a visiting warship or submarine, and New Zealand would adopt an official stance of glibly “trusting” that the vessels complied with the New Zealand policy.

In the same vein, the head of Lange’s prime minister’s department, Gerald Hensley, pointed to the example of Denmark and Spain, which, he said, “had decided that the interests of their alliance made it worthwhile to accept an occasional few days of uncertainty about the temporary presence of nuclear weapons in their harbours.”

In short, there was a quietly confident assumption among the opponents that David Lange’s Labour government would drop the policy or agree to a meaningless “trust”-based nuclear-free policy as these other countries had done. Plans were being made during the second half of 1984 for a visit to New Zealand by a US destroyer, which would serve as a test case for the sell-out of the nuclear-free policy.

Most of the people here will know what happened next: there was a massive public uproar, the US warship visit was refused, and the nuclear-free policy came into existence. But we know much less about the forces that came close to defeating the nuclear-free policy before it ever came into being. I will describe this counter-campaign shortly, but first I should explain something about the new information I can bring to this lecture.

A few weeks ago, by chance, a friend was researching in the Turnbull Library and came across an old newspaper clipping that he thought I would be interested to see. The article looked back from a year after the US destroyer was barred from visiting New Zealand, and explained the events that stopped New Zealand backing down on its nuclear-free policy. The article reads:

“After months of negotiations with the American Government, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence last January were apparently sure that a visit by the US [warship] would meet the Government’s anti-nuclear policy and hold the ANZUS alliance intact.

“Then, some members of the government caucus and the Coalition Against Nuclear Warships (Canwar) stepped in. The visit was cancelled . . .

“But what is [the Coalition Against Nuclear Warships] and how good is its information?” the newspaper asked. “Today the ‘Post’ profiles [the Coalition Against Nuclear Warships], the organisation headed by a 26 year old who apparently had a more profound influence on our defence and foreign policy than the state’s own institutions.”[i]

The 26-year-old, looking more like 16 years old than 26 in the accompanying photo, was me — in an earlier life before my current career.

I was there during the events covered by this lecture, which means I can contribute some first-hand information about this piece of history, including things that have stayed secret until now. I have been thinking for a long time about recording this history. But I waited until it felt right to tell things where I had been sworn to secrecy. Now, with the passage of time, nearly everyone I’m going to mention is dead — and anyway, I think they would only be proud of the things I will reveal.

I want to reassure that I am not claiming some great determining role for myself in the story of New Zealand becoming nuclear free. I had great respect for David Lange and I believe various people, including him, Helen Clark, and Labour Party president Margaret Wilson, played the really crucial roles. And like all “people power” campaigns, numerous other people played important roles, each building on the efforts of people before them.

I was the spokesperson and strategist for the nuclear-free campaign in the capital city — which means I was particularly aware of the who and the how of the effort to sabotage the policy. I can add the new pieces of the story here today.

The Labour government was elected in a July 1984 snap election. Its campaign emphasised the nuclear issue, with election billboards promising that New Zealand would be made nuclear free. Four days after the election, Lange was asked if the nuclear-free policy was in any way negotiable. He said no, it was a policy and declared position of the government. Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs officials advised the new Labour ministers to agree with the Americans on a six-month cooling-down period while the details of the nuclear-free policy were worked out.

Various commentators later claimed that Lange was not committed to the policy and was open to watering it down. In this view, Lange intended to use the six months cooling-down period to wriggle out of the policy but then was forced by his party to stick with it. I don’t believe this is true. However, it would become clear that the US officials fully expected Lange to water down the policy.

And so, from the beginning, there was a collision coming, when the election promise to make New Zealand nuclear free by banning nuclear armed and powered vessels had to be reconciled with the American expectation that there was going to be another Australia and Japan-style “accommodation” — meaning a backdown by New Zealand.

The six-month cooling-down period was due to end in January 1985. That was when the Labour government had to decide whether to accept a US Navy request for one of its warships to visit New Zealand.

All the negotiations were occurring in secret, but my colleagues and I began to feel suspicious that a backdown was being prepared. The government had continued to insist that it would not allow nuclear ships into New Zealand but it started talking about officials arranging a special process for making decisions on whether to approve US ship visit requests. This process did not require the US Navy to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons on the visiting ship — something it refused to do — and instead was based on the idea that the New Zealand military staff could reliably advise the government on whether particular US warships obeyed the nuclear-free policy.

For people paying close attention, the clue to what was being planned could be seen in Lange’s statements that said, for instance, in late 1984: “The Government, assisted by the Defence Department and its researchers, would make an assessment on whether ships were likely to be carrying nuclear arms.”

This could sound reasonable, but the giveaway word was “likely”. “Likely” and “not likely” weren’t good enough, because they both implied possibly nuclear armed. “Likely” suggested a strategy for defeating the nuclear-free policy. First, a ship could be allowed to visit that was not very likely to be nuclear armed, but still possibly could be. And then, once on this slippery slope, a succession of warships and submarines could come, each progressively more likely to be nuclear armed. Before long, we’d be no different from “nuclear-free” Japan, with US vessels coming and going as they pleased.

This is what we started to suspect and, as we’ll see shortly, it is precisely what the officials were planning. Based on these suspicions, we began urgent action to try to make it more difficult politically for officials to get away with this trick.

On December 2, 1984, about eight weeks before the US ship decision date, I published an 11-page document containing a list of all nuclear armed and nuclear powered warships and submarines in the US Navy. The introduction said “the list includes all those United States warships and submarines specifically prohibited from visiting New Zealand by the Labour Government’s anti-nuclear policy.” In practice, the list identified vessels that were equipped with systems to launch and target nuclear weapons, since we wouldn’t know which ones actually had nuclear weapons on board at any given moment.

By getting in with the list first, and spreading it around all the journalists and political people interested in the nuclear-free issue, the idea was that any warship announced to be visiting New Zealand would be immediately compared to the published list.

I backed up the list with public statements saying that if any vessel on that list was invited to New Zealand, it would be met with massive protests.

In the following weeks, we introduced a further concept, which was that the nuclear-free policy had to ban all “nuclear-capable” vessels. Again, we were trying to take away wiggle room. Since no one could know for sure which vessels actually had nuclear weapons on board at a particular time, a genuine policy had to ban all vessels that were “capable” of launching nuclear weapons.

There was a showdown coming: if the government allowed a visit by a warship with systems capable of launching nuclear weapons — in other words, possibly nuclear armed — the nuclear-free policy was over. If they refused the visit, the nuclear-free policy was set in stone. Thus the scene was set.

In the decades since these events, many once-secret documents have been released. They show that our suspicions about the counter-campaign were exactly right. New Zealand officials from Defence, Foreign Affairs and the prime minister’s department told Lange and other ministers that it would be possible to have a strict ban on nuclear armed and powered warships and to stay in the military ANZUS alliance. The officials told them that they could negotiate a diplomatic solution with the Americans that honoured Labour’s nuclear-free policy.

But they then set out to undermine the nuclear-free policy.

The New Zealand officials travelled to and from the US in the latter months of 1984 working on the plan. The documents show them working on the plan where military officers would assess whether visiting ships were nuclear free, but they also show what the government was not being told.

In private, there was an understanding at the heart of the negotiations: that New Zealand would offer the Americans what the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Merv Norrish, called “step-by-step progress towards an accommodation”, starting with ships less likely to be nuclear armed during the visit and moving towards what was called “normal port access”, including inevitably nuclear armed warships. The New Zealand position “may well have to incorporate an element of trust,” Norrish told his colleagues.

The US deputy secretary of state sent a telegram to the New Zealand officials in November saying that, while the first warship might be unlikely to be nuclear armed, “The US could accept this as a first step to restoring full access but not as a final position”. The New Zealand Chief of Defence Staff, Ewan Jamieson, the military officer to be given the job of assessing the nuclear status of visiting vessels, spoke of a “ladder” of increasingly sensitive visits. The US Secretary of State, George Schultz, said it explicitly: “Over time you would have to assume some of our vessels would carry nuclear arms.” It was the slippery slope we had suspected.

When David Lange said publicly that the nuclear ship ban was non-negotiable, I believe he really meant it. And when he said publicly that New Zealand officials could make judgments about which ships were non-nuclear, he was believing that the officials could deliver a solution that didn’t compromise the nuclear-free policy. But he was being misled.

I now head into parts of the story that have stayed secret until now.

The crunch came in late January 1985, at the end of the six-month cooling-down period.

The US request for a visit by a US Navy ship had been received in secret by the government and the government’s decision was scheduled to be made at the Monday cabinet meeting on January 28, 1985. Lange was away on a trip to Tokelau and would arrive back midway through the cabinet meeting, in time for the ship visit decision. Over the preceding weekend, nuclear-free groups and Labour Party members had mobilised people around the country to send 7000 telegrams and letters to Lange, urging him to uphold the nuclear-free policy. Overflowing mailbags greeted him in the Beehive on the Monday. But there are, of course, many times when the public campaigns hard like this and it doesn’t win.

