Now that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have secured US presidential nominations, the Turnbull government has a narrow window of opportunity to strengthen our American alliance.

NATO is the gold standard in American defence alliances as many recognise, including its secretary-general. In contrast, our ANZUS alliance is silver at best and needs upgrading. The small European nation of Montenegro is getting a gold standard alliance with America — so why can’t we?

When it signed ANZUS in 1951, the Menzies government’s foreign minister considered the treaty a disappointment. Percy Spender hoped ANZUS would, like NATO, place a firm obligation on all signatories to act together to meet common dangers, but instead it only committed the US to consultations in times of crisis. In several tense periods between Indonesia and Australia, the US has evaded giving Australia full support. John Howard experienced just that in 1999 during the East Timor crisis. There were no American “boots on the ground” as Howard sought — not even one.

A better treaty can go a long way to avoiding such problems. A treaty’s words may seem mere sophistry but they have a certain gravitas in demonstrating clearly and publicly the specific agreements nations intend to uphold. And when conflict threatens, treaty obligations are honoured three times out of four, studies show. But nations go beyond their agreed treaty obligations only about a quarter of the time. Australia’s experience with the US over Indonesian tensions is normal. The wording of our silver-standard treaty means abandonment during a crisis is a perennial fear.

Please click here to read the full “ANZUS pact needs a gold-standard upgrade under Clinton or Trump” article by Griffith Asia Institute Visiting Fellow Peter Layton.