Donald Trump has spent the last three years scaring the crap out of his allies, but suddenly it has become serious. His predilection for ruthless dictators, traditionally anathema to America and its allies, has now got to the point where those same allies are disposable.
In the interest of ensuring his moment of reality television with Kim Jong Un in Singapore, both Japan and South Korea were cast aside like worn out socks. Not only will Trump suspend what he called the provocative war games—the joint military exercises with South Korea – apparently on the grounds that they are too expensive, but he also looks forward to the time when the 35,000 American troops stationed in the country can be withdrawn.
And in return? Yet another promise of denuclearization from the Kim dynasty that has never delivered in the past but just may break the habit of a lifetime now. Not much of a deal, you may say; but wait, there’s worse. Trump has already made it clear that he regards all treaties, pacts, agreements and handshakes made by his predecessors can and frequently should be abrogated anytime it suits him.
Hence the end of the Trans Pacific Partnership and, more crucially, the Iran nuclear pause. The other parties have protested mightily, but to absolutely no avail; the American compacts were not worth the paper they were written on. And inevitably this brings us to the burning question for all the allies, including , perhaps reluctantly, Australia: where does all this leave ANZUS – and more specifically, is the long-standing guarantee of an American nuclear umbrella still applicable?
Malcolm Turnbull will not even countenance such scepticism, but others do, to the extent that the debate about whether Australia should have its own nuclear deterrent – just like North Korea – should be considered. One right wing warrior, Peter Hendy, who has worked for many years for the Liberal party in various capacities, has written in his new book While Australia Slept, that nukes would give us “an even more independent foreign policy.”
Well, perhaps; but it’s not only an old idea, but one that has been rejected by governments of all persuasions. And apart from the obvious ones – the horrendous cost, the lengthy lead times, and of course the vote of no confidence in Washington – it must be said that previous attempts to nuclearize have collapsed in embarrassment.
One of the most zealous proponents was the then head of the Atomic Energy Commission, Sir Philip Baxter, who took his advocacy to extremes. On one occasion he said we needed the bomb, because if we were threatened but the United States was not, we could covertly nuke an American asset and blame the putative enemy, to draw the yanks in on our side.
In another scenario Baxter said that if nuclear war prevailed in the northern hemisphere Australia might be spared the destruction, but would then be at the mercy Japan. A savvy geographer pointed out that Japan was in fact in the northern hemisphere, so would presumably be out of the picture; to which Baxter snapped back: “Don’t quibble.”
Hardly reassuring. It seems that whatever we do, we will still get the crap scared out of us. Just as Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong Un and Peter Dutton like it.