Those involved in the counter-campaign had also been preparing for months. They had on their side particularly the threat that New Zealand’s Anglo-American allies would be furious and punish New Zealand if Labour didn’t back down on the nuclear policy.

The senior officials set out their recommendations in four documents. The Chief of Defence Staff wrote on the cover letter that “in the interests of security I have had only three copies of each paper produced.” The first copy was for the Minister of Defence. The second for Lange on his return; and, he wrote, “I hold the third in my office. I recommend that no wider access be given to these papers until the Prime Minister has considered their advice and given direction on how the matter should be progressed.”

Secrecy and timing are powerful tools of bureaucratic influence. Thus, after six months of preparation, the defence minister was given only the weekend to mull over the advice; Lange would only have hours. No other ministers would see the papers before the decision. Only one option was offered. The officials had stacked the process in their favour.

Notice that this meant that the only cabinet member, indeed the only person, who was allowed to see the senior officials’ advice, before cabinet met and Lange arrived, was the Minister of Defence.

And then something incredibly lucky happened.

On that final fateful weekend, out of the blue, my phone rang. It was the Minister of Defence. He was a Labour Party politician named Frank O’Flynn whom I had not had close contact with before. He asked if I was free to visit him at his home in Grant Road, Wellington. He said it was urgent.

When I’d arrived and was sitting in his very neat living room, he said he had the bundle of advice from the officials on whether to accept the US ship visit. But, he said, he wasn’t sure what to make of the advice or what he should do. Would I confidentially read the official documents he had received and tell him what I thought?

And so there I was, reading the secret advice that almost no one else had seen. Two Ministry of Defence documents were stamped SECRET and two came from the External Intelligence Bureau. Frank O’Flynn was breaking the law by showing them to me, and I was initially a little bemused: Why was he trusting me with this? But then I was just engrossed in the documents.

The papers named the ship that the US Navy wanted to visit New Zealand, a destroyer named the USS Buchanan. I recognised the name, which only weeks earlier I had included on the Coalition Against Nuclear Warships list of all the US nuclear warships and submarines that were banned from New Zealand under the nuclear-free policy. The official advice also had 36 pages of facts and arguments, all supporting the ship visit proposal.

“I therefore offer for your consideration,” the Chief of Defence Staff Jamieson wrote, “my assessment that it was most unlikely that the USS Buchanan at the time of its proposed visit to New Zealand would carry any nuclear weapons.”

It was exactly what we’d suspected. There was no mention of the step-by-step plan to undermine the ban with increasingly blatant nuclear armed vessels. Nor was there mention that the US Secretary of State had said that “over time you would have to assume some of our vessels would carry nuclear arms.” There was actually no discussion at all of pros and cons. There was not a single mention of the option of adopting a strong nuclear-free policy. No other options of any kind were provided.

The government had been manoeuvred into a corner where it was hard to say no. It had agreed to the officials conducting the six months of diplomatic negotiations, implying the nuclear-free policy was open to negotiation and that compromise was possible. The Americans would feel messed around and were likely to punish the country if the Labour government stood firm. It was a classic bureaucratic stitch-up, the kind where the officials usually win. Foreign Affairs had already drafted a letter announcing the ship visit. There was, of course, no letter already drafted with the government declining the ship visit.

But something unpredictable had happened, which was O’Flynn inviting me to his home at the critical moment, when official secrecy should have been depriving him of support and advice. After months of living and breathing these issues, I was well prepared to help him figure out how to protect the nuclear-free policy, which is what he wanted to do.

There were two crucial things I was able to tell him.

First, I explained exactly why accepting the Buchanan would be the end of the nuclear-free policy. I said that once one possibly nuclear armed ship was allowed to visit, even if maybe not very likely that first time, New Zealand would never be able to say no to all the other possibly nuclear armed warships and submarines. Over time, it would become evident to everyone that we had a Japan style nuclear-free policy, meaning a nuclear-free policy only in name. It was a trick to end the nuclear-free policy.

Showing him the secret documents, I directed him to the only sentence that really mattered, where Jamieson had written that he could “give no absolute guarantee that the ship does not carry nuclear warheads . . .” This was the line he could take to cabinet.

The other thing I was able to suggest to O’Flynn also proved to be important. As I’ve said, after six months of work, the government was being presented with only one option. The long-awaited cabinet meeting had no alternative proposals; no Option B to choose instead.

I had an idea for a plan. When I researched the list of all nuclear armed and powered US Navy vessels, most US warships and submarines by far were installed with nuclear weapon systems. But I remembered one modern class of guided missile frigates that had no nuclear weapon systems. It was called the Oliver Hazard Perry class.

