Diplomatic Daydreams and Imperial Nightmares.


GERALD HENSLEY only had one job. When David Lange became Prime Minister in 1984, the career civil servant and diplomat was tasked with making sure his new boss didn’t repeat the “mistakes” of Labour’s last charismatic leader, Norman Kirk.

Hensley failed.

New Zealand declared itself Nuclear-Free, denied port access to the USS Buchanan, and found itself excluded from the ANZUS Pact. It was a foreign and defence policy disaster, and it happened on Hensley’s watch.

Which is why, for nearly 40 years, Hensley has been buttonholing every diplomat, politician and journalist he meets to explain why none of it was his fault. He has also made it his mission to persuade New Zealanders that their country’s nuclear-free status, along with its “independent foreign policy” is nothing more than “daydream diplomacy”.

His latest attempt to ridicule his country’s foreign policy, (“Daydream diplomacy and the myth of NZ independence”, NZ Herald, 21/6/23) is an unappetising stew of pop psychology, Sinophobia, imperial nostalgia and national self-loathing. This is unsurprising, since Hensley’s Cold War recipe betrays his inability to any longer read the geopolitical runes.

The whole tone of Hensley’s op-ed piece is one of supercilious contempt for all those politicians, past as well as present, who fell prey to the pacifistic rhetoric of the Nuclear-Free New Zealand movement of the 1980s.

In terms of international relations theory, Hensley would probably count himself among the “realists” – the sort of academics who delight in telling their students that “countries do not have friends, only interests”. By this reckoning, New Zealand’s nuclear-free legislation represents a failure on the part of successive governments to accurately discern where the country’s true interests lie.

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But, hold on, is Hensley saying that our anti-nuclear legislation is against New Zealand’s long-term interests because it upset – and continues to upset – our friends? Friends that, from a realist’s perspective, must always take second place to the national self-interest?

If the government and people of New Zealand formed the opinion that there was no possibility that nuclear weapons – let alone the use of them – could ever be in the interest of the country, then, surely, abandoning that judgement to satisfy the wishes of New Zealand’s “friends” would constitute a signal failure to uphold the national interest? In other words, the “realist” position is the one advanced by the defenders of New Zealand’s anti-nuclear stance. It is Hensley, and those who think like him, who are putting sentiment before reason.

And what sentiments! One can almost see the sneer curling Hensley’s lip as he tapped out the following, almost gloating, dismissal of New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy:

“For 40 years, New Zealand, with no threat, no nuclear arms and therefore nothing to give up, has marched along bravely behind the banner of nuclear disarmament while not a single country joined us. To press on with a policy that failed to achieve anything in nearly 50 years might be seen as deeply eccentric.”

Not really. There is nothing “eccentric” about the world’s huge sigh of relief when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union imploded. People spoke enthusiastically about a global “peace dividend” and the hands of the Doomsday Clock edged back a little. As it has so often, New Zealand led international opinion in the 1980s. Throughout the 1990s and into the new century the fear of nuclear annihilation receded and support for comprehensive nuclear disarmament increased.

It was the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and claims by the USA and the UK that dictators were on the point of acquiring “weapons of mass destruction”, that brought the Peace Train to a sudden halt. That the nations which went to war with Iraq in 2003 – ostensibly to confiscate its deadly arsenal – were led by the nuclear-armed USA was an irony not lost on the rest of the world. That Iraq’s deadly arsenal turned out to not exist only made the irony sharper.

That Hensley proclaims New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy a failure because the nation states in possession of nuclear weapons (with the noble exception of Ukraine) refused to dismantle them is risible. No serious participant in New Zealand’s huge nuclear disarmament movement ever expected the USA, the Soviet Union, the UK, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel to beat their ICBMs into ploughshares just because we asked them to.

New Zealand’s anti-nuclear pitch was typically straightforward and pragmatic. The rest of the world may not be able to beat sense into the nations with the nukes, but it sure as hell didn’t have to join them in their insanity. That was a policy banner behind which the rest of the world – except Iran – was only too happy to march.

