Pacific Partners? The Australia-New Zealand alliance in the Pacific Islands

Introduction to the project

Mick Reilly and Tony Miller

The new International Stabilisation Force Commander, Colonel Mick Reilly, and the Deputy Commander International Stabilisation Force, Commander Tony Miller, exchange a Hongi during the traditional Powhiri ceremony held in Timor-Leste. 

As the geopolitics of the Pacific Islands become more ‘crowded and complex’, ‘natural allies’, Australia and New Zealand are exploring ways to work together more closely in the region.

Under Australian Research Council Discovery Project (DP200101994), Professor Joanne Wallis, Dr Anna Powles (Massey University), and project PhD scholar Soli Middleby, are analysing how the Australia-New Zealand alliance operates and why it endures.

We are answering these questions using an in-depth analysis of the alliance in the Pacific Islands, the region in which the alliance has primarily played out. 

Our project has three aims: 

  1. To provide a fresh understanding of why the Australia-New Zealand alliance was formed and why it endures. This will be based on an innovative theoretical framework and inferences will be drawn relating to broader debates about alliance politics.
  2. To create a comprehensive historical account of how the Australia-New Zealand alliance has operated in the Pacific Islands from pre-colonial times to today, to understand how it shapes each state’s attitudes and approaches to the Pacific Islands.
  3. To identify implications for Australia and New Zealand’s cooperation in the Pacific Islands in the future, including lessons from our findings for policy makers in response to growing interest in both the geopolitics of the Pacific Islands and how Australia and New Zealand will respond.

To inform our research, we will conduct interviews in Canberra, Wellington, and the Pacific Islands. 

Project outputs

Australia and New Zealand in the Pacific Islands: Ambiguous Allies?

Our initial policy paper argued that divergences in Australia and New Zealand’s policies and practices raise questions about the status of their alliance and how the two states will work together to address challenges in the Pacific Islands.

We identify four points of convergence between Australia and New Zealand in the Pacific Islands as well as four points of divergence. We argue that the Australia-New Zealand alliance can be strengthened to benefit Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands through greater burden-sharing, combining their respective strengths in hard and soft power, strengthening existing regional institutions, and promoting closer consultations on Pacific issues.

Burden-sharing: the US, Australia and New Zealand alliances in the Pacific Islands

Our first academic article explored alliance management – particularly burden-sharing – under the Australia-New Zealand and Australia-US alliances and was published in International Affairs.

We argued that traditional understandings of alliance management that focus primarily on military contributions need to be rethought, particularly in the Pacific Islands, where meeting non-traditional security challenges such as economic, social, and environmental issues, is equally important.

Smooth sailing? Australia, New Zealand and the United States partnering in-and with-the Pacific Islands

Our second policy paper analysed how Australia, New Zealand and the United States have partnered - and should partner - on security issues in the Pacific Islands region. It recommended that, when seeking to enhance their engagement in the region and work together, the three states should:

  1. Ensure that Pacific priorities direct activity, particularly the expanded concept of security outlined in the 2018 Boe Declaration on Regional Security by the Pacific Islands Forum and the ambitions of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.
  2. Include Pacific Island countries in their cooperative mechanisms, such as the Pacific Quad, the FRANZ arrangement and the Partners in the Blue Pacific initiative.
  3. Ensure that initiatives don’t undermine existing regional frameworks but instead expand on established mechanisms, rather than create new ones. Opportunities include:
  1. The formation of a PIF Secretariat Donor Coordination Unit (funded by donors) to revitalise and operationalise the Cairns Compact on Strengthening Development Coordination in the Pacific;
  2. Strengthening the Forum Dialogue Partners’ convening power by channelling PBP activities through the Dialogue Partners mechanism to ensure Forum oversight and to streamline engagement;
  3. Supporting the Forum Officials Subcommittee on Regional Security; and
  4. The creation of a Pacific Coordination Centre for Humanitarian Assistance within the PIF Secretariat.
  1. Support regional management of geopolitical challenges through facilitating the creation of a Pacific Regional Forum for security dialogue between PIF members and their dialogue partners, modelled on the ASEAN Regional Forum. This could be achieved through expanding the Forum Dialogue Partners mandate. [This recommendation has been picked-up by the New Zealand government.
  2. Support strategic dialogues—including the proposed Suva Dialogue convened by the PIF—that would provide opportunities for deepening mutual understanding, building relationships and elevating the profiles of Pacific thinkers in Australia, New Zealand, the US and other partners.
  3. Avoid competing with one another and instead cooperate more closely to pool their collective strengths.


We have also published several opinion pieces related to the project.

First, on whether New Zealand is edging closer to Australia on its foreign policy approach to China.

Second, on whether Australia and New Zealand are shouldering their fair share of the ANZUS alliance burden in the Pacific Islands.

Third, on whether AUKUS adds ambiguity to the Australia-New Zealand alliance.

Fourth, on how AUKUS affects Australia’s relationships in the Pacific Islands.

Fifth, on how the election of the Albanese government in Australia might affect the Australia-New Zealand alliance.

Sixth, on how an expanded and empowered Pacific Islands Forum could contribute to Pacific security.

Seventh, on how the US's commitments in the Pacific are likely to evolve.

Eighth, on how Australia and New Zealand could build their ties at the Pacific Islands Forum.

Ninth, on whether the Pacific Islands can learn anything from ASEAN.

Tenth, on remembering Australia's 'other' alliance - with New Zealand.

Eleventh, on the challenges facing Australia, New Zealand, and the United States in the Pacific Islands.

Workshops and Dialogues

We will be hosting a series of workshops in 2023/24 to test our findings with expert audiences in Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. The aim is to disseminate our research findings, broaden debate on the operation and endurance of the Australia-New Zealand alliance in the Pacific Islands, and engage new and innovative research on the subject. 


The workshops will lead to an edited book, Australia and New Zealand in the Pacific Islands: ambiguous allies? featuring revised versions of the workshop papers and a range of contributors from Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands.

The project website will be updated regularly with news about our latest publications and information about upcoming events.

The project team