In an increasingly contested Indo-Pacific region, the United States and Australia must consider the evolving requirements for conventional and nuclear capabilities to deter a potential conflict with China – an issue that raises difficult geopolitical questions for both countries and for their relationship as allies.

A new research brief released today by the United States Studies Centre's Foreign Policy and Defence Program examines the strategic case for Australia to play a larger role in contributing to deterrence as part of the alliance.

Co-authored by Associate Professor Dr Stephan Frühling (Australian National University), Professor Andrew O'Neil (Griffith University) and David Santoro (Pacific Forum), the brief argues that the scope for closer association between Australia and the United States in deterring great power conflict in Asia is greater now than it has been in decades.

"Australian policymakers want to better understand the risks associated with greater nuclear cooperation," the brief states.

"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."

This is the first publication in the Deterrence Brief collection: a dedicated series of policy briefs co-produced by the United States Studies Centre and Pacific Forum to complement the Annual Track 1.5 US-Australia Indo-Pacific Deterrence Dialogue.

Key points

  • Australia and the United States should discuss issues of nuclear deterrence in annual AUSMIN communiqués to signal alliance cohesion, raise domestic awareness and enable more structured strategic dialogue.
  • Both allies should engage China in dialogue on strategic stability and work with Southeast Asian countries to build mutual understandings on the role of nuclear deterrence in international and regional security.
  • Canberra and Washington should consider cooperation in conventional long-range strike to reduce the reliance on nuclear weapons for deterrence and to signal that such cooperation could be expanded in extremis to involve nuclear weapons should Australia’s security environment deteriorate.

View research brief

Media enquiries

Drew Sheldrick
T 02 9114 2622 
drew.sheldrick@sydney.edu.au