Geoffrey Miller: NZ’s foreign policy resets on AUKUS, Gaza and Ukraine


New Zealand’s international relations are under new management.

And Winston Peters, the new foreign minister, is already setting a change agenda.

As expected, this includes a more pro-US positioning when it comes to the Pacific – where Peters will be picking up where he left off. Peters sought to align New Zealand more closely with the United States under his ‘Pacific Reset’ policy that he launched while serving as foreign minister under Jacinda Ardern’s Labour-New Zealand First coalition government from 2017-2020.

Peters is wasting no time in getting back on the foreign affairs horse.

Just three days after being sworn in as a minster, he gave his first speech on foreign policy at the US Business Summit in Auckland last week.

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Peters was lavish in his praise for the US in his address, arguing that Washington had been ‘instrumental in the Pacific’s success’. But he noted that ‘there is more to do and not a moment to lose. We will not achieve our shared ambitions if we allow time to drift.’ Adding that ‘speed and intensity’ would be needed, Peters said ‘the good news is that New Zealand stands ready to play its part.’

The early timing of the speech itself is a sign that New Zealand’s new, yet very familiar foreign affairs minister is unlikely to wait around when it comes to taking major decisions.

It was an important, agenda-setting address.

There were strong hints that New Zealand’s new Government wants to move swiftly when it comes to Wellington’s potential involvement in in ‘Pillar II’ of the AUKUS defence pact that currently involves Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Peters’ disclosed in the Q&A to the speech that he had already talked to Judith Collins, the new defence minister, about New Zealand’s AUKUS stance.

The previous Labour government’s position was that AUKUS remained a hypothetical question while no formal offer existed for New Zealand to join ‘Pillar II’ of the high-level defence pact that currently involves Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

But while playing for time in an election year, the then Prime Minister Chris Hipkins signalled in July that New Zealand was at least ‘open to conversations’ about joining the pact in some form. And Labour’s expedited release of three major defence strategy documents in August, just prior to the election campaign, laid the groundwork for at least formal consideration of involvement in AUKUS.

The reports also paved the way for New Zealand to spend vastly more on its military and to take a more security-focused approach to the Pacific – recommendations that Peters will probably be keen to implement.

Wellington and Washington have been becoming closer since at least November 2010, when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited New Zealand’s capital to sign the ‘Wellington Declaration’. The relatively short agreement served to clear the air after decades of chequered bilateral relations stemming from the Fourth Labour Government’s introduction of a nuclear-free policy in the 1980s.

Going nuclear-free (which prevented visits from US warships) saw New Zealand cast out as a US ally. Washington formally suspended its obligations to Wellington under the ANZUS defence treaty in 1986. But nearly 40 years on, US-NZ relations are rapidly deepening, a trend that has been accelerated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Western concerns over China’s rise in the Indo-Pacific.

Since February 2022, New Zealand has imposed sanctions on Russia, joined US-led groupings such as Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP) and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and sent its Prime Ministers to successive NATO summits. And in May 2022, Jacinda Ardern visited Joe Biden at the White House, where a 3000-word joint statement called for ‘new resolve and closer cooperation’.

Meanwhile, a string of senior US officials have visited New Zealand just this year, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Kritenbrink and the White House’s Indo-Pacific coordinator, Kurt Campbell (who Joe Biden recently nominated to become his new Deputy Secretary of State).

If New Zealand does join AUKUS, it could spell the effective end of the country’s ‘independent foreign policy’. The ANZUS break-up of the late 1980s, the end of the Cold War and the acceleration of globalisation had allowed New Zealand to free itself from blocs. Wellington talked to anyone and everyone, building solid, trade-focused relations with China and others in the Global South – while not neglecting Western partners, including the United States.

Peters may think the current geopolitical environment justifies a new approach.

If he does, he should prepare for significant pushback. Helen Clark, who was Prime Minister during Winston Peters’ first term as foreign minister from 2005-8, posted on Friday that New Zealand was now ‘veering towards signing up’ to AUKUS despite bipartisan support over decades for the independent foreign policy stance.

This added to criticism from Clark earlier in the year, including in August, when she argued the new defence blueprint showed New Zealand was ‘abandoning its capacity to think for itself & instead is cutting & pasting from 5 Eyes’ partners’.

It should also be remembered that Winston Peters, while undoubtedly powerful and highly experienced, is only one Government minister. The views of Judith Collins – the defence minister – remain unknown in any detail, while the foreign policy positions of Christopher Luxon seem more centrist than radical.

Moreover, with the US now firmly focused on the war between Hamas and Israel – and its own presidential election year fast approaching – it is far from guaranteed that the hypothetical AUKUS question will turn into a concrete one for New Zealand anytime soon.

Moreover, Peters’ initial ministerial comments on New Zealand’s own position towards the Middle East suggest there is plenty of room for nuance. Calling the death toll in Gaza ‘horrific’, Peters welcomed a short-lived extension to the ceasefire on Friday, but called for all parties to ‘work urgently towards a long-term ceasefire’.

And in a radio interview earlier last week, Peters said ‘the ceasefire is not good enough, we’re going to have find a way forward through this and a peaceful solution – that’s what New Zealand and the Western world has got to put its focus on’.  Peters added ‘internationally we need to be talking to people across the political divide who are making sense on this matter’.

Talking to all sides and playing a small role in facilitating a sustainable political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would very much be in keeping with New Zealand’s independent foreign policy approach – and Winston Peters is already speaking out strongly about the war.

With Christopher Luxon passing up on the opportunity to attend COP28 in Dubai at the weekend, Winston Peters will have the chance to make the Government’s first ministerial trip to the Middle East to begin this dialogue. The Gulf states would be a natural starting point for these discussions.

Meanwhile, on Ukraine – the war that helped to speed up New Zealand’s alignment with the US in 2022 – Peters was open to the idea of New Zealand upgrading its military support to Ukraine by sending Kyiv light armoured vehicles (LAVs). While noting that the decision was not up to him alone, he added ‘if we can help we should be doing the best we can’.

Labour had denied a request from Ukraine to provide the LAVs in 2022 and of late had preferred to make financial contributions to Kyiv’s war effort – the most recent being a $NZ4.7 million package announced by Chris Hipkins in July at the NATO leaders’ summit in Lithuania.

It all adds up to a complex picture.

Winston Peters has no shortage of global issues to address.

And there could be some major changes ahead for New Zealand foreign policy.


Geoffrey Miller is the Democracy Project’s geopolitical analyst and writes on current New Zealand foreign policy and related geopolitical issues. He has lived in Germany and the Middle East and is a learner of Arabic and Russian. He is currently working on a PhD at the University of Otago on New Zealand’s relations with the Gulf states.


  1. One of the reasons why I stopped hunting animals was due to the fact that I became extremely uncomfortable with taking advantage of their blissful ignorance. Animals have no comprehension of the technology that can be used to turn them into human bowel motions, a floor rug and a wall adornment.
    That’s why I get freaked the fuck out by the vile Natzo Stooges sucking up to India for example. Awful Winston Peters is the lawyer underwear to neo-liberals who caused all this shit and the fucker’s back in there worming around fully weaponised while we go about our business more or less blissfully unaware of how dangerous the moron classes have enabled him to become. He’ll sell us to India so you’d better put the kettle on and expect another ten million people here before the farce that will be the next election.

  2. A well thought out article! Thanks.

    The reality of NZ’s military capability at the moment is that we probably couldn’t defend ourselves against the Warbirds plane in Wanaka. LOL. So, it will take one hell of an upgrade to turn the NZDF into something capable.

    What most NZers don’t really get is the relationship between military and trade ties: With military ties comes trade ties. So, if we wish to sell our exports to the western world, sooner or later we’re going to have to sign up to their military pact, and along those lines, we really need to broaden our export base in order to be less reliant on an ever more fragile China.

  3. New Zealand is a cipher on the international stage, but, as a Maori, Winston has to sympathise with the indigenous people of Israel – the Jews.

    • ….Those white Israeli Jews with Usa , Scottish, Aussie accents …. gaby as we all know is full of shit, and once again letting it flow out.

      Although full credit to gaby for not continuing to push the “40 beheaded babies” lies ,,,, propaganda used to justify the murder of thousands of Palestinian children by Israel … murders that gaby salivates and rejoices over.

      ‘Israel uber alles’ for gaby ………………

    • There is only 1 main book that has the Jews as the indigenous people of Israel & you only need to read Matthew 21:33-46 to see what was going to happen to their future there. I do not begrudge them a secure future, especially after the horror of the holocaust but they need to learn to share with the people who were already there.

  4. So its Winken, Blinken and nod with us?
    Since February 2022, New Zealand has imposed sanctions on Russia, joined US-led groupings such as Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP) and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and sent its Prime Ministers to successive NATO summits. And in May 2022, Jacinda Ardern visited Joe Biden at the White House, where a 3000-word joint statement called for ‘new resolve and closer cooperation’.
    Meanwhile, a string of senior US officials have visited New Zealand just this year, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Kritenbrink and the White House’s Indo-Pacific coordinator, Kurt Campbell (who Joe Biden recently nominated to become his new Deputy Secretary of State).

