Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Towards American Dependence: New Zealand's Developing Politico-Military Relations with the United States of America, 1919-1942

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posted on 2021-11-08, 01:28 authored by Luppi, Richard Maximilian

The purpose of this study is to describe and explain a crucial transition in New Zealand's defence policy the outcome of which was that, instead of relying on the United Kingdom (and in particular the Royal Navy) for her Pacific security, New Zealand began to rely on the military and naval power of the United States in the Western Pacific. The study therefore focuses on New Zealand's developing politico-military relations with the United States in the context of the informal and then formal Anglo-American alliance between 1919 and 1942. There are three parts. The first investigates the events which led up to New Zealand's abrupt reorientation in 1940 from relying on Britain for her Pacific security to relying on the United States. In the course of this, British and American defence planning and co-operation for a possible war in the Pacific between 1919 and 1939 are examined in some detail. The second part deals with New Zealand's efforts to secure an American naval shield in the course of British and American negotiations to develop a combined British-Dutch-American defence against Japan between 1940 and 1942. The final part goes into the reasons for the change of defence policy and concludes that: 1. The fundamental cause was the British failure in 1919 and the immediately following years to challenge Japan for naval supremacy in the Western Pacific by establishing a Far Eastern Fleet. It was a consequence of this that in June 1940 Britain tried to get the United States to assume a major strategic responsibility in the Western Pacific by undertaking to dispatch an American fleet to Singapore if Japan joined in the war whch had already broken out with Germany and Italy. 2. Australia and New Zealand, accepting the British grand strategy, prepared their local defences between October 1940 and March 1941 on the assumption that America would keep in step and send a fleet to Singapore. 3. Despite the failure of Britain's grand strategy between June 1940 and March 1941, America did assume strategic responsibility, particularly for the naval defence of New Zealand, in March 1941. In turn New Zealand, unlike Britain and Australia, consistently tried to meet the American point of view regarding a combined British-Dutch-American Pacific defence plan. This was part of her continuing effort to secure an American naval shield in the event of war with Japan. 4. Britain and America were unable to agree on a combined British-Dutch-American defence plan before Japan entered the war in December 1941. This delayed the final realization of New Zealand's goal, pursued since October 1940, of gaining an American naval shield. The establishment of the ANZAC unified Pacific command area in February 1942 saw this goal at long last attained.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

International Politics

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Government


Murphy, W E