Hensley’s sneering tone permeates the whole of his op-ed essay. If he is to be believed the only way New Zealand can demonstrate its diplomatic maturity is to reject any notion of acting independently. In his own words: “We are prisoners of our history and geography which will always limit our choice of diplomatic friends.”

Except, the way the world is heading points to New Zealand having plenty of choices about which diplomatic friendships it develops, and which it allows to wither away. History teaches us that empires rise and fall, and that far from being a factor shackling us to a particular region, New Zealand’s geographical location has more often been treated as irrelevant. Every 25 April New Zealanders recall a campaign fought on the slopes of a peninsula 17,000 kilometres from their own shores. Hensley should know better than to run the argument that geography is destiny.

And even if he is right, and that New Zealand’s destiny is inextricably bound up with its location in the South Pacific, then the nation state we have the most to gain by befriending is not the United States – an internally riven, economically fragile, and declining superpower – but the People’s Republic of China. Not only is China New Zealand’s most important trading partner, but its influence across the Pacific Ocean can only grow as the diplomacy of the USA twists and turns, advances and retreats, in accordance with the fluctuating fortunes of its warring political tribes.

It is highly likely that Gerald Hensley was one of the very few New Zealanders cleared to read the Five Eyes decrypts. That privilege, if he did indeed enjoy it, would go a long way to explaining his seemingly unshakeable faith in the unchallengeable preponderance of the English-speaking nations. He cannot conceive of a world in which New Zealand is not in a special relationship with the UK’s and the USA’s “Special Relationship”. Nor, indeed, of a world in which the old empire and the new are not the top dogs – determining what is, and what isn’t, suitable for Kipling’s “lesser breeds without the law”.

“We need to recover the old boundaries of a realistic foreign policy, repair the mildewed relationship with Australia, pay much more attention to the Asean countries and stop regarding the South China Sea and Taiwan as faraway problems”, says Hensley. “The obsession with independence and nuclear disarmament is the sound of people in the dark, whistling to keep up their spirits.”

Maybe, it’s a cruel world out there. But, honestly, it seems better to be whistling to keep up a nation’s spirits, than dog-whistling to unreconstructed white supremacists caught up in the sort of imperial daydreams that always seem to end in nightmarish violence.


  1. Hensley is no sort of ‘realist’. He’s a filthy American-lover who should be exiled.

    • Mohammed, my father was born when there was a British Empire, and a Raj which he visited during WW2. That world is gone yet he still now nearing a century expresses very “imperial” views. Rather than damn or exile Henley I’d suggest using him as a reference to a past era when judging our future.

      • I cannot agree with you more.

        I would have been troubled if Trotter supported Hensley’s theory.

        I did not have the privilege to read what Hensley opined but am disappointed in the white supremacist tag. I guess Trotter has his reasons to place Hensley in that grouping.

  2. Gerald Hensley seems like one of those poor bitter souls who likes to live in the past.
    Your last paragraph in this article @ Chris Trotter is pretty damn good and hit a chord with me.

  3. Mr Hensley is a classic example of a yesterday man–as per Michael Bassett and so many others. His comments are “cringe” and Anglosphere personified. A loyal servant of US Imperialism.

    A macho old V8 car scene mate of mine was offended when after recounting how he was an ex manager at a mid sized Auckland company and blah blah…I said; “oh well, we all used to be someone…” and lets face it, the TPPA process for example revealed many more fifth columnists to the public.

    Nuke free NZ was a genuine ground up movement–posters in windows, street by street, Council by Council , School by School, Suburb by Suburb, mass marches and vigils.

  4. Hope is a strategy of the childish.
    And it’s foolish to be throwing our lot in with the CCP simply because they are a long-enduring dictatorship and not the democratic US and so change a little with elections.

    • Hensley sees the west as the friends we should agree with. And the media tends to follow the same rulebook. Of note is how the leadership is described.

      “Good” country = president and government
      “Bad” country = dictator and regime

      This naming was most notable in Syria when ISIS/Al Qaeda were trying to overthrow the government. Which the US liked. So they started talking about “moderate” terrorists before renaming a subset as “rebels” as the former naming didn’t catch on with the public. And they upped the other side so Assad came a “brutal” dictator in charge of an “evil” regime.

