Extended Nuclear Deterrence – Australia


The United States has extended assurances of extended nuclear deterrence to its major allies from the earliest days of the Cold War. At present, the US appears to count some 31 countries – mostly the NATO allies – under its nuclear umbrella.  Both Japan and Australia have incorporated explicit statements of reliance on United States extended nuclear deterrence into their formal defence policies. In the Japanese case these public statements reach back at least until the 1970s. In the Australian case, while the assurance has been taken as given more many years, the earliest Australian government official public statement is in the Defence White Paper of 1994. The United States has frequently provided public confirmation of its promise of extended nuclear deterrence to Japan and its European allies. However, there is no known record of comparable public assurance of extended nuclear deterrence to Australia, notwithstanding the assumption that such a promise exists.

Government sources


Defending Australia: Defence White Paper 1994, Department of Defence, 1994.

The government does not accept nuclear deterrence as a permanent condition. It is an interim measure until a total ban on nuclear weapons, accompanied by substantial verification provisions, can be achieved. In this interim period, although it is hard to envisage the circumstances in which Australia could be threatened by nuclear weapons, we cannot rule out that possibility. We will contrinue to rely in the extended deterrence of the US nuclear capability to deter any nuclear threat or attack on Australia. Consequently, we will continue to support the maintenance by the United States of a nuclear capability adequate to ensure it can deter nuclear threats against allies like Australia.


Australia’s Strategic Policy, Department of Defence, 1997

Our alliance with the United States is by any measure our most important strategic relationship. It is a major strategic asset and its preservation and development is among our highest strategic priorities. The alliance is a complex relationship which operates at many levels and in many ways, including annual Ministerial-level consultations.

First, and most fundamentally, it is a bilateral arrangement. That bilateral aspect involves a vast web of day-to-day bilateral cooperation in the maintenance and development of our military capabilities, including intelligence cooperation, access to some of the most advanced military technologies, and intense service-to-service contact through training, exercises and visits. This cooperation provides Australia’s forces with technology and information which is fundamental to our defence capability. It will become more important in future as we become even more dependent on exploiting technology – especially information technology – to maximise our capabilities.

Underlying this peacetime cooperation is the formal undertaking to come to one another’s aid in a crisis –  “would act to meet the common danger” as Article 4 of the ANZUS Treaty puts it. These undertakings do not amount to a guarantee by the United States of Australia’s security. Indeed, the Treaty specifically requires each party to attend to its own capabilities. Nor does it amount to a promise to send armed forces in a crisis. But it provides a sound basis for us to plan on the expectation of substantial and vital non-combat support from the United States in a crisis.

Moreover, it makes the commitment of US combat forces to our defence sufficiently likely to figure in the calculations of any would-be aggressor. Nevertheless, we do not assume that such help would be provided. Indeed, such an assumption would be inconsistent with our self-reliant posture and our alliance obligations.

In one specific respect the alliance does provide a clearer expectation of US support – that is, defence against nuclear attack. While the risk of nuclear attack on Australia remains very low, the possibility cannot entirely be ruled out. In those circumstances we would rely on the extended deterrence provided by the United States to deter such an attack.


White Paper: Defence 2000 – Our Future Defence Force, Department of Defence, 2000.

A healthy alliance should not be a relationship of dependency, but of  mutual help. In the long run, dependency would weaken the alliance, both in the eyes of Australians and in the eyes of Americans. For that reason, self-reliance will remain an inherent part of our alliance policy. There is one important exception to this principle of self-reliance. Australia relies on the extended deterrence provided by US nuclear forces to deter the remote possibility of any nuclear attack on Australia. (p.36)


Founded In History, Forging Ahead, Department of Defence, 8 September 2006.

There is one important exception to this principle of Australian defence self-reliance, which needs to be mentioned. Australia does rely on the extended deterrence provided by US nuclear forces to deter the remote possibility of any missile-borne nuclear attack on Australia. Although growing cooperation with the United States in missile defence, and the possible development by Australia of significant missile defence capabilities, would afford us a degree of limited protection in the event of a rogue nuclear missile strike, our policy recognises that it is only the extended umbrella of US nuclear forces that can provide us with a comprehensive deterrent protection against anything more substantial in terms of nuclear missile strike. (p.7)


Defending Australia in the Asia-Pacific Century: Force 2020. Defence White Paper 2009, Department of Defence, 2009.

4.16 Balancing the capabilities required for unconventional operations such as counter-insurgency and stabilisation, while retaining strong high-technology conventional forces, will be a major challenge for US defence planners, and the United States will continue to seek further deepening of its strategic relationships with capable potential coalition partners, such as Australia. Within the timeframe of this White Paper, the United States will continue to rely on its nuclear deterrence capability to underpin US strategic power, deter attack or coercion by other nuclear powers, and sustain allied confidence in US security commitments by way of extended deterrence.

