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The Cold War

Page 3 – Choosing sides

Onset of the Cold War

New Zealand backed Britain and the United States against the Soviet Union as the Cold War began in the late 1940s. Like the other Western Allies, New Zealand’s relationship with the communist Soviet Union – their wartime ally – deteriorated toward the end of the Second World War. The Soviet Union's installation of a communist puppet government – the 'Lublin Committee' – in Poland (January 1945) and the Trieste crisis (May 1945) alarmed New Zealand Prime Minister Peter Fraser, who became suspicious of Soviet ambitions in Europe. Despite his misgivings, Fraser remained hopeful that the formation of the United Nations in 1945 would see the major powers work together to achieve post-war security. This was not to be.

Relations between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies worsened from 1946 as both sides jostled for power across Europe. Under Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union set up communist satellite states in Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania. The United States countered by supporting the Greek government against a communist insurgency, and using economic aid – the Marshall Plan – to reduce communist influence in Italy and France.

New Zealand’s response

By 1948 Cold War divisions had been cemented. Two blocs, led by the United States and the Soviet Union, faced each other across Europe. With the threat of a third world war looming, New Zealand threw its support behind the Western powers. It provided aircrews for the Berlin airlift (1948–49) and pledged to send military forces to help defend British interests in the Middle East in the event of open war with the Soviet Union.

Berlin Airlift

Like the rest of Germany, the city of Berlin was split into British, American, French, and Soviet occupation zones at the end of the war. When the Allied zones introduced a common currency in 1948, the Soviet Union, which controlled East Berlin, imposed a blockade on West Berlin. The Allies responded by supplying the besieged city by air, with 473 sorties made by RNZAF aircrew. By the time the blockade was lifted in September 1949, more than 2.3 million tonnes of supplies had been airlifted to the city.

To ensure New Zealand had enough trained troops to meet this commitment, Peter Fraser’s Labour government called for the introduction of compulsory military training (CMT). Despite strong opposition from within Fraser’s own Labour Party, a public referendum endorsed the CMT proposal.

Korean War

Despite this Middle East focus, New Zealand’s first post-Second War military action took place in Asia. Heartened by the communist victory in the Chinese civil war in 1949, communist North Korea invaded US-aligned South Korea in 1950. A 16-nation United Nations force, including two naval ships and an artillery regiment from New Zealand, was quickly dispatched to repel the invaders. Although its military contribution was comparatively small, the Korean War (1950-1953) had a major impact on New Zealand’s approach to international relations. Events in Korea also provided an opportunity for New Zealand to pursue its goal of obtaining a security commitment from the United States. The signing of the ANZUS Treaty in 1951 was the successful achievement of this objective, and was to have far-reaching implications for New Zealand’s Cold War strategy.

How to cite this page

Choosing sides, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated