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.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Prime Minister John Key, Foreign Minister McCully at the signing of the " Wellington Declaration" .

The Wellington Declaration is signed.

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.

US Marines and local ni-Vanuatu children at a medical assistance project during Pacific Partnership 2011.

At a medical assistance project in Vanuatu during Pacific Partnership 2011.

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.

Prime Minister John Key with President Obama.

Prime Minister Key with President Obama in the Oval Office.

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.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully with Secretary Clinton. Please click through for image source.

Minister McCully with Secretary Clinton in DC.

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.

Deputy Secretary Nides and Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully meet the press after a productive bilateral meeting.

Deputy Secretary Nides and Minister McCully meet the press after a productive bilateral meeting.

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 BearHawaii/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

Farah Pandith in Wellington.

Farah Pandith in Wellington.

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 DecathlonOutGames 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:

Being welcomed in Westpac Stadium.

Cross-cultural celebration of American Independence Day in Wellington.

“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.

The November 2011 issue of Foreign Policy carries an insightful article by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on America’s policy and place in the Pacific and Asian regions. It is an excellent read. I won’t reprint it in its entirety, but you can access the piece by clicking here.

In her usual direct and nuanced way, the Secretary articulates the mutual benefits of an active and engaged America, and clearly lays out the tenets of US strategy. She grounds her points in historical context often overlooked in much of today’s sound-bite-driven, faddish popular discourse:

Secretary of State Clinton.

Secretary of State Clinton.

“Just as Asia is critical to America’s future, an engaged America is vital to Asia’s future. The region is eager for our leadership and our business — perhaps more so than at any time in modern history.

“We are the only power with a network of strong alliances in the region, no territorial ambitions, and a long record of providing for the common good. Along with our allies, we have underwritten regional security for decades — patrolling Asia’s sea lanes and preserving stability — and that in turn has helped create the conditions for growth.

“We have helped integrate billions of people across the region into the global economy by spurring economic productivity, social empowerment, and greater people-to-people links. We are a major trade and investment partner, a source of innovation that benefits works and businesses on both sides of the Pacific, a host to 350,000 Asian students every year, a champion of open markets, and an advocate for universal human rights.”

The Secretary then proceeds to discuss in detail the Administration’s “multifacted and persistent effort to embrace fully our irreplaceable role in the Pacific, spanning the entire US government.” She notes that “[i]t has often been a quiet effort. A lot of our work has not been on the front pages, both because of its nature — long-term investment is less exciting than immediate crises — and because of competing headlines in other parts of the world.”

In the Secretary’s rubric, the strategy is one of forward-deployed diplomacy, which means engaging actively on the ground throughout the region and adapting in real time to the rapid and often dramatic shifts occurring in today’s interconnected world.

She reviews in detail the six key lines of action in American strategy: strengthening bilateral security alliances, deepening working relationships with emerging powers, engaging with regional multilateral institutions, expanding trade and investment opportunities, forging a broad-based military presence, and advancing democracy and human rights.

The Cloud. Please click through for image source.

Auckland's Cloud, the site of several Pacific Island Forum events.

The views that the Secretary expresses are not theoretical or philosophical. They are practical, tangible, and operational. Just one excellent example was the nature and scope of US participation in this year’s Pacific Island Forum in Auckland.

The US sent its largest and highest-level delegation ever to attend the PIF’s Post-Forum Dialogue. Led by Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, the contingent included senior officials from the Department of State, USAID, White House, Department of Commerce, Peace Corps, Department of Defense, and Coast Guard.

L-R Jimmie Rodgers, Nisha Biswal, David Sheppard Director General Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), Dan Clune U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, Thomas Nides.

Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides at the Pacific Island Forum.

Playing key roles along with Deputy Secretary Nides were Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, making his third visit to New Zealand in the past 12 months, and the Governor of American Samoa, the Honorable Togiola Tulafono, as well my fellow American Ambassadors from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Palau, and Australia.

Our visitors came to work. The delegation split into several teams based on subject matter focus, and almost two dozen of my colleagues from the Embassy and Consulate General provided support and squired the teams through more than 110 separate meetings with their counterparts from the Government of New Zealand and/or other PIF attendees.

Thomas Nides U.S. Deputy Secretary of State with NZ Foreign Affairs Minister, Hon Murray McCully.

Deputy Secretary Nides and Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully meet the press after a productive bilateral meeting.

Our visitors also came to pony up, commit, and execute. Progress was made on a variety of matters including disaster preparedness, climate change, sustainable development, and fisheries. Several MOUs and agreements were signed.

For example, we signed partnership agreements with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme to advance climate change adaptation in the Pacific Small Island States. Those agreements are part of a larger, two-year US$ 21 million package to address climate change impact in the region.

We also signed ship-rider agreements with Nauru and Tuvalu, bringing the total number of those agreements in the Pacific to eight. Under those successful agreements, the US Coast Guard extends the reach and power of island nation law enforcement officers by hosting them on our vessels and aircraft to patrol national Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). Such joint activity is essential to the economic health as well as the security of partner nations, given the large amount of illegal commercial fishing in the EEZs.

Dr. Jimmie Rodgers Director General Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and Thomas Nides, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State.

Deputy Secretary Nides signs an agreement with Dr Jimmie Rodgers, Director of the General Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

Such collaboration is a natural part of our uninterrupted, generations-long engagement in the region. The United States is itself a Pacific nation with deep, enduring, and historic ties to our Pacific friends and neighbors. And that isn’t going to change. On that note, I’ll give the Secretary the final word:

“I’m well aware that there are those who question our staying power around the world. We’ve heard this talk before. At the end of the Vietnam War, there was a thriving industry of global commentators promoting the idea that America was in retreat, and it is a theme that repeats itself every few decades. But whenever the United States has experienced setbacks, we’ve overcome them through reinvention and innovation.

“Our capacity to come back stronger is unmatched in modern history. It flows from our model of free democracy and free enterprise, a model that remains the most powerful source of prosperity and progress known to humankind … So there should be no doubt that America has the capacity to secure and sustain our global leadership in this century as we did in the last.”

DH Sig