In 1987, Labour passed the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act, meeting an election promise.
In a largely symbolic response, the US Congress retaliated with the Broomfield Act, downgrading New Zealand’s status from ally to friend.
Former prime minister David Lange said if the security alliance was the price New Zealand must pay to remain nuclear-free, it was the price the country was prepared to pay.
In 1989, 52% of New Zealanders indicated they would rather break defence ties than admit nuclear-armed ships.
By 1990, National had signed up to the anti-nuclear stance.
There the situation has remained until Mr Biden accepted an invitation for the US to send a ship to the Royal New Zealand Navy’s 75th birthday in November.
The acceptance is another expression of the close and co-operative relationship between the two countries.
The relationship has certainly improved in recent years.
New Zealand soldiers have served overseas alongside US troops, sometimes without the knowledge of the New Zealand public until after the event.
New Zealand wisely does not get involved in every conflict but it has provided valuable training for troops in war zones.
So despite the urging of Mr Key, the return to New Zealand waters by a US ship in November cannot be taken lightly.
It is a win for the resolve of Kiwis to keep this country nuclear free.
It is not known if the US ship will be a warship or something tamer.
Under New Zealand’s law, Mr Key has to sign a declaration he is satisfied the ship complies with New Zealand law, something he says he has done about 40 times since he became prime minister.
Publicly available information will make it possible for watchers of maritime issues to identify if the ship is nuclear-armed or nuclear-powered.
A ship visit will clearly signal US acceptance of New Zealand’s nuclear-free policy.