One year ago today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister Murray McCully signed the Wellington Declaration, a roadmap for deepening and expanding the bilateral relationship between the United States and New Zealand.
Despite extraneous challenges of various sorts, both governments have pushed forward on the resolutions contained in the Declaration. The past twelve months have been a busy and highly productive period in which the bilateral relationship has moved forward from strength to strength. In fact, in my view, relations are stronger, warmer, and closer than they have been at any time since World War II.
At its heart, the Wellington Declaration reaffirms the close ties between the two countries and establishes a framework for a new strategic partnership. That partnership is to have two fundamental elements … a new focus on practical cooperation in the Pacific region, and enhanced political and expert dialogue. The past year has been a success on both counts.
With respect to cooperation in the Pacific, there have been dozens of tangible, practical, and impactful steps forward. I don’t want to bury you with undue detail or do a clip-and-paste from my prior posts, so I’ll only mention a couple of highlights.
Just last month the US Coast Guard and the New Zealand Defence Force pooled resources on extremely short notice and rushed much needed potable water to the atolls of Tokelau, averting a major crisis. Earlier in the year the HMNZS Canterbury joined the USS Cleveland for Pacific Partnership humanitarian projects in the islands, marking the two countries’ first joint naval operation in almost 30 years.
With respect to enhanced dialogue, there has been a blizzard of meetings, exchanges, and visits … not social calls but substantive interactions focused on regional and global issues, common challenges, problem-solving, and potential joint projects. The two highlights, of course, were Secretary Clinton’s visit to Wellington and Christchurch and Prime Minister Key’s visit to Washington.
The Prime Minister worked through the highest-level schedule one could have in Washington … including discussions with President Obama, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Benjamin Bernanke, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, and Senators John Kerry, Richard Lugar, and John McCain, among others.
To my knowledge, there has never been a higher-level working reception accorded a Kiwi official. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully and Defence Minister Dr Wayne Mapp also had busy working visits to Washington during the year, and other officials traveled to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, Honolulu, and Pago Pago.
The traffic has not been one way.
In the year since Secretary Clinton touched down in Wellington, more than 1,100 American officials have come to New Zealand to meet with their counterparts. That is, by several orders of magnitude, the largest number of US Government officials ever to visit in a twelve-month period.
Included in the mix were two special delegations.
In February approximately 100 American government officials, Congressmen, business leaders, and students attended the fourth US-NZ Partnership Forum, in Christchurch. It would be difficult to overstate the strength of the special bonds forged among the American delegates and their Kiwi counterparts when the February 22nd earthquake struck the city during the meetings.
More recently, Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides led the largest and highest-ranking US delegation ever to attend the Pacific Island Forum. The august group included the Governor of American Samoa, Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, and dozens of other officials from the Department of State, Department of Defense, White House, USAID, and other agencies. The American attendees divided into subject matter teams and moved through a packed schedule of more than 100 working meetings while in Auckland.
Such official engagement is very important, but the Wellington Declaration stakes out deeper and broader people-to-people ties as the heart of the reinvigorated partnership … just as people-to-people ties have always held the two societies firmly and warmly together despite occasional government-to-government disagreements. To ensure the most inclusive participation, the Declaration specifically calls for efforts to include women, youth, minorities, and future leaders in the process.
People-to-people activity over the past twelve months has been so extensive, diverse, and multifaceted that it is impossible to summarize succinctly. New projects were launched in matters of rugby, social media, art, music, entrepreneurship, faith communities, and indigenous peoples. Additional resources were devoted to existing youth, education, commercial, and cultural programs.
Among the highlights were … the visit of the Space Shuttle Discovery crew … harbor calls in Wellington and Auckland by the California Maritime Academy’s training ship Golden Bear … Hawaii/Aotearoa rugby exchanges … more than a dozen concerts by the Marine Corps Pacific Forces Band … multiple visits by Special Representative to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith …
… large tailgate parties and pep rallies to celebrate the Rugby World Cup … a 3-day future leaders conference for American and Kiwi youth …visits of Hawaiian performers and chefs … reinvigorating the twelve-month student walk-about visa … engaging a full-time Education USA NZ advocate … a new Art in Embassies exhibition … the Solar Decathlon … OutGames events … and much much more.
Yes, indeed, there’s a lot more to say. But it’s Friday afternoon. And I’m already late for the Embassy’s anniversary celebration downstairs in our cantina. So I’ll conclude with the Wellington Declaration’s brief, apt description of the bedrock on which the special relationship between Americans and Kiwis is built:
“New Zealand and the United States are both Pacific nations. Our governments and peoples share a deep and abiding interest in maintaining peace, prosperity, and stability in the region, expanding the benefits of freer and more open trade, and promoting and protecting freedom, democracy, and human rights worldwide. We recall the long history of shared United States and New Zealand sacrifice in battle, and we honor those, past and present, who have borne that sacrifice.
“As we look to the challenges of the 21st century, our shared democratic values and common interests will continue to guide our collective efforts. … Our goal is a partnership for the 21st Century that is flexible, dynamic, and reflects our fundamental beliefs and aspirations.”
The past twelve months have demonstrated persuasively that we are well on our way to achieving that goal. Happy Anniversary, Wellington Declaration.