From AUKUS and the Quad to ever expanding joint military exercises, Australia and the United States have arguably never been so strategically aligned in their seven decades as allies. Yet amid China's rapid nuclear build-up and North Korea's persistent provocations, a new policy brief from the United States Studies Centre (USSC) argues that Canberra and Washington still have a long way to go when it comes to managing the region’s nuclear challenges and can no longer “ignore the nuclear aspects of possible contingencies or assume that a conventional conflict will stay conventional.” 

The timely policy brief, Full knowledge and concurrence: Key questions for US-Australia extended deterrence and escalation management consultations looks at how Australia and the United States can prepare to manage the risks of nuclear escalation with nuclear-armed adversaries in the Indo-Pacific.  

"Today's multipolar nuclear threat environment is complex and eroding; and while Washington and Canberra have been reluctant to overemphasise the role of nuclear weapons in the broader strategic competition, it is time to think anew about how the alliance should manage these challenges" says USSC guest author and Center for Strategic and International Studies Deputy Director of the Project on Nuclear Issues, Kelsey Hartigan.  

This brief outlines a pathway for managing nuclear threats in the region and includes policy recommendations for decision makers in Canberra and Washington.

According to USSC Foreign Policy and Defence Director Professor Peter Dean, "Hartigan offers a timely assessment of actions Australia and the United States should take to better manage extended nuclear deterrence. As nuclear risks in the Indo-Pacific environment intensify, the alliance needs to ensure such mechanisms and conversations are mature and fit for strategic competition."  

View and download the report here.


The security environment in the Indo-Pacific is deteriorating and the prospect of nuclear coercion or nuclear use in the region cannot be ignored. To prepare the alliance to manage these nuclear challenges, this paper argues that Washington and Canberra should:

  1. Regularly use scenario-based discussions, tabletop exercises, and wargames to better educate policymakers on the changing nuclear threat environment, the scale and scope of joint force posture initiatives, and the implications for extended deterrence and escalation management.
  2. Deepen the focus on the connections between conventional and nuclear forces and escalation management issues within the Strategic Policy Dialogue.
  3. Improve linkages and discussions on nuclear issues within broader US-Australian defence and security dialogues.
  4. Develop a joint messaging strategy to better call out China’s destabilising behaviours.
  5. Agree on public messaging to carefully tailor, and in some cases, limit, how much the alliance publicly addresses escalation concerns.
  6. Explore options for engaging Japan and South Korea on extended deterrence issues and crisis planning scenarios.

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