New Zealand signs formal partnership agreement with NATO - Atlantic Council
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (right) welcomes New Zealand’s then-Prime Minister, John Key, to NATO headquarters on June 4, 2012. [Source:]

What does NATO have to do with New Zealand and vice versa? The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is what it says on the tin, and New Zealand is about as far away from the North Atlantic as possible. NATO was set up as a united European and North American military counter to the former Soviet Union during the Cold War of the mid to late 20th century.

The Soviet Union collapsed and dissolved into its constituent parts: Its Eastern European satellites enthusiastically signed up with the ideological victors; and its military bloc, the Warsaw Pact (remember that?) which confronted NATO, ceased to exist. But NATO did not cease to exist; rather, it set about finding itself reasons to continue to exist.

Not merely exist, but expand, right up to Russia’s borders, as part of its policy to confront and contain Russia. NATO currently has the most member states (32) in its history. Not content with its European role, with side forays into countries such as Libya and Afghanistan, it is aggressively engaged in carving out a global role for itself. It is assuming some of the role of the U.S. as the world’s policeman.

US leverages Ukraine crisis for NATO expansion, to push Europe further into  chaos - Invent the Future

IP4: That’s Where New Zealand Comes into the Picture

Journalist Andrew Gillespie wrote that geographically, New Zealand cannot be a full member of NATO. But New Zealand has become a ‘partner,’ making up an Indo-Pacific cohort that includes Australia, Japan and the Republic of (South) Korea—known as IP4.The communiqué from the (2023 NATO) summit emphasized the region’s impact on Euro-Atlantic security and our shared commitment to upholding international law and the rules-based international order.

It is important to note the IP4 shared security obligations stem from bilateral treaties and not any one collective agreement. Bilateral relations tie the United States to Japan, South Korea and Australia. For New Zealand, we are tied to this alliance via our neighbors across the Tasman. An additional thread being woven through the group is the AUKUS* alliance, which could ultimately include partnerships with Japan and South Korea.[1]

Gillespie wrote: “While full membership of AUKUS is ruled out by our long-standing nuclear-free policy, New Zealand has expressed interest in joining the second tier of the alliance, which would give us access to a new generation of weaponry.” (Alexander Gillespie, “After being a ‘welcome guest’ at NATO, NZ now needs to consider what our partnership with the alliance really means,” RNZ, July 12, 2023)

The NATO website says: “NATO and New Zealand have been engaged in dialogue and cooperation since 2001. Since 2012, work has been taken forward through an Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme.” New Zealand’s role as a NATO partner has ratcheted up in the last couple of years.

In 2022 Jacinda Ardern became the first New Zealand prime minister to attend and address a NATO Summit; her Labour successor, Chris Hipkins, did the same in 2023. The Ukraine War has led to New Zealand, once again, getting involved in a European war, providing money, military equipment and training. But the burgeoning New Zealand-NATO relationship not only involves New Zealand going to NATO, but also NATO coming to our part of the world.

Jacinda Ardern (second right) at the NATO summit along with (from left) Australia’s Anthony Albanese, Japan’s Fumio Kishida, NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg and South Korea’s Yoon Suk Yeol. [Source:]

Helping NATO to Confront and Contain China

Gorana Grgić wrote in Stuff Magazine: “With NATO so heavily focused on Ukraine at the moment, its interest in a region half-way around the world does raise some questions. Why are these four leaders [i.e., from Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand] becoming regular features at a summit for European and North American countries? First, these countries have been among the most prominent members of the international coalition supporting Ukraine and sanctioning Russia. So, their presence at a security conference where Ukraine will be discussed makes sense.” (Gorana Grgić, “Why is NATO expanding its reach to the Asia-Pacific region?” Stuff, July 11, 2023)

NATO has deemed the Indo-Pacific region to be strategically important to it, in relation to its policy vis-à-vis China. It has been working to formalize its relationship with all four countries with the Individually Tailored Partnership Program. The buzzword is “interoperability.”

The Prime Minister of New Zealand visits NATO | NATO Secreta… | Flickr

“The intensifying and deepening relations between NATO and its Indo-Pacific partners can be interpreted in two ways. First, these partnerships form another important link in the expanding network of diplomatic and security ties between the U.S., its Western allies and the Indo-Pacific region. They complement partnerships like AUKUS and the Quad.” [Wikipedia describes the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, commonly known as the Quad, as a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan and the U.S.]

Gorana Grgić writes: “Beyond this, we can also view these agreements in the context of NATO’s evolving outreach with the rest of the world over the past couple of decades. Previously, NATO’s collaborations with Indo-Pacific countries involved pooling resources for security operations in non-NATO members, such as in the Balkans in the 1990s and Afghanistan in the 2000s.”

