The view from Billinudgel

Seriously scary times
What are the implications of the Trump-Kim summit for America’s allies?


Donald Trump has spent the past three years scaring the crap out of his allies, and 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) on the grounds that they are too expensive, but he also looks forward to the time when the 28,000 American troops stationed in the country can be withdrawn.

And in return? Yet another promise of denuclearisation from the Kim dynasty, which has never delivered in the past. Not much of a deal, you may say; but wait, there’s worse. Trump has already made it clear that, from his point of view, all treaties, pacts, agreements and handshakes made by his predecessors can and frequently should be abrogated anytime it suits him.

Hence the end of America’s involvement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and, more crucially, the Iran nuclear deal. 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: is the longstanding 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 – is being considered. One right-wing warrior, Peter Hendy, a former MP who has also worked for the Liberal Party in various capacities over the years, has written in his new book, Why Australia Slept, that nukes would give us “an even more independent foreign policy”.

Well, perhaps. Apart from the obvious reasons – 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 nuclearise have collapsed in embarrassment.

It’s an idea that was perhaps most zealously advocated by Sir Philip Baxter, chair of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission between 1957 and 1972. Baxter was opposed to Australia’s signing of the 1968 nuclear nonproliferation treaty, and promoted the case for the development of nuclear weapons. His pro-nuclear stance was ultimately rejected, and moreover it’s a position that has been rejected by governments of all persuasions.

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 and Kim Jong-un like it.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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