      It’s a not so subtle way of telling you how to think. After all, as George W noted, you’re either with us or with the terrorists. Even when the other side wasn’t a terrorist.

    • What does one actually gain from being part of the U.S. alliance/empire?

      Are they busy building large infrastructure and advanced manufacturing facilities in other countries? Are they trying to develop a world reserve currency that doesn’t continuously inflate towards zero? Do they conduct a foreign policy based around trade deals, instead of continuous regime change wars and Color Revolution coups?

      Everyone now knows the U.S. is the polar opposite of China on all of those issues. And, uniquely, one can become their partner with very few political demands attached.

      As such the ex-colonial countries of the world are scrambling for the exits, trying to join B.R.I.C.S. before the debt-ridden U.S. economy finally implodes (and the crazed neo-cons demand a two-front World War, in order to “save” the Unipolar World Order of U.S. full spectrum dominance — and the Wolfowitz Doctrine brigade themselves — from total collapse).

    • I’m one of the oldest millennials and I hold deferent views on foreign policy that my parents held. I view NZDF as a kind of Liam Neeson character from the movie Taken when he said

      “What I do have is a very particular set of skills. Skins that have been acquired over a very long carrier. Skills that make NZDF a nightmare for people like you.”

      NZDF should be able to be deployed in very specific situations to deal with very bad people and very bad situations and then pull NZDF out and hopefully achieve the national interest.

      Also us millennials are dealing with climate change in a way out parents never had to. When governments stand in the way of our climate movement that is a mobilising force to change governments that are not hip to it. And I do believe that NZDF should intervene in humanitarian crises around the world. We shouldn’t view crises and turn away and say it’s not our problem.

      One thing I’d like to get across is that solving the greatest challenges of our time doesn’t take a coalition. The increase in mass communication and I think changed the answers to patriotism and plays a huge decrease in exceptionalism. Millennials have huge debates now that I don’t think boomers would have had.

      If we can figure out how to utilise the internet and use it like ISIS uses it to inspire in our national interest I think there can potentially be a huge power shift away from people with institutional power right now and into citizenry power and having people with agency over foreign policy once more.

      One of the things I enjoy about The Daily Blog is it helps readers to see how other people are living there lives and how to help them.

    • No, Ada, the People’s Republic is a one-party state – not a dictatorship. If Xi Jinping embarked on a course of action that threatened the supremacy of the Chinese Communist Party he would very rapidly be “retired”.

      To offset the entrenched power of the CCP, Mao Zedong launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution – a terrifying thing, but proof of Mao’s need for something greater than his own will to preserve his power.

      That Mao’s ideas did not survive his death similarly confirms the supremacy of the CCP in the People’s Republic.

    • When has the US ‘changed’ lol?

      They’ve always been psychotic murderers. The US empire has murdered approximately 300 million actual human beings in its few centuries of existence. The destruction of the US can’t come soon enough.

  5. In my mind I seem to see Hensley as a relative of a Nat politician; I recall writing a published letter to the Dominion or Sunday-Star Times about him, thirty odd years ago, but can’t recall what it was about, and I suppose it could still exist in paper files which I try to avoid delving into.

  6. Gerald Hensley can be a very astute commentator. His book, “Beyond the Battlefield” on politics and diplomacy as it affected New Zealand during WW2 is a masterly work. It showed New Zealand’s growing confidence as a nation with its own perspective. Perhaps there was sufficient distance from his diplomatic career to make a more dispassionate judgement.
    I too was somewhat disappointed by his latest missive. I felt he had failed to understand how New Zealand society had changed since the 1970’s and why there has been a greater sense of being an independent nation. The Maori renaissance of the last 50 years has been a major part of that. It was no accident the Matt Rata was among the first who went to tha yachts to protest French testing at it very source.
    Yes, New Zealand has traditional allies, which is well recognised by the two major parties. But it no longer slavish; independent judgement is applied.
    I know there are commentators on this site who think that New Zealand can simply abandon all strategic connection with our traditional partners. But that would be to ignore New Zealand’s intimate relationship with Australia. We are fated by geography and family to have the closest of relationships with Australia. Nearly one fifth of us live in Australia. There surely can’t be a family in New Zealand that does not have a direct connection to Australia. I am certain that Mr Albanese will be expecting a quid pro quo for the improvement in the status quo of New Zealanders in Australia. Most probably within AUKUS.

