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Please Donald Trump, don't defend us with nuclear weapons

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Photo/Getty Images

US President Donald Trump recently said he would defend South Korea and Japan with "the full range of its conventional and nuclear capabilities”. 

The day that the photo appeared of the US and Russian presidents shaking hands at the G20, the White House released a joint statement from the US, the Republic of Korea and Japan affirming their alliance and commitment to strengthened security in the face of threats from North Korea.

It was the last line that caught my attention: “President Trump reaffirmed the ironclad commitment of the United States to defend the ROK and Japan using the full range of its conventional and nuclear capabilities.”

There is probably nothing new in this, but I continue to ask myself what it might mean for the US to use its “full range of … nuclear capabilities” to defend South Korea and Japan. The only images I can come up with make me think that if I were Korean or Japanese, I would be asking the US very nicely, and shortly afterwards very un-nicely, to please not do that. Defend us, sure, but not with your full range, or even your fair-to-middling or girl’s-blouse ranges, of nuclear capabilities, thank you.

How would the US do this, anyway? Does one North Korean nuclear warhead get one US nuclear warhead in exchange, or is it a 1:2 ratio response? 1:100?

Now, imagine what might change if Trump instead “affirmed the ironclad commitment” to use the full range of its capabilities, except nuclear weapons”. Sure, a handful of warmongers would call it a sign of weakness. In fact, it would be a sign of global leadership and the world would welcome it. I’m not holding my breath.

This article is an excerpt from the Back to Black column, first published in the July 22, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.