4.59 It is the Government’s judgement that stable nuclear deterrence will continue to be a feature of the international system for the foreseeable future, and in this context extended deterrence will continue to be viable. The challenge will be to deter rogue states of concern, some of which may develop a level of capability in terms of long-range ballistic missiles, coupled potentially with WMD warheads. Iran and North Korea, and possibly others in the future, will continue to pursue long-range ballistic missile programs that could pose a direct, though remote, risk to our own security.

6.33 What the alliance means for our direct security is that the associated capability, intelligence and technological partnership, at the core of the alliance, is available to support our strategic capability advantage in our immediate neighbourhood and beyond. This is indispensable to our security.

6.34 It also means that, for so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are able to rely on the nuclear forces of the United States to deter nuclear attack on Australia. Australian defence policy under successive governments has acknowledged the value to Australia of the protection afforded by extended nuclear deterrence under the US alliance. That protection provides a stable and reliable sense of assurance and has over the years removed the need for Australia to consider more significant and expensive defence options.

8.45 It is conceivable that, over the long period covered by this White Paper, we might have to contend with major power adversaries operating in our approaches – in the most drastic circumstance, as a consequence of a wider conflict in the Asia-Pacific region. In such a circumstance, it is not a current defence planning assumption that Australia would be involved in such a conflict on its own. But we do assume that, except in the case of nuclear attack, Australia has to provide for its own local defence needs without relying on the combat forces of other countries.

11.10 For almost 50 years, through the joint defence facilities, Australia has made a significant contribution to US national security by hosting or supporting some of the United States’ most sensitive and critical strategic capabilities. These include systems related to intelligence collection, ballistic missile early warning, submarine communications, and satellite-based communications.

11.11 Australia’s geography, stable democratic system, developed economy and technical expertise, combined with our close alliance with the United States, will continue to underpin the enduring value of the joint defence facilities. The contributions of these facilities to global US capabilities both strengthen the alliance and greatly enhance our own capabilities.

11.12 The Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap near Alice Springs continues to be the pre-eminent example of this strategic cooperation. The capabilities at Pine Gap will evolve to meet new demands and take advantage of new technologies, and the facility will remain a central element of Australia’s security and of our relationship with the United States. It will continue to contribute to the intelligence collection capabilities of both countries, support monitoring of compliance with arms control and disarmament agreements, and underpin global strategic stability by providing ballistic missile early warning information to the United States. The activities conducted at Pine Gap will continue to be undertaken on the basis of our full knowledge and concurrence, and with direct capability benefits for Australia. Any future proposal for hosting similar facilities will have to meet the same standards.

Australia and the United States: The Indispensable Alliance, Joel Fitzgibbon MP,  Minister for Defence, Remarks To The National Security Leaders Forum, Center for a New American Security, MIN54/0910 April 2009.

We recognise, too, the important role played by US extended nuclear deterrence in countering the ambitions of proliferators and states of concern. Australia benefits from this as an alliance partner but we also make a direct contribution through the hosting of joint facilities at Pine Gap, and a number of other joint activities hosted on Australian soil.  The joint facilities at Pine Gap provide ballistic missile early warning information and support the monitoring of compliance with arms control and disarmament regimes.  They are an indispensable part of the United States’ nuclear deterrence posture.


Rethinking extended nuclear deterrence in the defence of Australia, Austral Special Report 09-07S, 10 December 2009; co-published in Asia-Pacific Journal/Japan Focus, 3269.

Disarmament: words don’t match actions, Daniel Flitton, The Age, September 4, 2009

ANU strategic affairs specialist Robert Ayson captures the problem neatly: ”Does Australia really want the sort of deep nuclear disarmament which would remove America’s ability to extend deterrence to Australia, and to others, including a nervous Japan?” A perverse consequence could be raising the prospect that Japan would want to develop its own nuclear deterrent. Ayson poses an even more tantalising question: ”If the Rudd Government is strongly committed to a nuclear-free world, would it consider announcing that in the interests of nuclear disarmament it no longer wished to be covered by American deterrence?” After all, [Foreign Minister Stephen] Smith made the obvious point during his lecture that no country is currently seeking to coerce Australia with its military power, either nuclear or conventional. So, why keep the deterrent? Perhaps having an ally such as Australia step out from the umbrella is the type of bold step needed for a nuclear-free world.

It’s time to get serious about ridding the world of nuclear weapons, Malcolm Fraser, Gustav Nossal, Barry Jones, Peter Gration, John Sanderson and Tilman Ruff, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 April 2009.