I suggested to O’Flynn that he propose to cabinet that they reject a visit by the Buchanan but tell the Americans that the government would accept a visit by a warship from the Oliver Hazard Perry class, which would clearly fit the New Zealand policy. The ship could come and go without breaching the nuclear-free policy and, if it did come, would not be a precedent for later visits by nuclear-capable ships. So Labour potentially had an Option B. It gave them a way out. I left Frank O’Flynn mulling over what he would do

This is how it played out.

Lange was still away that weekend, with no secure communications. On the Sunday afternoon, the deputy prime minister, Geoffrey Palmer, typed a letter to Lange bringing him up to date with developments on the nuclear-free issue. It was hand delivered to Lange by a trusted advisor as he returned to New Zealand. Years later, Palmer’s “1.30pm” letter was released under the Official Information Act, so we know what he said.

“Evidence about whether this vessel carries nuclear weapons has been assessed by officials,” Palmer wrote. He said the evidence was enclosed: “I have not yet seen it,” he said. “Frank has. He says it is his view that the evidence is not sufficient to convince the public that it will not be carrying weapons and therefore we should refuse the request.”

Lange did not arrive at cabinet the next day until the afternoon and the nuclear ship discussion was surprisingly short: Lange later said it was only about 15 minutes. It’s clear that he and O’Flynn simply presented their conclusions to the rest of the ministers. A report of the meeting records that Lange told cabinet the Buchanan was not suitable and he intended to ask the Americans for another ship, one from the Oliver Hazard Perry class.

At the post-cabinet press conference, Lange declined to name the ship proposed by the Americans but said there were vessels in the US Navy, “modern, recent, fighting vessels which were clearly, unmistakably, not nuclear armed.” It was clear what class of ships he was referring to. Until the press conference, officials had no hint that their proposal to accept the Buchanan had been rejected; nor that an Option B had appeared that gave the government a way out of having to accept the official’s proposals.

The next day, Lange and O’Flynn had a meeting with the American ambassador Monroe Browne. Lange explained that there was insufficient evidence that the Buchanan would not be nuclear armed and he proposed instead a visit by an Oliver Hazard Perry class vessel. O’Flynn added that it would give the opportunity for a port visit; wasn’t that what the Americans wanted? The US ambassador blew up at the suggestion, saying: “No, we want port access. What we want is a resumption of the way we operated in ANZUS as before.”

The US ambassador reluctantly agreed to pass on the Oliver Hazard Perry proposal to Washington. But the US government replied that the only option was the Buchanan, not an Oliver Hazard Perry frigate. There had never been any real chance of the US accepting New Zealand sticking to the nuclear-free policy. At this point, Lange formally refused the Buchanan. The nuclear free policy was secure.

The rest is well known. As the US retaliation began, in the very first days after the Buchanan decision, O’Flynn issued a press release as Minister of Defence. “The Government’s defence advisors left it in no doubt that a refusal to accept visits by nuclear capable ships . . . would almost inevitably result in curtailment by the US of current activities under ANZUS,” he said. The US might remove concessions for military equipment purchases, but he was “sure most New Zealanders will be willing to pay that price to see the government stand firm.” He said exercises might also be cancelled and the flow of intelligence reduced or stopped. “Our defence advisors warned us of all these probable consequences of our anti-nuclear policy,” he said. “We are prepared for them and their cost and I’m sure most New Zealanders are too.”

Later that year, the American government very publicly expelled New Zealand from the ANZUS alliance, which I regarded as a bonus. The New Zealand officials kept trying in secret through the rest of 1985 to engineer a US warship visit and get the step-by-step plan back on track. Suffice to say, their efforts failed. An overly aggressive reaction to the nuclear ship ban by the US and Australian governments, and then the Rainbow Warrior bombing that the US and British government refused to condemn, had greatly strengthened New Zealand public support for the nuclear-free policy.

There was, for me, a final mystery surrounding the Buchanan decision. Why had the Minister of Defence Frank O’Flynn reached out to me at that crucial moment?

I learned the answer in a chance meeting, many years later. It wasn’t that O’Flynn heard me in the news or anything like that. It was something much more pleasingly New Zealand.

Back on that January 1985 weekend, Frank O’Flynn had been pacing around the house in Grant Road, complaining to his family that he didn’t know what to make of the advice he was reading. He asked: Who can I talk to who would be trustworthy? It was Frank’s daughter, Bridget O’Flynn, who had the idea. Some years earlier, she’d been a postgraduate student in the philosophy department at Victoria University, at the same time as me. We sat around and talked sometimes. It was her, bless her. She told her father she knew me and I’d be reliable. She’d always been proud about that and had wanted to tell me. She had connected us up at the right moment.

