Intellectual preoccupations come and go. “Transparency and accountability”, once widely recommended, now rarely figure in the discourse. “Globalisation” and “governance” have recently yielded top place as the most overused expressions in foreign affairs to “the international rules-based order”. This latest buzz-phrase – featured in last issue’s Back Page section – is more often cited than applied, particularly by Australian governments. It means different things to different people: to economists it’s the Bretton Woods institutions; to lawyers and diplomats it’s the international legal system, repeated appeals to which count for less and less. Even rationalism, the orderly emblem of the Enlightenment, is being overruled by rules-free Trumpery, Michiko Kakutani argues in The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump. So it’s surprising that Stephan Frühling should refer to another “new world order”, a phrase that was on everyone’s lips in the years of President George H.W. Bush, but that hardly applies to today’s disorderly world.
Equally unexpected is Associate Professor Frühling’s reference to a “nascent debate” about Australia acquiring nuclear weapons. This debate must be taking place quietly inside our proliferating national security establishment, for it is not audible in the wider community. Occasional expressions of enthusiasm are heard from those with vested interests in Australia developing nuclear power plants, but these voices never raise nuclear weapons. If plans exist for our future submarine fleet to be nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed, the government has not taken the risk of revealing them, nor what their eye-watering cost to our “debt and deficit” would be. When Australia’s ICAN won the latest Nobel Peace Prize for its promotion of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, many outside the major parties were delighted. If Australians want nuclear weapons, Frühling’s article is the first many of them will have heard of it.