102 Minute from Mott1 to Pritchett and Thomson

Canberra, 6 February 1968

Top Secret

Draft Treaty on Nuclear Non-Proliferation

Attached for your information is a copy of a draft Cabinet submission, prepared in this Department, regarding Australia's attitude to the draft treaty on nuclear non-proliferation, which the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. tabled at the ENDC in Geneva on 18th January.2

[matter omitted]


For Cabinet

Draft Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

Purpose of Submission

The purpose of this submission is to place before Cabinet considerations relevant to a decision on Australia's attitude towards the Draft Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The Treaty was tabled by the United States and the Soviet Union in the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee after prolonged negotiations over a period of two years in the ENDC and in private discussions. A copy is attached at Annex. It is expected that the Treaty will be considered at a resumed session of the United Nations General Assembly probably early in April, 1968.

  1. The Submission argues that the balance of Australia's interests lies in acceptance of the Treaty, and recommends that Australia become a Party to it.

Australia's Strategic Interests and Nuclear Weapons

  1. If Australia is to sign a Non-Proliferation Treaty (which would limit the exercise of our option to produce or acquire nuclear weapons) it is first necessary to assess whether an Australian nuclear weapons capability would be needed in the foreseeable future, and whether a credible Australian nuclear capability could be achieved.
  2. The Joint Planning Committee has had these questions under study and appears likely to conclude that Australia is not in a position to develop a credible nuclear deterrent against the only country, Communist China, which is likely to offer a nuclear threat to Australia by the mid 1970's. The cost of a complete nuclear weapons programme including an effective delivery system would be an enormous burden, which would have to be weighed against its strategic value and other national priorities in development and other fields. Australia, with its concentrated population areas, would have virtually no capacity to survive a 'first strike', and the development of a few nuclear weapons (while perhaps technologically possible) would not alter Australia's heavy dependence on the United States for the attainment of Australia's strategic objectives in South East Asia.
  3. This submission is therefore based on the assumption that there would be little strategic advantage in the development of an Australian nuclear weapons capacity. Australia's interests will continue to be best served by the retention and strengthening of the ANZUS Treaty, and the maintenance of a close United States interest and responsibility in South East Asia and the Pacific. Moreover it seems likely that the self-interest of the major nuclear powers in avoiding nuclear conflict will lead them in future to co-operate to prevent any outbreak, and it is in this that the best hope for such countries as Australia perhaps lies.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty

  1. The following is a summary of the major points in the Treaty and their relevance to Australia.
  2. The 'nuclear weapons states' in the Treaty are taken to be the United States, the USSR and the United Kingdom. France and Communist China are also in this category but they are not expected to sign the Treaty although France may make a declaration that it will not make nuclear weapons available to others.


  1. The preambular paragraphs are in the main expressions of general principles which are spelt out in the body of the Treaty.

Article I

  1. Article I states categorically that the nuclear weapons parties to the Treaty will not give up any control to other countries of nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices. (A 'nuclear explosive device' is regarded as having the same technical characteristics and the same potential uses as a nuclear weapon.) Nuclear weapons parties will undertake not to provide assistance to other states to produce such weapons or devices.
  2. This Article would not prevent the stationing or transit through Australian territory of nuclear weapons under, say, United States or United Kingdom control, nor their ability to use such weapons in our defence (see also paragraphs 32-33 on Security Guarantees). There would be no bar to the transfer of nuclear delivery vehicles, provided there were no transfer of control of nuclear weapons.

Article II

  1. This Article defines the basic obligation on non-nuclear parties not to produce or acquire control over nuclear weapons or explosive devices, and not to seek or receive assistance in their manufacture.
  2. This is the basic obligation which would apply to Australia as a non-nuclear state.

Article III

  1. This Article relates to safeguards against diversion of nuclear materials to the production of nuclear weapons or explosive devices. Drafting of the Article held up agreement on the draft Treaty between the Soviet Union and the United States for a considerable time. A number of Western European countries objected to the involvement of the International Atomic Energy Agency in their own inspection arrangements under Euratom. Fears of industrial espionage and preferential treatment for France, a nuclear non-signatory, have also been voiced by a number of countries such as West Germany.
  2. Under this Article parties will be required to conclude agreements on safeguards with the IAEA but a period of 1½ to 2 years will be allowed for these after the Treaty comes into force. The inspections will be applied to source and special fissionable materials, and not to facilities, as such, on the grounds that the inclusion of facilities would prejudge complex technical issues which have not yet been resolved by the IAEA itself.
  3. In the past Australia's attitude has been that if a non-proliferation Treaty is to be a genuine step towards disarmament it must be an effective one and in this respect of course the control and inspection provisions of the Treaty will be crucial. If we are to sign the Treaty ourselves we will need to be certain that it is no less binding on others than ourselves. We will thus have a direct interest in an adequate safeguard system.
  4. Australia has already accepted the Statute of the IAEA3 and the revised IAEA Safeguards document, although it was not intended that IAEA safeguards should be applied universally in Australia. If we signed the treaty all source and fissionable materials both imported and home produced would be subject to inspection.

