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Briefing paper

Key points:

  • Australia’s concerns over US extended nuclear deterrence are primarily about entrapment, not abandonment. Still, Australian policymakers are aware that Canberra needs to take on a greater share of the deterrence burden as part of alliance cooperation.
  • Australian policymakers want to better understand the risks associated with greater nuclear cooperation. As they draw on a different Cold War legacy to other US allies, this legacy needs to be properly understood for further cooperation to be possible.
  • Unique among America’s allies, statements about Australia’s understanding of US extended nuclear deterrence commitments are included in its Defence White Papers, but not in joint statements with the United States.
  • Australia and the United States should begin discussing nuclear deterrence at the annual Australia-US Ministerial Consultations communiques to signal alliance cohesion, support its domestic legitimacy and enable more structured strategic dialogue.
  • Both countries should identify where they agree on issues of deterrence, strategic stability and arms control. They should work with like-minded countries to engage China in relevant dialogues; and with Southeast Asian countries to understand and shape their perceptions of the role of deterrence and nuclear weapons in international and regional security.
  • The alliance should consider cooperation in conventional long-range strike to reduce the reliance on nuclear weapons for deterrence and to signal that such cooperation might be expanded in extremis to involve nuclear weapons should Australia’s security environment deteriorate.
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