    • Let’s discuss the mantra going around and the anti-independent crown saying that China is in a down turn. It’s seen its heyday etc. Etc. Etc. They couldn’t be more wrong.

      Adopting a nutrality stance is stronger than ever. I’ll try and give a few quick examples.

      Yes China’s multi faceted assaults across soft and hard power is backed by its overtaking the U.S. economic power. But, they are doing it to extract resources back to China.

      We’ve got huge Chines financial financial houses moving in on Americas racket that’s a lot of interests for something that has seen its heyday already.

      On top of that. Next month. And you won’t hear it from anyone else because generally people don’t want to look at things from a factual or emperial bases. The U.S. fed reserve is going to issue its own crypto currency. This is how we will be trading. I posit that the U.S dollar is going digital aka zero percent reserve bank lending opening the door for negative interest rates.

      Yup. A mathematical stable coin. Reserve dollar for the masses.

      I’ll close by saying that there are a lot of people who assume that I am uneducated and don’t know what I’m talking about which is cool. Let’s keep it factual and I’ll stay out of my feelings y’know saying this ain’t right or this ain’t right etc. I have no problems staying factual okay. Let’s have a foreign policy discussion.

  7. I got to here… “…Not only is China New Zealand’s most important trading partner…”
    That’s perhaps true now, but why? Hmmmmmmm…?
    You’re a funny old bugger Chris Trotter. You come across as being more left than a one armed dyslexic and yet you sometimes let out a fart that smells terribly like it came from up roger douglas.
    China is our ‘most important trading partner’ because a succession of fucking arse holes in National pretending to be the farmers bestie pissed off our traditional trading partners by trying to extort them for ever more money. Aye wool board/ meat board/ dairy board/ apple and pear marketing board? Our traditional trading partners, the UK, Europe and briefly the USA who bought our agrarian produce enabled AO/NZ to assume the position of a First World status. Then, of course, a few old cockie traitors now embedded within Nationals oily bed sheets got just that little bit too greedy and bang! The EEC was born. We weren’t known as The Market Garden of Europe’ for our tourism ‘industry’.
    Re Nuclear. I’ve just read this.
    The Guardian
    So how can warships and submarines be nuclear powered but not freight shipping?
    Here’s an interesting website re national and international shipping.
    I watched this last night.
    The Fermi Paradox.
    I was left with a rough night’s sleep.
    We may well be the only living organisms within the Universe. The entire Universe.
    So, if we go, the Universe may be entirely devoid of life.
    I really needed a cuddle after pondering that.

    • Brian Cox said it: alien thinking will be machine driven. We are not machines, we will never be machines neither do we wish to be machines. We may wish to keep machines as our friends although we discover there is no machine in existence which does not require maintenance and there is our parallel. The preposterousness of the assumption that we can become machines is best left in the past with the early synthesisers etc.

  8. The CCP may be an important trading partner but its values do not align with ours. It is a fascist, totalitarian State which is menacing its neighbours in the South China Sea, India and Taiwan. It has ensnared many developing countries in Africa and elsewhere in debt-traps in colonial style relationships to gain access to their resources. Now it has designs on the South Pacific.

    The nuclear ships ban arose from a fiasco within the Labour Cabinet of the day. The US had agreed to send an ageing, conventionally powered and armed vessel, the Buchanan, to New Zealand out of respect for Labour’s sensitivities. In accordance with its longstanding policy however the US would neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons, but it was obvious the Buchanan wasn’t of the class of vessel likely to be nuclear-armed. While the authorisation for the vessel to enter a New Zealand port was being sought from Cabinet, the supposed architect of the ships’ ban, David Lange, was off shooting the reef in Tokelau and out of contact. Geoffrey Palmer was Acting PM and apparently under pressure from the Labour Left and ignorant of the background to the visit peremptorily declined entry to the Buchahnan. The rest is history. The Americans were deeply offended and aggrieved and accused New Zealand of duplicity. Such was the origin of our imaginary independent foreign policy.

