Nuclear weapons have been central to Australia’s sense of security since the dawning of the atomic age in 1945. Sometimes this phenomenon has been implicit, and at other times it has been explicit. From 1956 to around 1973, senior officials in both the civilian bureaucracy and the defense establishment had concluded that Australia should have nuclear weapons. This interest in the bomb was symptomatic of a period of nuclear disorder. Certain geopolitical circumstances meant Australia could not rely on its “great and powerful” friends for defending Australia and its interests in Southeast Asia. These circumstances began to change from the late 1960s to create a more benign security environment, and Canberra came to the conclusion that any major conventional or nuclear threat to Australia was also a threat to the United States, so Australia did not really need to play the deterrence game—Washington could take care of that complicated business. That combination of circumstances was the primary reason why Canberra gave up the nuclear option. However, the Asia-Pacific today is undergoing transformational geopolitical shifts that are beginning to seriously undermine the nuclear order underpinning Australia’s attachment to what is, compared to South Korea and Japan, a minimal serving of US extended nuclear deterrence (END). The operational aspects of US END were never articulated to Asian recipients, including Australian policy-makers, the way they were to European allies.
KeywordsNuclear Weapon Alliance Management Nuclear Disarmament Nuclear Deterrence Nuclear Weapon State
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