AUKUS and Australia’s Anti-Nuclear Stance

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Nuclear weapons are notorious around the world for the devastation and inhumanity they caused in the Second World War. The United Nations (UN) opened the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT) for signature in 1968 in order to prevent the repetition of the situation in the war in question, and the agreement entered into force in 1970. Australia also signed this agreement in 1973 and after signing it started to take a negative stance against nuclear weapons.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary of becoming a party to the NPT on 23 December 2023, Australia changed its negative vote in the nuclear weapons Ban Treaty to abstain on 22 October 2022.[1]  Australia’s change of attitude towards the agreement, which was signed on 20 September 2017 and entered into force on 22 January 2021, coincides with its stance on nuclear weapons.

In addition, this change of attitude seems to have gained the satisfaction of its neighbors such as New Zealand and Indonesia, who have the same attitude towards nuclear weapons. On the other hand, this situation drew the reaction of the United States of America (USA), a nuclear superpower. As a matter of fact, according to a report published by The Guardian on November 8, 2022, the US Embassy in Canberra pointed out that Washington had a negative attitude towards the change in stance against the agreement and underlined that the agreement in question would still not allow the deterrence relations of the US, which is necessary for international peace and security.[2]

It would not be wrong to state that if Australia becomes a party to the nuclear weapons Ban Treaty, the USA thinks that in the current conjuncture in the Pacific, it will fall one more step back from states like China and Russia. It can be said that the Washington administration sees Canberra as a geopolitical base in the region. B-52 nuclear bombers specifically planned to be deployed in northern Australia,[3] will set a good example for this situation.

New Zealand, on the other hand, approached the situation positively and emphasized that it was pleased to observe a positive change in Australia’s position in the UN vote and would welcome the steps to be taken to reach a world without nuclear weapons.[4]

As mentioned before, after all these events, Australia celebrated its 50th anniversary of its participation in the NPT on 23 January 2023. Just the day before, a multiparty group of MPs in the Australian Assembly called on the administration of Anthony Albanese to join the nuclear weapons Ban Treaty.[5] In a statement, the group warned the Canberra administration of the rising nuclear threat and provocations and emphasized the need for Australia to play an active role in ending the nuclear arms race.

The MPs then expressed their readiness to work constructively with the Albanese Government to have Australia become a party to the nuclear weapons Ban Treaty. All these situations, including Canberra’s long-standing party to the NPT, reveal Australia’s negative attitude towards nuclear weapons.

While Australia’s stance towards nuclear weapons is like this, the question whether AUKUS can be seen as a contradiction inevitably comes to mind. As a matter of fact, the alliance, which has been the subject of debate many times since its announcement on September 15, 2021, is very important because it is directly related to Australia’s acquisition of nuclear submarines.

As a matter of fact, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong referred to this situation in her article titled “AUKUS Will Not Weaken Australia’s Stance Against Nuclear Weapons” published in The Guardian and pointed out that AUKUS would not cause such an issue.[6] In his article, Wong included criticisms from some that the submarines that Australia will acquire with the AUKUS alliance contradicts Canberra’s stance and said that this is an illusion. Because Wong stated in the following parts of the article that the submarines in question will work with nuclear power and will not be equipped with nuclear weapons.

As a result, AUKUS is a very important alliance for Australia and the West, as a pact created by the Australian-Chinese rivalry, which is one of the long-standing Western-Chinese rivalries in the Pacific. Although Australia has taken a negative attitude towards such weapons since the emergence of nuclear weapons, it can be argued that it will not give up on AUKUS because it includes nuclear powered submarines and is a serious agreement for Australia. Moreover, the fact that Australia’s stance towards the nuclear weapons Ban Treaty is becoming more positive by the day may weaken Washington’s hand in its competition with Beijing.

[1] Daniel Hurst, “Australia Drops Opposition to Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons at UN Vote”, The Guardian,, (Date of Accession: 28.10.2022).

[2] Daniel Hurst, “US Warns Australia Against Joining Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons”, The Guardian,, (Date of Accession: 08.11.2022).

[3] Renju Jose, Lewis Jackson, “U.S. Plans to Deploy B-52s to North Australia amid China Tensions-Source”, Reuters,, (Date of Accession: 31.11.2022).

[4] Hurst, “US warns Australia…”, op.cit.

[5] Daniel Hurst, “Australia Must Play an Active Role in Ending Nuclear Arms Race, Cross-Party MPs Urge”, The Guardian,, (Date of Accession: 22.01.2023).

[6] Penny Wong, “Aukus Won’t Undermine Australia’s Stance Against Nuclear Weapons”, The Guardian,, (Date of Accession: 23.01.2023).

Elcan TOKMAK, 2022 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi İktisadi İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü'nden mezun olmuştur. Eylül-Aralık 2022 tarihleri arasında ANKASAM bünyesinde Kariyer Staj Programı'nı tamamlayan Tokmak, Temmuz 2023 tarihinden itibaren ANKASAM Asya-Pasifik Araştırma Asistanı olarak çalışmalarını sürdürmektedir. Şu anda Hacettepe Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü'nde Yüksek Lisans eğitimine devam eden Tokmak'ın ilgi alanları Çin-Japonya-Kore ilişkileri ve Çin Dış Politikası'dır. Tokmak; profesyonel düzeyde İngilizce, orta derecede Çince ve başlangıç düzeyinde Korece bilmektedir.