Frank O’Flynn and I were friends for the rest of his life. There was a warmth between us when we met which I think was in part an acknowledgment that I had kept our meeting secret. Later, when he left Wellington, he invited me to his house again. This time, he gave me all his boxes of papers from his time as Minister of Defence. They were a goldmine, including important New Zealand Eyes Only documents that would later go into my first book. (Likewise, by the way, as another sign of personal goodwill coming out of those years, David Lange wrote the foreword for that first book.)

I want to say a few words of praise about the little remembered Frank O’Flynn. He was solidly in the progressive Labour Party tradition on foreign policy. In September 1984, for instance, as the nuclear free decision approached, he gave a foreign policy speech that enraged US officials. Since World War Two, he said, New Zealand had been part of “a kind of United States protectorate” but the country was “no longer under any obligation, for traditional or historical reasons, to recognise every enemy of Britain or the United States as our enemy at all times.” He urged that New Zealand not get drawn into global or regional pacts all over the world. The modern Labour Party needs more people who understand and care about foreign policy as much as he did.

Before I finish, which is soon, there is a final point I want to make.

In those first years of the Lange Labour government, an informal group of senior officials was formed to try to stop the nuclear-free policy harming the ANZUS alliance. They were all the most senior officials responsible for New Zealand’s military and foreign policy. To be specific, the group consisted of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Merv Norrish, the Chief of Defence Staff, Ewan Jamieson, the Secretary of Defence, Denis McLean, and the head of the prime minister’s department, Gerald Hensley. They met informally during the crucial six-month period devising and attempting to push through the plan I’ve described.

This was, for me, as someone involved, the biggest lesson from the experience. I’d had a growing realisation about who we were up against. I realised that the greatest opponents of the nuclear-free policy were not the National Party, or some pro-military groups, or even the US government. Our greatest opponents were the New Zealand officials. They were also the greatest opponents of the government they were supposed to serve, a government that had campaigned and been elected on the promise of a nuclear ban, and which was then trying to fulfil its promise. This is an important New Zealand story, and understanding it helps us to understand more widely that something’s very wrong with defence and foreign policy in New Zealand.

We have a government based on the concept of civilian control of the military and, equally, government control of foreign affairs. But the events I’ve described today are about senior officials who believed they knew best and, more worrying, who felt entitled to trick, block and steer the government to pursue the policies they preferred. They seemed to assume, in Frank O’Flynn’s words, “a kind of United States protectorate”, where doing what the United States or Britain wanted was more important than thinking about and pursuing what is best for New Zealand. Or, to put it another way, they thought that what was best for New Zealand was doing what the United States and Britain wanted of us. This attitude hasn’t changed to date.

In the decades since the nuclear-free showdown, I’ve seen the same thing again and again. Strong political leaders can at times wrestle control, like Helen Clark refusing to join the invasion of Iraq when the military and foreign affairs staff were reflexively trying to push New Zealand into it. But on most issues, most of the time, the same non-democratic grouping of the heads of defence, foreign affairs and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet have had far more influence over defence and foreign policy than the elected politicians — and vastly more than members of the public.

Take, for example, the recent move to have New Zealand become a NATO “partner” in the so-called Indo-Pacific. Or the move to have our small South Pacific nation join the anti-China AUKUS alliance. I see these as driven almost entirely by pro-American officials.

It was the same with my personal experience in the Operation Burnham inquiry, which investigated my book on civilian casualties in Afghanistan and found that, indeed, civilian casualties and torture had been hidden and denied. As I went through that inquiry, I became aware (and later confirmed, using the Official Information Act) that there was an informal grouping of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, the Chief of Defence Force, the Secretary of Defence, and the head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Yes, the same configuration that had fought the nuclear ship ban, this time fighting every step of the way to try to stop critical findings about the actions of our SAS in the US-led war. And, believe it or not, some of these senior officials still have their eyes on the nuclear-free policy.

So, most of this lecture has been about some important and triumphant history; history that deserves to be told from the perspective of the Lange government and the public. But I also urge that we learn from this history, and realise that very serious reform is needed to our present-day military and foreign policy bureaucracy.

Nicky Hager works as an author and investigative journalist. He has written seven books about New Zealand politics, intelligence, public relations and war. His book The Hollow Men exposed in detail the machinations behind the National Party’s 2005 Iwi-Kiwi election campaign.

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