“Nowadays, strengthening these partnerships is seen as a vital part of responding to the new challenges and threats posed by Russia and China. Of course, this does not mean we will see NATO military equipment or troops permanently stationed in the Indo-Pacific. Nor would it be realistic to expect the Indo-Pacific countries’ military contributions to Ukraine to lead to a more permanent set-up in Europe. Similarly, while all of this is aimed at intensifying security cooperation among US allies in the Indo-Pacific, this is in no way a prelude to the creation of a NATO-like collective defence pact in the region.” (Grgić, ibid.)

So, NATO has added confronting and containing China to its agenda of containing and confronting Russia—presumably on the basis that “my enemy’s friend is, therefore, also my enemy”

NATO Insists Its Members and Partners Increase Military Spending

Andrew Gillespie wrote: “The other thread that ties NATO and the partner countries together is military spending. The original goal was that each NATO country spend 2% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on the military. At [the 2023 summit in] Lithuania, NATO emphasized the need for partners to invest ‘at least 2 percent of GDP on defense’ and ‘that in many cases, expenditure beyond 2 percent of GDP will be needed in order to remedy existing shortfalls and meet the requirements across all domains arising from a more contested security order.’

“This will be a challenge for New Zealand. Military spending makes up just 1.5 percent of our GDP. The other IP4 partners have all crossed this 2 percent threshold, or shall do [so] soon.” (Gillespie, ibid.). Not coincidentally, in 2023 the NZ government announced a significant increase in military spending.

New Zealand soldier in Khost Afghanistan. [Source:]

NATO’s Nuclear Umbrella Policy A “Powerful Rebuke” To NZ

Alexander Gillespie wrote: “For New Zealand, the hardening of the ‘nuclear umbrella’ could also be a sticking point. Via the [2023 summit] communiqué, NATO said it was ‘ready and able to deter aggression and manage escalation risks in a crisis that has a nuclear dimension.’ NATO also announced intentions to strengthen ‘training and exercises that simulate conventional and a nuclear dimension of a crisis or conflict.’”

Gillespie further quoted NATO stating that “‘the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons …stands in opposition to and is inconsistent and incompatible with the alliance’s nuclear deterrence policy, is at odds with the existing non-proliferation and disarmament architecture, risks undermining the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty], and does not take into account the current security environment.’

“NATO called on its partners and all other countries to ‘…reflect realistically on the ban treaty’s impact on international peace and security…and join us in working to improve collective security through tangible and verifiable measures that can reduce strategic risks and enable lasting progress on nuclear disarmament.’ For a country like New Zealand, which made conclusion of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons a priority, this is a powerful rebuke.” (Idem.)

Criticism of NATO’s “Too Much Ambition”

It’s worth noting that NATO’s expansion into Asia has not gone uncriticized from its own side of the geopolitical fence. “NATO’s rationale for venturing into Asian security affairs is clear enough. The U.S. categorizes China as its ‘pacing challenge,’ a country that seeks to displace Washington as the world’s leading center of gravity. There is growing concern in the U.S. and Europe about China’s military modernization and propensity to coerce its neighbors.”

“Yet rhetoric aside, NATO would struggle to sustain a regular operational presence in Asia. With the exception of the U.S., UK, and France, the alliance doesn’t have the capacity to project power in Asia even if it wanted to—and NATO is heavily dependent on U.S. military power, intelligence, and reconnaissance capabilities in any event. The most that could be done by the defense alliance are a few freedom of navigation operations in contested waterways, symbolic deployments that don’t do much other than irritate the Chinese. Given these ongoing military deficiencies as well as the current security environment on the European continent, one must ask why the alliance would even consider ratcheting up its ambitions….”

“Then there’s the question of whether NATO’s diagnosis of the China threat is even accurate. In terms of nuclear weapons, China possess[es] less than 8% of Washington’s arsenal. China’s ‘global footprint’ consists of one foreign base compared to Washington’s expansive network of 750 bases in 80 countries—including a vast network around China.”

“While U.S. officials view China as a growing threat to the U.S.-led international order, the gap between Washington’s capabilities and Beijing’s is regularly understated. In life, there is such a thing as too much ambition. This aptly sums up NATO’s Asia-Pacific dreams.” (Daniel R DePetris and Rajan Menon, “Why NATO’s Growing Interest in Asia Is a Mistake,” Time, July 14, 2023)

Asia should avoid security plight set by NATO expansion - Global Times

New Zealand Getting into Bed with NATO, with No Public Discussion or Debate

So, to sum up. By getting more and more deeply involved with NATO, New Zealand gets sucked into a fight with China (our biggest trading partner and a country with whom we have no disputes); we get arm twisted to increase military spending for no reason other than that NATO requires it; and we get told to stop all this nuclear free nonsense and come under NATO’s nuclear umbrella.

None of that sounds like a good deal but it is precisely what we are getting signed up to, with no public discussion or debate. What’s more, this getting into bed with NATO only accelerated under the 2017-23 Labour government. The National Party, which easily won the 2023 election, has so little reason to disagree with Labour’s defense policy that it did not even bother to publish its own for the election campaign. Says it all really.

  1. My article, “AUKUS: A Major Lurch Towards War With China,” is in Peace Researcher 65, June 2023.

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