Australia should prepare for a world free of nuclear weapons by “walking the talk”. We should reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our security policies, as we call on nuclear weapon states to do. The international safeguards on which we depend to ensure our uranium does not contribute to proliferation need substantial strengthening and universal application. Our reliance on the “extended nuclear deterrence” provided by the US should be reviewed so that Australian facilities and personnel could not contribute to the possible use of nuclear weapons.

Whither the San Francisco alliance system? Kim Beazley, Australian Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 57, No. 2, pp. 325-338, July 2003

In the 1980s ANZUS was incorporated within an evolving Australian national strategy of self-reliance. Two decades of struggle to get the United States to clarify its extended deterrence guarantee to Australia was replaced with the cheerful Australian assumption that no enemy of Australia’s could not guarantee the United States would not aid its Antipodean ally, and that would do. Confidence in the intelligence connection and the quality of equipment the United States relationship supplied, guaranteed the success of Australia’s defence in any conceivable circumstances without further alliance involvement. (p.329)

Kim  Beazley, presentation to Seminar on the ANZUS alliance, Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Parliament of Australia, 11 August 1997.

We also accepted for ourselves that an element of the nuclear umbrella was inevitable in the United States relationship. We did not conduct nuclear exercises with the United States, that is true, but since Gough Whitlam’s day one of the arguments in favour of the US alliance was that it avoided a discussion in Australia of an independent nuclear deterrent. You might say to that, `Well, no big deal,’ but recollect that we were acquiring F111s with nuclear triggers, we were going to develop a nuclear facility at Jervis Bay and we were refusing to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Back then, in the late 1960s, when essentially Labor Party policy on the American alliance was firmed up under Gough Whitlam, it was quite a relevant argument for Gough Whitlam to say, `No, we oppose the government going down that road. We would not go down that road itself but, Labor Party, watch this. If you decide that you are going to go armed, you will have to go armed and neutral, and armed and neutral ultimately will mean a nuclear weapon.’ These were things that were still resonated in the way in which we devised policy.

Secondly, we accepted that the joint facilities were probably targets, but we accepted the risk of that for what we saw as the benefits of global stability. We did not believe that port visits and exercises posed any such risks. On the one hand, we found ourselves dealing with genuine nuclear risk. The New Zealanders had no nuclear risk. That was another source of annoyance for us. Thirdly, we had a very difficult agenda of our own with the Americans, as I have already outlined. With the exception of the desire to be more frank about the purposes of the facilities, none of that was driven by a concern that the government was under any pressure from peace groups or opponents of the alliance within Australia.

Basically, the Americans were not worried about the New Zealanders. They were worried about us and they were particularly worried about the Japanese, because the Americans regarded themselves as doing serious business with us and with the Japanese. At the time they were also bracing the Europeans on cruise missiles and, in any case, there was that world view that America was making a sea change shift to a different view of deterrence. So they were focused elsewhere, but suddenly this problem emerged which might create problems for them elsewhere. I think they considered–this is not necessarily based on intimate knowledge but a guess–that if they were to accept what the New Zealanders did it would make it impossible for us and for their Japanese friends to argue, inside our two domestic policies, that there would not be a similar absence of penalty from withdrawing ship visit opportunities ourselves. But the mere cut-off of military relationships with New Zealand was enough to send a signal into our two systems that this would be an unwise course to follow.

Paul Dibb, presentation to Seminar on the ANZUS alliance, Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Parliament of Australia, 11 August 1997.

The final point I would make is that ANZUS has both a deterrent role, including an extended nuclear deterrent role, and it has tangible–if you like, real to measure–military and intelligence benefits that are a force multiplier for the ADF in a changing strategic balance. Although I do not think that multilateralism is the answer, let me make it clear in my final words that certainly we need to work on multilateralism, but in that process let us not go to some cloud-cuckoo-land that pretends that the defence of Australia and the alliance with the United States can be replaced.

Australia and Nuclear Policy, Desmond Ball, in Desmond Ball (ed.), Strategy and Defence: Australian Essays, George Allen and Unwin, 1982, pp. 320-343.

Conventional deterrence in the Australian strategic context, Michael Evans, Land Warfare Studies Centre, 1999.

Ballistic Missile Defence for Australia: Policies, Requirements and Options, Stephan Frühling, Canberra Paper, no. 151 (Canberra: Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, 2003).

Australia, Rod Lyon, in Muthiah Alagappa (ed.), The Long Shadow: Nuclear Weapons and Security in 21st Century Asia, Stanford U.P. 2008.

AEGIS TMD: Implications for Australia, Richard McMillan. Australian Defence College Monograph Series, No. 1., 2003.

The ANZUS Crisis, Nuclear Visiting and Deterrence, Michael  Pugh, Cambridge UP.

See also