Article IV

  1. This reaffirms the right of States to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The Article was included as an assurance to non-nuclear states that they would not be deprived of scientific and technological information which might become available to nuclear powers through their development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Article V

  1. Article V has been included in the Treaty in response to the widely expressed view that the use of nuclear explosives for peaceful purposes (e.g. storage dams, gas and oil releases and possible harbours and canals if these can be accommodated perhaps under a revised Test Ban Treaty) should not be denied to those countries which forswear the production of nuclear devices under this Treaty.
  2. The United States has expended vast sums of money in its peaceful nuclear programme entitled 'Operation Plowshare' for some 10 years, although it has not yet perfected the use of nuclear devices for peaceful purposes. The United States authorities have shown interest in Australia as a possible user of such devices, when their economic use becomes practicable. Australia could well have an interest in obtaining such devices and the expertise in their use which the United States would be able to supply. Under Article V this could be done on a direct bilateral basis, an arrangement which Australia would presumably find acceptable. The possibility that international arrangements could be concluded for the purpose would also be open to us. Appropriate inspection procedures would no doubt be involved for both bilateral and international arrangements.

Article VI

  1. This has been included in response to arguments by some countries that the Treaty as previously drafted was too one-sided in that it bound the non-nuclear powers to remain nonnuclear, but did not place any obligations on the nuclear powers to reduce their nuclear armouries. The Article in fact only binds the parties to 'pursue negotiations' and it should not be expected that the United States or the Soviet Union would reduce their nuclear arms to the point where their mutual deterrent value or their deterrence vis-a-vis other countries was no longer effective.

Article VII

  1. This merely reaffirms the right of states to conclude nuclear free zones if they so wish and does not involve any departure from current international attitudes.

Article VIII

  1. Under this Article, an amendment comes into force when it is approved by a majority of the Parties including the nuclear weapon States and the members of the Board of Governors of the IAEA. These requirements should ensure that only those amendments which have a very broad basis of support could enter into force. Moreover, amendments will only apply to those countries which accept them. A Conference to review the operation of the Treaty to ensure that its purposes and provisions are being realised is to be held 5 years after the Treaty enters into force. There have been moves to have the Treaty contain a reference to the holding of such review Conferences held every five years.
  2. In response to pressures by countries such as Italy, the draft treaty is in effect no longer of unlimited duration as were earlier drafts. At the end of a twenty-five year period, a majority of the Parties may decide whether the Treaty is to continue and if so for what period or periods. It would seem that such a decision does not require the concurrence of all nuclear powers party to the Treaty.
  3. An initial duration of twenty-five years would cover a period of great potential instability in the nuclear field. If the Treaty were to be limited to a duration of less than ten years, this would hardly give confidence to non-nuclear countries that it promoted their security. Moreover, production of plutonium as a by-product of nuclear power generation will increase rapidly in the next ten to twenty years, and if the Treaty were to be of significantly shorter duration than the proposed twenty-five years, large plutonium producers may be tempted to oppose its prolongation at what could be a critical time in order to allow them to produce nuclear weapons.
  4. It seems unlikely, of course, that the problem of Proliferation will have been solved in 25 years but in view of the hesitancy of many countries to bind themselves for a longer period, the acceptance of this duration seems the most realistic course. In Australia's own case it will provide an opportunity to review our overall position at that time.

Article IX

  1. The Treaty will enter into force after ratification by all signatory nuclear states and 40 other states. This process may take some time after the Treaty in opened for signature. It is possible that some countries may defer ratification of the Treaty until they are able to observe the actions of others in this respect.

Article X

  1. This provides that a party may withdraw from the Treaty if its supreme interests are jeopardised. There is general support for a provision along these lines. In Australia's case it would make it possible for us to seek to acquire nuclear weapons on short notice in an extreme emergency.

Article XI

  1. It seems likely that the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee will complete a report to the United Nations General Assembly, and that a complete draft text, perhaps with some minor amendments, will be submitted to the resumed Session of the General Assembly, probably early in April, 1968. It is expected that it will be widely supported.
  2. Both the United States and the Soviet Union firmly support the need for a Treaty as soon as possible. Other Western and Soviet bloc members of the ENDC have supported the present amended draft, which takes into account a number of formal and informal suggestions made both inside and outside the ENDC. It seems probable that most of the non-aligned countries will raise no objections. Communist China and France will not sign the Treaty.
  3. It is expected that the West Europeans, having negotiated at length to prevent acceptance of an unsatisfactory safeguards Article from the point of view of Euratom, will now be prepared to sign the Treaty. If for example, West Germany were not to do so, its relations with the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc generally could be expected to deteriorate. Despite their misgivings at the possible loss of commercial secrets, the West Germans may not wish to jeopardise their development of closer relations with Bloc countries nor their relations with the United States and other Western countries by standing out from the Treaty.
  4. Of the Asian countries the attitude of India remains doubtful and it is possible that India will not agree to sign the Treaty, at least in the near future. The Treaty is likely to be acceptable to Japan as it incorporates most of the points on which Japan has been making representations. Indonesia is also expected to sign.

