The United States had kicked off a new nuclear arms race with its unilateral response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, former Australian prime minister Paul Keating said.
Speaking in New Zealand, Keating said former US President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore would have handled the attacks "very differently" from the President George W Bush administration, which had jerked toward unilateralism and rejected co-operation and multilateral frameworks.
Keating said the US had walked away from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Ballistic Missile Treaty, and the Non Proliferation Treaty, signalling to other countries that they too could be part of a resumed nuclear arms race.
"Not just in India or Pakistan, or Iran and North Korea and even Israel, but in lesser states which believe they need their pocket nuke to make the world deal with them respectfully," he told delegates at a local government conference in Queenstown.
The old ideas of containment had been tipped over for an aggressive pre-emptive first strike doctrine that eschewed liberal internationalism for what Keating called a winner-take-all, me-first strategy.
That "let a lot of hares run," and as relatively small states with a broadly European complexion, tucked way at the bottom of Asia, it brought no good news for New Zealand or Australia, he said.
"I hope the Americans have not led us into a Mad Max world -- while they seek to shield themselves in the cocoon of national missile defence."
In the interests of human community the world must be run co-operatively, Keating said.
"This period of strident American unilateralism and militarism cuts across this notion while putting no adequate or alternative framework in place."