Donald Trump’s disruptive impact on US alliance management was exemplified by two sets of public comments earlier in June 2018. The president’s public condemnation of Justin Trudeau as “very dishonest and weak” for pushing back against Washington’s imposition of tariffs on Canadian goods was followed by praise for North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un as “very smart and very talented.” The latter comments were accompanied by a peremptory announcement by Trump that annual joint exercises with South Korea would be terminated because they were a “provocation” to Pyongyang and cost the United States “a lot of money.” While it seems Beijing was aware of the impending announcement, US allies in Asia—including Seoul—were taken by surprise.
A US president excoriating the leader of a fellow NATO member country while singing the praises of a totalitarian leader who has threatened nuclear strikes against US territory and several American allies left analysts reeling, but it underscored Trump’s essential disregard of the conventional foreign policy playbook. As a long-standing US ally, Australia takes a keen interest in the Trump administration’s conduct towards traditional allies and foes alike. If Canberra felt nervous about Trump’s conduct earlier this month, the Turnbull government gave nothing away. Applauding Trump’s “visionary leadership” in meeting with Kim Jong-un, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull did not engage with the president’s public condemnation of a counterpart Five-Eyes member. Although some Australian officials are privately anxious about the Trump administration’s cavalier approach to alliance management generally, they believe Australia can weather the storm because of its strong institutional connections with the United States. There is no evidence—at least none yet—that Australia’s relations with the United States are deteriorating or that it is hedging against the alliance.
Please click here to read the full “An Australian perspective” article published at The ASAN Forum National Commentaries, written by Griffith Asia Institute member, Professor Andrew O’Neil.