Propulsion and Deterrence: The Nuclear Dimensions of AUKUS and the Bridging of Alliances

By Robert G. Bell


AUKUS promises to contribute significant enhancements to allies’ conventional defence capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region and to do so in a manner that complies with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone. Deterring an adversary’s aggression during the interim period before AUKUS is fully realised will continue to require an appropriate balance of nuclear, conventional and missile defence capabilities, coupled, in the case of China, with a coordinated strategy of diplomatic engagement. US strategy should therefore prioritise completing the modernisation of the US Strategic Triad. The United States, United Kingdom and Australia should concentrate on fully implementing AUKUS “Pillar 1” and “Pillar 2” plans while continuing to encourage and expand other critical cross-alliance “bridging” activities. Trying to evolve AUKUS into a notional “Pillar 3” nuclear-sharing posture would, however, raise daunting political and military hurdles and under current circumstances would not therefore be an advisable goal.