Doubts down under

American extended deterrence, Australia, and the 1999 East Timor crisis

Michael Cohen, Andrew O'Neil*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Citations (Scopus)


American extended deterrence commitments span the globe. Despite extensive research on the causes of deterrence successes and failures, evidence of which US allies find what extended deterrence commitments credible is elusive. This article utilizes interviews with former Australian policy-makers to analyze the credibility of the United States to defend Australian forces during the 1999 INTERFET intervention in East Timor. While there was no direct threat to Australian sovereignty, the episode stoked concerns in Canberra regarding the willingness of Washington to come to Australia's assistance. The Howard government coveted a US tripwire force presence, and the Clinton administration's unwillingness to provide this raised serious concerns among Australian political elites about the alliance. While this says little about the separate question of whether Washington would use nuclear or conventional weapons in defense of Australian sovereignty, the Timor case indicates the existence of an extended deterrence credibility deficit regarding the more probable low-intensity conflicts that Australia finds itself in.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberlcu017
Pages (from-to)27-52
Number of pages26
JournalInternational Relations of the Asia-Pacific
Issue number1
Early online date6 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes

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