The future looks ominous. There are grim warnings that Australia’s strategic situation has worsened dramatically, with major power conflict increasingly likely. Some commentators fret over US withdrawal from the region, which would leave us disturbingly exposed. Others worry that the U.S. is now too weak anyway.
In the long term, China causes the most worry, given its South China Sea island-building and interference in Australia’s domestic affairs. Over time, with the world’s largest economy, China could field military forces comparable to the US – perhaps better. There is little Australia’s current or planned military forces could do if a China war broke out. And China holds the trump card: nuclear weapons.
In the short term, however, North Korea is more frightening. Over several decades the country has been consistently aggressive, frequently brutal and overtly militaristic. Its current dynastic leader appears erratic, ruthless, and capricious, and its nuclear capabilities have reportedly expanded rapidly to include some 60 nuclear weapons, including, it seems, hydrogen bombs. Now the country seems to have almost finished developing a viable intercontinental ballistic missile delivery system. All Australian cities could be at risk.
We rely completely on the US to deter nuclear threats. But Donald Trump’s administration may have ushered in an era where ‘America First’ rules, alliances are marginalised, and decision-making is disruptive. Relying on burden-shifting our nuclear deterrence indefinitely, into an uncertain future, may be unwise. The US does not need us for its defence. Its interest in our region may wane. In the long term, a different approach might be prudent.
Please click here to read the full “Why Australia should consider sharing nuclear weapons” article published in the Lowy Interpreter, written by Griffith Asia Institute Visiting Fellow, Dr Peter Layton.