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Australians embrace AUKUS but remain resistant to nuclear weapons

Most Australians have endorsed plans to acquire nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS deal, but continue to express strong opposition to offensive nuclear weapons procurement, new research has revealed.

Most Australians have endorsed plans to acquire nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS deal, but continue to express strong opposition to offensive nuclear weapons procurement, new research has revealed.

According to the latest Lowy Institute Poll — which involved a national survey of 2,006 Australians between 15 and 28 March — 52 per cent of respondents expect the technology sharing agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (AUKUS) to make the country safer compared to just 7 per cent who fear the nation would be “less safe”.

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A further 22 per cent said AUKUS would “make no difference” to Australia’s national security, with the remainder either unsure of its consequences (11 per cent) or unaware of the deal (8 per cent).  

Additionally, 49 per cent of surveyed respondents said the trilateral agreement would bolster regional security, while just 8 per cent fear it could be destabilising.  

The nuclear-submarine procurement plan promised under AUKUS also received strong support, backed by 70 per cent of Australians, who were either strongly or somewhat in favour of the deal.   

In contrast, just 28 per cent of respondents said they are strongly or somewhat against the SSN acquisition.

Support for AUKUS and the subsequent acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines has coincided with a marked shift in the public’s attitudes towards China.

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The Lowy Institute research found three-quarters of Australians (75 per cent) believe a military threat from the CCP-led regime is either very likely (32 per cent) or somewhat likely (43 per cent in the next 20 years.

In comparison, less than half (45 per cent) of surveyed respondents shared this sentiment in 2018, when the results were last published.  

Despite these concerns, respondents remain resistant to the acquisition of offensive nuclear strike capability.

Of the surveyed respondents, 63 per cent were either strongly against (39 per cent) or somewhat against (24 per cent) nuclear proliferation.

Just 11 per cent of respondents said they are strongly in favour of nuclear weapons procurement, with 25 per cent somewhat in favour.

The publication of the Lowy Institute research came amid renewed concern from Malaysia, which along with Indonesia, fears AUKUS could spark a regional arms race and undermine nuclear non-proliferation commitments.

However, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong have sought to allay such concerns, reassuring the south-east nations AUKUS would not jeopardise regional peace and stability.

“We are really clear — and it was a condition that Prime Minister Albanese set when we were in opposition in giving support to AUKUS — that the acquiring of this submarine could not raise any problems in terms of nuclear proliferation,” he told the ABC.

“And we're really confident that the way in which we will be pursuing this does not do that. It is a very important principle.

“We are completely committed to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the acquiring of a nuclear-propelled submarine will not do anything to contravene that.”

[Related: Marles concedes ‘extremely optimistic’ 2030 SSN delivery]

Charbel Kadib

Charbel Kadib

News Editor – Defence and Security, Momentum Media

Prior to joining the defence and aerospace team in 2020, Charbel was news editor of The Adviser and Mortgage Business, where he covered developments in the banking and financial services sector for three years. Charbel has a keen interest in geopolitics and international relations, graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a double major in politics and journalism. Charbel has also completed internships with The Australian Department of Communications and the Arts and public relations agency Fifty Acres.

Australians embrace AUKUS but remain resistant to nuclear weapons
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