    It needs to be remembered that it was New Zealand along with Australia that had sought the security guarantee from the Americans represented by the ANZUS Treaty in 1951, not the other way round. And then 30 years later we just threw it away without a moment’s reflection.

    Gerald Hensley is an admirable man who has served New Zealand superbly well as a diplomat and senior official. This country owes him a lot.

    • It’s not 1951 anymore, Trevor.
      Tell you what, you write and post a list of nations China has sent troops on the ground in active combat service since 1945 and I’ll supply a list of nations to which USA has done the same. I’ve made it easy by not requesting similar lists of the nations each of these two have actively and illegally engineered regime changes inside.
      Then we can have a better prepared discussion about your delusions as to who is the greatest threat to world stability.

  9. It is a massive problem when our trading relationships are out of whack with our political relationships. You have to wonder how our political class have been so detached from the writing on the wall. Maybe it results from the comfort of familiarity, cosy easiness, but ultimately it is lazy. “It will all be OK” , but it won’t.

    So to the future, it may be challenging but it is also exciting. The world’s largest emerging markets are all across Asia, then there is Africa, South America. And they are all joining BRICS. We need presence even if we don’t join.

  10. I prefer to huddle under an umbrella with friends rather than strangers – that’s for sure.

  11. Someone has to keep having objective thoughts, and not just dismiss any of our NZ/AO ideas with a heaping of cultural cringe. Perhaps our governments wish us to continue to be the dingy dinghy behind the vast ship of state The US Statue of Justice carrying its cargo of curious citizens to inspect the southern South Pacific a la Brave New World seekers.

    Some reflection from Canterbury University NZ. What do we think or have observed?

    Brave New World: The Perils of Social Stability
    canterbury.ac.nz http://dh.canterbury.ac.nz › …
    Whakamāoritia tēnei whārangi
    Living in a constant state of guaranteed happiness renders the citizens of the World State without true passion or desire to acquire new knowledge or seek ..

    The Pursuit of Happiness in Brave New World
    canterbury.ac.nz http://dh.canterbury.ac.nz › …
    Whakamāoritia tēnei whārangi
    The citizens are made to be happy and content with superficial entertainment and material lives so they do not understand, or ever consider …

    • Search for articles using title of the article as keywords – the link shows the source of the thinking at Canterbury Uni; which following on from Huxley’s ideas may be closed down before long! Hope not.

      The reasoning contained in this link and its conclusion here is open to question.
      Brave New World: The Perils of Social Stability
      Both novels, (Huxley’s Brave New World and HG Wells’ The Time Machine) although written in different time periods, theorize what a stable society might be like and in both cases, regardless of the path to this stability, it leads to some form of degeneration.

  12. “…not a single country joined us” GERALD HENSLEY

    Factually that’s wrong. Fiji joined us.

    Fiji was briefly antinuclear before a brutal US backed coup overt turned Fiji’s nuclear free status.

    In 1987 the Bavadra government of Fiji was elected on a leftist social reform and nuclear free platform.
    Anti-nuclearism was very popular in Fiji, the sea walls around Suva were daubed with antinuclear ship slogans. Letting the crews of visiting US nuclear armed warships know they weren’t welcome.

    Two weeks after the Bavadra government took office General llll visited Fiji and instead of meeting with the government ministers held a meeting with a then obscure Fijian army colonel Sitiveni Rabuka. Two weeks after that armed soldiers led by Rabuka stormed the Fiji parliament house and arrested all the MPs and took over state power and ruled Fiji as a military junta. 
    The second target for Rabuka’s forces after storming parliament was to storm and occupy the the campus of the University of the South Pacific which had become a hotbed of anti-nuclearism, detaining the dean and other faculty members. Trade Unions and FANG the Fiji Anti Nuclear Group were banned and their leaders detained.

