B-52 aircraft in Australia should not be nuclear-capable

Nov 21, 2022 | News

In November 2022 the ABC reported on the Australian Government’s planned deployment of up to six US nuclear-capable B-52 aircraft at RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory.

 ICAN Australia is deeply concerned that the aircraft may carry nuclear weapons and contribute to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.

 Article 5 of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, or Rarotonga Treaty, states that ‘Each Party undertakes to prevent in its territory the stationing of any nuclear explosive device.’ As a state party, it is essential that Australia does not allow the deployment of nuclear weapons on the B-52 aircraft that are anticipated to be stationed at RAAF Base Tindal. With dedicated facilities including ammunition depot, maintenance and parking areas, the presence of the B-52s goes beyond mere transit.

The Australian Labor Party’s commitment to sign and ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) represents a widely-supported and important rejection of nuclear weapons and a clear humanitarian response to the horror they represent, at a crucial time of alarming danger of nuclear war and nuclear disarmament in reverse. The TPNW prohibits hosting nuclear weapons as well as assistance with their use or possession. The deployment of nuclear-capable aircraft in Australia would risk inconsistency with both the Rarotonga Treaty and TPNW, and would undermine both Australian government policy and the ALP’s national policy platform. 

 We are aware that in response to commitments made under the New START treaty, of the United States’ fleet of 87 B-52 aircraft (76 of which are in the active inventory), 41 have been stripped of their nuclear capabilities and carry only conventional weaponry[1].

 The Australian government should secure explicit confirmation from the United States that these aircraft would only carry only conventional weaponry. A ‘neither confirm nor deny’ response would not be acceptable; our existing legal obligations require a clear and unambiguous answer from the US on this issue. 

The Albanese Government must ensure that should this deployment be advanced, any B-52s stationed at RAAF Base Tindal should not be nuclear-capable, consistent with Australia’s commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament and existing treaties.


[1] Hans Kristensen & Matt Korda (2021) United States nuclear weapons, 2021, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.