PM: Military support for US 'on merit' if North Korea attacked
Bill English said New Zealand would "consider our contribution on its merits" should tensions between North Korea and the United States escalate.
The prime minister told NZN that the government remains "focused on peaceful resolutions of these tensions" and stopped short of pledging New Zealand's support for the US.
Earlier on Friday, Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had declared his country would invoke the ANZUS security treaty for only the second time in its history in response to any attack by North Korea against the US.
His commitment to assist the US caps off days of escalating tensions, with US President Donald Trump threatening to unleash "fire and fury" on the rogue state and the North Korean regime warning it would attack the US Pacific territory of Guam.
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"The United States has no stronger ally than Australia. We have an ANZUS agreement and if there is an attack on Australia or the United States...each of us will come to the other's aid," Turnbull told Melbourne radio station 3AW.
"So let's be very clear about that. If there is an attack on the United States by North Korea, then the ANZUS treaty will be invoked and Australia will come to the aid of the United States."
The ANZUS collective security treaty, signed in 1951 by Australia, the US and New Zealand, compels its parties to "consult together" and "act to meet the common danger". New Zealand withdrew from the treaty in the 1980s following disputes over nuclear weapons and the Rainbow Warrior bombing..
On Friday afternoon, English dismissed speculation about what any potential military action might look like as "hypothetical".
"While there's been an escalation of rhetoric there isn't any indication that military action's going to occur," he told NZN.
"We remain focused on peaceful resolutions of these tensions, that's why it's so important that the countries work together in the UN and that the US China and Russia put pressure on North Korea.
"If there was any military action at all we would consider our contribution on its merits."
He said he wouldn't copy Australia's stance, adding: "We're in close contact with the US and Australia but any decision New Zealand makes about North Korea we make according to our own interests."
Turnbull's declaration marked a strengthening of the Australian government's position after Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Wednesday that, under the ANZUS alliance, Australia only had an "obligation to consult".
Former Australian prime minster John Howard invoked the ANZUS treaty for the first time in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks against New York and Washington.
Turnbull spoke with US Vice-President Mike Pence on Thursday night and said everyone understood Australia's commitment to the ally was "absolutely rock-solid".His predecessor, Abbott, said that Australia "should be urgently investing in upgraded missile defences".
Turnbull said: "The current advice from Defence to the government is that they do not consider that there is a benefit to deploy a system such as the THAAD system - terminal high altitude area defence, bit of a mouthful - for defence of Australian territory.
"The reason for that is that THAAD is designed to provide protection for relatively small areas against short to intermediate range missiles."
Turnbull expressed confidence that diplomatic pressures and sanctions would "bring the [North Korean] regime to its senses in a peaceful manner".
Since it was struck, ANZUS has underpinned Australia's defence policy, providing Australia's relatively small defence forces with the back-up of the world's leading military superpower.
After invoking ANZUS in 2001, Howard said Australia would consult with the US and consider any requests "within the limits of its capability".
A month later, the government committed Australian troops to the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Opponents have criticised the treaty, arguing it unnecessarily places Australia's security at risk.
- Stuff and Sydney Morning Herald