We should feel what — humiliated, insulted, panicked — at being omitted from AUKUS, the armed nuclear entente signed by Australia, the U.K. and U.S. last week? Erin O’Toole and Jagmeet Singh nailed Justin Trudeau for being excluded. “Look, those guys are ganging up on China and didn’t invite us!” It was basically the only foreign policy issue that arose.
Personally, I’m delighted. Who do you think will get bossed around by the other two, with their nuclear arsenals? It’s not gonna be, “Hey Washington, run down to the corner and get us some coffees.” The Brits, shrewdly, made sure there was someone below them on the ladder this time.
O’Toole said we should talk tougher with China to get the Michaels out, so he’d “pick up the phone” and ask AUKUS to enrol us. If you were a Michael stuck in a Chinese prison, I’m not sure you’d be thrilled about that.
Being little and getting into deals with global prima donnas, with their nukes and egos, can be juvenile hell. The EU, crappy as it is but vaguely balanced, works somewhat better than NAFTA/CUSMA, with just three amigos — one of whom’s the size of the CN Tower. It tore us apart getting in 30 years ago, and did the same again when Trump wanted out. AUKUS sounds like the worst schoolyard ever.
How so? Well, Australia and France used to be so close, y’know, and France was gonna give them nuclear subs. But Australia and the U.S. had a secret relationship for six months that France didn’t suspect, and the U.S. promised eight subs, not five, and the U.K., like, knew, but didn’t tell France.
So France was furious and said they always thought the U.S. had been part of the thing they had with Oz. Then Biden begged France to talk it over on the phone, but France wouldn’t. Someone who really knew once said “the French have not been taught to share.” And they felt “betrayed” because, well, six months. Then Australia’s acting prime minister finally spoke up, saying it didn’t have to prove its “affection” for France since so many thousands of Aussies died “on French soil” in both world wars.
Then just when things seemed to be calming down, British PM Boris Johnson, who’s always showing off his language skills, said prenez un grip and donnez-moi un break.
The acting Australian PM spoke because the real one, Scott Morrison, known widely as “Scotty from marketing,” (he ran tourism) was in the U.S. to fawn over Biden. He even got a “sidelines” meeting behind the arras at the UN. The U.S. “has no closer or more reliable ally than Australia,” cooed Biden.
That comment was surely sent by the gods to test us. Did we not grow up as best mate forever of the U.S. — longest undefended border, first foreign visit by their president? We were the favoured subaltern of every empire we were in: France, Britain, U.S. And now replaced? What’s left besides maturity and self-respect?
Oddly, New Zealand didn’t seem irked about being outside AUKUS, though they’re far nearer the China-panic zone. But they’ve been antinuke since the 1950s, and maintain good relations with China. Maybe we should make an entente with them — remembering always not to throw our weight around.
I mean seriously, folks. This is about species survival. Nuclear disaster is second only to climate (if that) as a threat. Yes, we survived the Cold War — by sheer luck if you check the history of close calls. Do you really want to recreate that and rerun the risk? Who’ll forgive us if it finally, predictably, happens?
Is there an alternative to catastrophe-courting alliances? Yes, in fact. A series of international nuclear disarmament treaties made impressive if limited progress, till being dismantled under Trump. Now Biden goes down the same old road while claiming to want to restore those treaties.
As if time isn’t precious on this front. Last week, “Peril” — another Bob Woodward doorstopper — revealed that the top U.S. military officer made private calls to China, assuring them that Trump-dispatched nukes weren’t on the way in early 2021. Is that what we’re relying on? Why didn’t someone raise this during the election, when foreign policy briefly poked its nose above the parapet?
Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.
Image credit: G20 Argentina/Flickr