Representation in the United States
New Zealand’s readiness to conduct its external affairs within the framework of British imperial policy had been reinforced by British security guarantees. But when Japan went to war with the US and the UK in late 1941, it soon conquered British strongholds in South-East Asia and also advanced into the South Pacific. Senior cabinet minister Walter Nash was sent to Washington as resident minister in January 1942 to assert New Zealand’s interests.
By convention, New Zealand’s relations with other Commonwealth countries were not called ‘foreign relations’ but ‘external relations’. New Zealand was represented in other Commonwealth countries by high commissioners rather than ministers or ambassadors. By 2011 the term ‘ministers’ had been superseded.
First overseas diplomatic posts
The need to deal more directly with other countries, and to prepare for post-war settlements, saw New Zealand establish high commissions in Ottawa, Canada, in 1942, and Canberra, Australia, in 1943. A minister was accredited to the USSR, a major wartime ally, in 1944. At that time New Zealand had no professional diplomats. Politicians were appointed to head the posts in Ottawa and Moscow, while Carl Berendsen himself (head of the imperial-affairs section of the Prime Minister’s Department) was sent to Canberra. To help staff Washington and Moscow, officials were seconded from the armed forces.
External Affairs Act
Berendsen had brought discipline to the management of external affairs in the Prime Minister’s Department, but the demands of running the war effort, lack of office space and his personal disinclination to expand his section limited its capability. In 1943 Parliament passed the External Affairs Act. This established a separate department of government to:
- act as a channel of communication with other governments
- assist in negotiating treaties and international agreements
- direct New Zealand’s overseas posts
- deal with diplomats from other countries in New Zealand.
A separate Island Territories Department was created at the same time. The act also provided for the appointment of high commissioners and other overseas representatives. Alister McIntosh was appointed secretary of external affairs. George Laking and Frank Corner, two future secretaries, joined External Affairs at this time, along with a long-serving member of the League of Nations Secretariat, J. V. Wilson. This group was to set the style and professional standards of New Zealand’s diplomatic service for several decades.