Bomber Diplomacy: Why Was USAF B-52 Given Permission To Feature At Warbirds Over Wanaka 2020?

Anti-Bases Campaign (ABC) was alarmed to learn that the "star" of the April 2020 Warbirds Over Wanaka air show is to be a US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber, making its first ever appearance in New Zealand (one was supposed to fly over the 2019 Wings Over Wairarapa air show but it never made it, breaking down en route). ABC is Christchurch-based and we have had a US military transport base (Harewood) at our airport for more than 60 years. We are used to US military transport planes coming and going here, and for those planes to feature at open days at Christchurch Airport.

But a B-52 bomber is a whole different kettle of fish. Because it is synonymous with the systematic aerial destruction inflicted upon Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War, people may think that B-52s are historic relics, on a par with the various vintage warplanes that are flown at NZ air shows on a regular basis. But not so – although B-52s date back to 1952, they have been in continuous use by the US Air Force ever since, and remain so today (they have been most recently used to bomb Syria and, in 2020, were deployed to the Indian Ocean base at Diego Garcia as part of Trump’s aggressive military threatening of Iran following the murder of the Iranian general in Iraq).  

To quote Wikipedia: “The USAF continues to rely on the B-52 because it remains an effective and economical heavy bomber in the absence of sophisticated air defences, particularly in the type of missions that have been conducted since the end of the Cold War against nations with limited defensive capabilities. The B-52 has also continued in service because there has been no reliable replacement”. The US military expects to keep using the B-52 until the 2050s. 

NZ has been out of the ANZUS Treaty for nearly 35 years (the Australia, New Zealand, US military treaty that was the foundation of all New Zealand’s defence and foreign policy from its inception in 1951 until the US, under President Ronald Reagan, kicked us out in 1986. It remains in force today, but only between the US and Australia).

Soft Power 

So, what is this Wanaka visit all about? It is aimed at softening up the New Zealand people to support further extending the military alliance with the US, but this time on home soil, rather than overseas. This is called “soft power”. It took until 2016 for the first US Navy warship to visit NZ since the 1980s’ “ANZUS row”. That warship visit was under the Key National government, which is not that surprising.

But this B-52 visit (and its abortive 2019 flyover predecessor) was authorised by the Ardern Labour Coalition government. The US knows that it can keep on chipping away at NZ public opinion, aided and abetted by a sympathetic Government. The steady drip, drip, drip of soft power is intended to lead to the full resumption of “hard power” i.e. NZ as a fully functional, albeit junior, US satellite once again (that is already the reality but it is not the perception that is peddled to the NZ people). 

The US military propaganda announcing the B-52 visit was aided and abetted by a media headline saying: “US Bomber To Grace Airshow”. It doesn’t grace anything – it disgraces the country. Allowing a B-52 into NZ is particularly provocative and offensive. It is not just any old warplane. It is a weapon of mass destruction and terrorism directed at civilians in whichever country it operates, a veritable Angel of Death.

Why don’t the Warbirds Over Wanaka organisers (and their political accomplices) go the whole hog and invite over one of the Russian warplanes that are bombing Syrian civilians, including hospitals? How about inviting Assad’s air force to put on a display of barrel bombing civilians? Let’s see how “our” terrorist bombers shape up against “their” terrorist bombers. ABC sees this as a dangerous precedent. B-52s have no place in New Zealand. Nor do any other US warplanes.

Murray Horton
Secretary/Organiser Anti-Bases Campaign.