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Policy confusion over Nuclear Weapons on Australia soil

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Senator Penny Wong was grilled in Senate estimates this week over whether nuclear weapons are being brought to Australia on visiting B-52 bombers. Her answers were confusing and contradictory. Kellie Tranter explains.

Successive Australian Governments have long embraced the policy of extended nuclear deterrence.

The US ‘Nuclear Posture Review April 2022’ notes that in relation to nuclear deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region that,

The US will continue to field flexible nuclear forces suited to deterring regional nuclear conflict, including the capability to forward deploy strategic bombers, dual-capable fighter aircraft, and nuclear weapons to the region and globally.  We will work with Allies and partners to identify opportunities to increase the visibility of US strategic assets to the region as a demonstration of US resolve and commitment, including ballistic missile submarine port visits and strategic bomber missions. Greater capability integration is an important goal, as well – to better synchronise the nuclear and non-nuclear elements of deterrence and to leverage Ally and partner non-nuclear capabilities that can support the nuclear deterrence missions…’

Defence documents released under Freedom of Information laws relating to nuclear deterrence confirm that,

Through the long-standing policy of Full Knowledge and Concurrence, Australia maintains a full and detailed understanding of the capabilities and activities occurring on, through, or from Australian territory; and approves the presence of a capability or function in support of mutually-agreed goals, including nuclear deterrence…

It is therefore extraordinary that both the Secretary of the Department of Defence, Mr Greg Moriarty, and the Foreign Affairs Minister, Ms Penny Wong, when asked by Senator Jordon Steele-John in Senate Estimates on 15 February 2023 whether or not US B-52 bombers rotating through the Northern Territory would carry nuclear weapons, confirmed that:

“Successive Australian Governments have understood and respected the longstanding US policy of neither confirming nor denying the presence of nuclear weapons on particular platforms.”

Not only is this a significant renunciation of sovereignty, it is entirely inconsistent with the long-standing policy of ‘Full Knowledge and Concurrence’.

It also raises serious questions about whether or not Australian agencies responsible for national security are being kept properly informed, and about what might happen if there was an accident involving US platforms with nuclear weapons on Australian soil or in Australian waters.

See also: The Age – Nuclear Weapons uncertainty must be resolved


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