    Rabuka’s CIA backed coup, did as such coups have done in other countries, as well as fomenting ethnic tensions, destabilised Fiji leading to three more following coups religious divisions were exploited with actsof violence particularly against the minority Fijian Indian population. Though all this turmoil and violence Fiji’s nuclear free status was never recovered.

    This is the disgusting legacy that Gerald Hensley supports.

    Gerald Hensley’s dream of New Zealand as a satrap of the imperial US nuclear military is a nightmare best avoided.

    How to Stage a Military Coup: From planning to execution



    ….More aid came in the shape of Lieutenant-General Vernon Walters, who arrived in Suva on 30 April 1987 – two weeks after the election and two weeks before the coup. Walters had a very public career as US Ambassador to the UN and former Director of the CIA. He also had a somewhat less well-known career as a coup plotter, starting with Iran 1953 (Chapter 3) and progressing through Brazil 1964 to Chile 1973 (Chapter 6). The writing was on the wall of the arrivals hall at Nadi International Airport.

    After a short, uncomfortable meeting with the new prime minister, General Walters moved on to hector Foreign Minister Krishna Datt about the no-nuclear-ship policy. No doubt the envoy lectured him about the American policy of ‘strategic denial’ under which Washington was determined to prevent, by whatever means necessary, South Pacific island states from entering into any foreign relationship of which the US did not approve. Next on the schedule was a protocolbusting meeting with Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka; the minutes of that encounter have never been published….

    The not-so-pacific Pacific


    ….When Lt. Col. Sitiveni Rabuka and his military conspirators stormed Fiji’s Parliament House on May 14, the one-month-old coalition government of Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra ended abruptly. Upon taking office after the April 12 election, Bavadra (a medical doctor) instituted a progressive program of domestic and foreign policy reforms in the wake of the 17-year rule of staunchly pro-Western Sir Kamisese Ratu Mara. Domestically, Bavadra expanded medical care, resolved to protect Fijian timber resources (which were often sold by the Mara government without the owner’s consent), created an Institute for Fijian Language and Culture and promised greater access for Fijians to Fiji Development Bank loans that had been going to foreign-owned businesses. “We have done in four weeks for poor people,” said Dr. Bavadra, “what Mara’s Alliance Party could not do in 17 years”. But most controversial was the nascent government’s nonaligned foreign policy, which banned port visits by nuclear-laden warships….

  13. One imperialist sanctions another imperialist…. for wait for it…




    Washington stresses latest sanctions are unrelated to group’s abandoned mutiny in Russia.

    ….The person sanctioned, Andrey Ivanovic, is central to the mercenary group’s operations in Mali.

    ….Speaking to reporters ahead of the announcement, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller condemned the mercenary group’s activities in Africa.
    “They hurt local populations, they extract minerals and extract money from the communities where they operate,” he said.
    Mr Miller stressed that Tuesday’s sanctions were not tied to the Wagner Group’s abandoned mutiny in Russia.

  14. Chris Trotter — “That Hensley proclaims New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy a failure because the nation states in possession of nuclear weapons (with the noble exception of Ukraine) refused to dismantle them is risible.”

    If Ukraine was ‘noble’ then Kazakhstan and Belarus, at that time, must have been equally so ,,, Because at that time , “every one of the nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus has been deactivated and returned to Russia,” https://www.hks.harvard.edu/publications/what-happened-soviet-superpowers-nuclear-arsenal-clues-nuclear-security-summit ,,,,

    and it appears that it was in Russia “where they were dismantled and the nuclear material in the warheads blended down to produce fuel for civilian reactors.” ,,, so not quite “ploughshares” ,,,, but nonetheless a good use of what would otherwise be highly radioactive nuclear waste .

    Being a nuclear weapons free zone is good on AoNz’s part ,,,, but first under National and continuing under Labour ,,, our snuggling up to NATO/the yanks waters this down.

    There is no protection obtained from nukes ,,,, the mythical nuclear umbrella is actually a mushroom cloud in waiting ….

    It’s warmongering politicians and their military alliances, that we the people, everywhere, need protecting from ,,,, but that’s actually up to us.

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