Threatening Australia’s Backyard? French–Australian Tensions on Nuclear Policies and Their Resolution

Part of the Studies in Diplomacy and International Relations book series (SID)


The Australian–French strategic partnership, demonstrated by a gradually increasing military cooperation, was enabled by one prerequisite: the end of strong tensions between France and Australia regarding French nuclear testing in the South Pacific. The French nuclear program in French Polynesia, conducted between 1966 and 1996, was one of the major hindrances to the French–Australian bilateral relationship. This chapter argues that the strength of French–Australian tensions pertaining to nuclear armament stems from the fact that nuclear issues have acted as two opposite tools of power for the two countries. France has developed independent nuclear capacities to support its aim to remain a global power, while Australia has regularly used anti-nuclear campaigns as a topic of niche diplomacy to become a stronger middle power. Moreover, both countries’ behaviours have exacerbated these tensions, France arrogantly refusing to discuss the issue with its Pacific neighbours and Australia conducting a duplicitous uranium diplomacy. Tensions surrounding the French nuclear program in French Polynesia mainly mirrored how Australia and France had two very different perceptions and strategies regarding global security: the French one, basing global security on nuclear deterrence and conducting nuclear testing in order to maintain its strategic independence, and the Australian one, based on the reduction of nuclear armaments and full support of the American security order. However, the end of French nuclear testing in 1996 and France’s support for non-proliferation, along with Australia’s diplomatic ambition to assert its regional leadership, enabled the two countries to develop a tangible strategic dialogue to progressively become jointly responsible for the South Pacific’s security.


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia

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