New Zealand in talks to join UK, US, Australia’s non-nuclear AUKUS

The country's defense minister said that the nation is willing to think about joining the second pillar of the AUKUS defense agreement.
Christopher McFadden
Representational image: A submarine during sunset.
Representational image: A submarine during sunset.


New Zealand has confirmed that it is in talks to join the non-nuclear pillar of the AUKUS alliance, founded by Australia, the UK, and the US.

Defense Minister Andrew Little said the country was willing to explore the opportunity, involving discussions on surveillance and radio technology to protect defense personnel.

"We have been offered the opportunity to talk about whether we could or wish to participate in that pillar two [non-nuclear] aspects of it. "I've indicated we will be willing to explore it," Mr. Little said in Wellington on Tuesday.

New Zealand has not been offered the chance to join pillar one, which covers Australia's receipt of nuclear-powered submarines, due to its anti-nuclear position. Little said that AUKUS membership could not compromise the country's legal obligations and moral commitment to being nuclear-free. 

The second “pillar” of the three-part deal covers sharing advanced military technologies, including quantum computing and artificial intelligence.

New Zealand has expressed concerns that AUKUS may jeopardize the Treaty of Rarotonga, which designates large areas of the Pacific free of nuclear weapons.

Last week, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta met with top Chinese diplomats and told them about these worries. China is very against AUKUS and has said it has "serious concern and firm opposition" to the military partnership between Australia, the UK, and the US. It is unclear whether China holds the same concerns about pillar two of the AUKUS deal. 

New Zealand’s former Prime Minister Helen Clark has argued that it is not in the country’s interests to be associated with AUKUS.

Little said that foreign or local voices against the deal would not be a factor in potential membership. He stressed that the country’s leaders have to assess its long-term best interests and what is a rapidly changing world and region.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee has also raised concerns about AUKUS, arguing that it may make it harder for Anzac forces to operate together.

However, he walked back his comments on Tuesday, saying that he was “certainly not” trying to criticize the deal. 

During her visit to Beijing last week, Mahuta also raised concerns about human rights breaches in China, as well as speculation that the country would supply lethal weapons to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. She asked China to use its influence with Russia to stop the war.

Mahuta’s trip to China was the first by a New Zealand minister since 2018. She said that the visit was positive and in keeping with “the nature of the bilateral relationship.” It is expected to precede an official visit by Prime Minister Chris Hipkins within months.

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