We should not follow one mad man to war with another mad man

This blog was originally published by Huffington Post.

In a situation where the US launches an attack on North Korea in anything short of legally defined self-defence, Australia should declare neutrality.

We should not follow one mad man to war with another mad man.

But the Australia-US alliance runs strong and deep. We've shown up to support the US in every major conflict since 1918, popular and not so popular alike. Why not this one?

What would the long-term repercussions be for the alliance if Australia did not join any military action?

Here are three reasons why it wouldn't be catastrophic for the alliance.

Firstly, this president is unique. He's one of a kind. Those who support Trump's grave misadventures will be looked on unkindly by history, not just in Australia but also in America. Blindly following Trump could do more damage to the Australia-US alliance in the long-run.

The reality is that from the get-go, various Congressmen and now even some White House officials have been in rolling damage-control mode when it comes to White House foreign and security policy. Clocking up frequent flyer miles with goodwill trips abroad to reassure friends or explaining publicly 'what the president really meant to say'.

The obvious conclusion is that there is a difference between what the Oval Office says and what the US diplomatic and defence establishments interpret as in the US national interest. Trump's interests are not the US national interests. Congressional power brokers, the State Department and the Pentagon will outlast the limited term of any one president and their memories are long.

Put another way, you don't get in a car with a mate who's had too much to drink, when they insist on driving. It doesn't mean you're not mates still when he comes to his senses.

Australia: "Donny, mate. You've had a few too many. You can barely string two sentences together. Better take a cab, mate."

Trump: "No. No. Greatest. Greatest driver evvvvverrr. World. Drive. Go now."

America will have a big hangover, but the next morning will eventually come.

Secondly, this president appears to care little about Australia or the alliance. He would not shed a tear if we got nuked. Although, he would be pretty upset if Greg Norman got vaporised, but Greg lives in Florida so that's probably not going to happen, unless Florida got nuked, which I guess is no longer an impossibility.

Golfing legends aside, the transcripts with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull clearly show Trump only cares about number one, and then possibly America. Have you noticed that when he talks about US security, he more often than not, drops off 'and that of our friends and allies'? That used to be stock standard language for US presidents and on the whole, they meant it.

Trump doesn't even seem overly concerned about South Korea's pleas for a concerted diplomatic approach and for measured language. And they -- along with North Korean citizens -- are the ones who stand to lose the most.

So while Trump is president it makes no difference whether we honour the alliance or not, remembering that Trump's interests and US national interests are not one in the same.

Thirdly, China has nailed its colours to the mast. If the US attacks first it will work to preserve the status quo on the Korean peninsula. That could take a number of forms, ranging from trade-related retaliation to dumping US debt, the worst-case scenario of course being armed conflict with the US and anyone who decides to join them.

A truly lose-lose situation for Australia. It's more or less asking the chicken whether it wants to be fried or roasted. Either way, it's not a good outcome. Credible US foreign policy makers know this and will make certain allowances, in the face of unpredictable, erratic and irrational behaviour from their president.

Key to this debate is what constitutes self defence. Mainly in US media, I'm starting to hear the term 'pre-emptive strike' again. This concept is a fantasy, last bandied about when the US was warming up to invade Iraq. The law is very clear. Self-defence is triggered when an attack is 'imminent'. Not probable or likely, or indeed hyperbole-based fiction. Let's not get fooled again.

So there you go. Three reasons why we can do the right thing and still maintain the Australia-US alliance. If we keep our fingers crossed that Kim doesn't nuke Guam, everything should be alright.

We can leave the 'fire and fury' to the summer BBQ rather than Australia's doorstep.


Photo: Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull listens to US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis deliver remarks on US strategy in the Asia-Pacific region at the 16th Asia Security Summit in Singapore, June 2017. Dominique A. Pineiro/US Department of Defense (Creative Commons BY 2.0)