NATO says New Zealand will not be invited to join at summit, but develop its partnership

NATO says New Zealand will not be invited to join the alliance as it is not a European country, but instead, they will be looking at ways to develop the relationship further.

NATO deputy spokesperson Piers Cazalet told Newshub Nation NATO and New Zealand must stick together against the rise of authoritarian countries such as China and Russia.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is the first New Zealander to be invited to speak at the upcoming NATO Leaders Summit.

New Zealand and NATO have been partners since 2021, and have been engaged in dialogue and cooperation since 2001.

While NATO is an alliance of North American and European countries, New Zealand has been invited to attend along with Australia, Japan and the Republic of Korea. 

It's the first time NATO's "Asia-Pacific partners" have been invited to the summit. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said last week that was a "strong demonstration of our close partnership with these like-minded countries in the Asia Pacific".

While ministers, including Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta, have attended previous NATO meetings, this is the first time New Zealand has been invited to the Leader's Summit.

The summit will be held between June 28-30 in Spain.

But why now?

Cazalet told Simon Shepherd on Newshub Nation while NATO will remain focused around Europe and North America, they want to develop closer partnerships with countries around the globe who share similar values.

"Where we see shared values and shared interests, this is where we want to develop the partnerships so that we can, as an organisation with partners, better address some of the global challenges that we face," Cazalet said.

He said challenges such as cyber-attacks and climate security are worldwide issues that need to be addressed globally and the summit will provide an opportunity to discuss these.

"Increasingly in recent years, globalisation has meant that threats and challenges have closer to us," Cazalet said.

"We have been working in recent years to develop a set of partnerships with nations around the globe where we can cooperate more closely with them and New Zealand is one of these countries." 

Cazalet said the "challenges from China" is one of the issues faced and wants to hear New Zealand's view on how to best address some aspects of China's behaviour such as external factors like cyber attacks from China and internal factors such as the "crushing" of democracy in Hong Kong and the rhetorical threats against Taiwan.

"Your perspective is different from that of Australia, for example, and again different from Japan and Korea. All of these assessments, all of these views, it'll be interesting for all the allies based in Europe and North America to hear."

Will conflict in Ukraine escalate to a war between Russia and NATO?

Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February (local time) after Ukraine pressed for NATO membership. 

Since Russia launched the full-scale attack, NATO has provided Ukraine with weapons, aid and financial support - but has been careful not to be directly involved.

Cazalet said they have been "trying very hard" not to escalate the war by not providing NATO troops on the ground and not imposing the 'no-fly zone' over Ukraine. 

But if Russia attacks a NATO ally, NATO will defend itself.

"We're also very clear that we will do everything that we can to defend all our allies," Cazalet said. "This is why we've stepped up our military presence in the east of our alliance to make sure there's a clear defensive message to Moscow that we will defend all our allies if there's any attack on any of those allies."

He said the war in Ukraine shows how countries supporting Ukraine, such as New Zealand, can come together around shared values.

What does the NATO partnership mean for New Zealand?

Cazalet said if Russia were to attack a NATO country, New Zealand would have no obligation to join the conflict - but he imagines our country would support NATO on its own accord.

"I think that it would not be for us to expect anything from New Zealand, but I would imagine that New Zealand would do what it can to support native allies," Cazalet said.

He said while New Zealand has a small military, it is effective.

"Countries like New Zealand always have something to offer in terms of what we can learn and what they can contribute to NATO's operations and missions," Cazalet said.

As for increased spending on defence forces and changing our nuclear-free policy that comes with NATO, Cazalet said that only applies to members.

NATO members have a defence investment guideline, where members have agreed to commit at least 2 percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to defence spending to continue to ensure the Alliance’s military readiness.  

Nuclear weapons are also a part of NATO's overall capability for defence, but for over 30 years New Zealand has had a nuclear-free policy.

Cazalet said both guidelines don't apply to partners and said NATO won't impose on New Zealand how we spend our money or what our policies are.

"This is New Zealand's sovereign right to choose its nuclear policy. And if it's not a member of NAITO, then that's entirely within its remit. So it can choose any policy it wants on nuclear weapons," he said.

As for including Asia-Pacific countries in the summit, Cazalet said the goal is for partners and members to work together.

"I think we are seeing increasingly the rise of authoritarian countries such as China and Russia, and the countries who don't share those values need to be able to stick together and work together to make sure that we can protect our values."