    Andrew what you don’t get is that increasingly the exports we are selling are those from foreign companies based here and looking to make profits that they absorb back home leaving us with a few poorly-paid dregs and a local chief paid to rar-rar about how good the company is and how it isn’t polluting the land and airwaves, and how many part-time jobs it creates till it withdraws the product the Kiwis are working on. There is your bedtime lullaby sweetie!

    “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” is a poem for children written by American writer and poet Eugene Field and published on March 9, 1889. The original title was “Dutch Lullaby”. The poem is a fantasy bed-time story about three children sailing and fishing among the stars from a boat which is a wooden shoe.

    That children’s ditty is so close to our own fantastic story of being involved with some big boys with big toys floating and flying over the blue Pacific on a not-so-peaceful mission to save the ‘free world’ and play with nuclear submarines that we beggar ourselves to build or lease so we can be in the gang. That wooden shoe though would be more like a lead one dragging us down. Good-night children says Dr Strangelove, I think you are strange enough to rest now before the next wave of offensives.

  5. Hitching your Wagon to Washington’s Neocon Wars is a recipe for disaster? The US Empire is in collapse, it’s lashing around like a drowning man & grasping anyone in its teach & the imbecilic Moron Winston Peters wants us to get dragged down with this dying Empire, what a fuckin foolish old Twit Peters is, this 78 yr old Codger needs to be in a Rest Home for old Folks, not in Govt? Henry Kissinger who recently died once said “To be a Enemy of America is dangerous but to be a Friend is Fatal”, just ask the Afghani’s & the Ukrainians who got suckered into being used as Proxies to be used as canon fodder for the US Empire, their Countries are in ruins, Ukraine has 500k dead, died for nothing to satisfy US Bloodlust in a futile attempt to Regime change Russia? Just ask the Europeans who are also headed for Economic ruin thanks to the US, Biden sabotaged & blew up Germany’s NS1-2 Pipelines that supplied cheap Russian gas & which enabled their Industrial Might, competitiveness & Wealth creation, now all that is gone, the German Economy’s in Tatters & being deindustrialised! As Germany is the Powerhouse of Europe, the rest of the EU Countries, NATO & the EU will collapse once the German Economy has gone bust thanks to the criminal behaviour of the disastrous Biden Administration! And don’t get me started on Israel, this is not a Country, it’s a Colonial Outpost, a fixed Aircraft carrier, it’s Military base to secure the Oil reserves for the US Empire & all these War crimes being committed in Gaza are US War crimes as they supply Israel with the intelligence, bombs & finance which are responsible for this Palestinian Holocaust & Genocide! The US Govt is captured, it’s Politicians are bought & paid for by big Israeli interest’s! And Winston Peters wants Australia & NZ to sign up & be part of this suicidal, deathcult Empire, America is the World’s greatest Terrorist Nation, it that has nothing to offer the World but endless War & chaos & for NZ to be used as Military Outposts is obscene! And for WHAT, go to War against our biggest Trading Partner China, who’s going to buy our Milk products or overpriced Houses once we lose China? And why should NZ want to become a Nuclear target by joining AUKUS? It’s bloody ridiculous, we need to be neutral & keep out of this US Deathcult Warmongering! Winston Peters can just Fuck off!

  6. We are innocents abroad in a quickly changing world. And our leaders only know one option and are reluctant to see our very real issues.

    Getting very basic we are at the end of the supply chain for the diminishing world energy supply and we are not aligned with our suppliers in the Gulf, Iran or Russia. If our politicians were paying attention they’d have noticed that alternative sources are increasingly rare, and the prior mentioned are migrating to BRICS and away from the $US. This is the single largest risk to our economy, closely followed by trade.

    If you are paying attention to who we actually trade with the members of the G7 don’t equate to exports to China, Asia and Australia. Ditto imports from China. Being in overt opposition to these people and aligned with their adversary is problematic.

    I’m rather hoping that National who represent the capital that trades with China find out the hard way that you cannot have your cake and eat it. Uncle Sam and China won’t accept it. Internally Uncle Sam will force us to do their bidding, China will merely just cut us out.

    With the above scenario our only realistic option is non aligned neutrality. The US is highly unlikely to allow that until such time that they recognise that they are no longer a hegemon.

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