Security Guarantees

  1. The United States and the Soviet Union have been conscious of the need to provide additional security guarantees to non-nuclear countries which sign the Treaty and which may be subject to nuclear threat or attack. The United States has apparently obtained Soviet agreement to introduce into the United Nations Security Council, when the draft Treaty is before the General Assembly, a draft resolution which would make it clear that the Security Council and in particular the nuclear powers would act immediately to assist the victims of an act or threat of nuclear aggression. Such a resolution might assist in widening the list of adherents to the Treaty although it is unclear whether it would be sufficient to persuade India to sign at an early stage.
  2. One aspect of the proposed United States statement, which will be made when the resolution is introduced in the Security Council, has implications for Australia. The statement would make it clear that the United States would also be prepared to guarantee not to use or threaten the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states that had undertaken not to manufacture or acquire nuclear weapons and that were not engaged in an armed attack assisted by a nuclear weapon state. Such an undertaking would presumably mean that the United States would not come to Australia's assistance with nuclear weapons against a conventional attack. In discussions with the American authorities at the official level, it was acknowledged that this represented a shift in United States policy, and it was said to reflect the views of United States defence authorities that no situations could be envisaged in which the United States' conventional strength would be insufficient to meet any attack not supported by a nuclear power.

Australian Attitude to the Treaty

  1. The analysis by defence planners of Australia's strategic interests in South East Asia leads to the conclusion that Australia should not undertake a nuclear weapons programme of its own, and that it should continue to rely on the United States commitment under ANZUS to assist in the protection of Australia and its strategic interests in this area. As a corollary of this assessment, it is concluded that Australia could accept an obligation not to produce nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices. It would moreover be in Australia's interest and the interest of South East Asia in general that the emergence of new nuclear powers in the area be avoided.
  2. The advantages of Australia's becoming a party to the Treaty might be summarised as follows:
    1. Our support of the Treaty would align use with the great majority of the international community who support genuine steps towards the limitation of armaments.
    2. The Treaty as now drafted has promise of being an effective restraint upon the acquisition of nuclear weapons by countries who might be in a position to threaten Australian interests.
    3. If the Treaty is widely supported it will be an important link in the relations between the Soviet bloc and Western countries.
    4. As a non-nuclear power, it is a vital Australian interest that the emergence of new nuclear powers be restrained.
    5. Our signature of the Treaty, which is strongly desired by the United States, would reinforce our association with the United States and enable us to give further support to the American position vis-à-vis Asian countries.
    6. Australia would be able to obtain the benefits of peaceful nuclear explosives without having to develop them at cost to ourselves.
    7. We would not be faced with the production of nuclear weapons and delivery systems at vast cost and to the grave detriment of other national needs.
  3. It is recognized however that there could be countervailing disadvantages for Australia and these might be summarized as follows:
    1. So long as it were a Party, Australia would not be able to develop nuclear weapons. Notwithstanding the escape clause in Article X there would probably not be time in an extreme emergency to manufacture our own weapons. (It would however be open to us, once we had invoked Article X, to seek weapons from others; and of course the Treaty would not prevent our engaging in the development of missiles which would have potential use for the delivery of nuclear warheads.)
    2. The terms of Article III would presumably involve the auditing of Australian uranium production as well as imported materials.
    3. Communist China and France will not sign the Treaty and this means that in the case of the former the Treaty itself will not increase our Security against a threat from that quarter (although the security guarantee discussed in paragraph 33 would do so.)
  4. In my view the advantages in our signing the Treaty greatly outweigh the disadvantages. Moreover it might be suspected that if Australia were to refuse to sign the Treaty this would inevitably provoke a sharp protest from its major allies, who will no doubt be looking for Australian support. It would be undesirable for Australia to oppose both the United States and the Soviet Union on this issue, particularly when the Treaty will have strong support from Australia's other Western associates including New Zealand. Moreover Australia's Asian neighbours, including Indonesia, might well regard such an attitude with considerable suspicion and any influence we might have in restraining their nuclear ambitions might be much diminished.
  5. Concerning the problem of India, it is considered that it would be in Australia's interest and the interests of other countries as well, that India should be a party to the Treaty. An Indian decision to produce nuclear weapons would have a greater unsettling effect than a similar decision by perhaps any other country. It follows that Australia ought to consider assisting efforts to persuade India and other non-nuclear powers to accept the Treaty.


  1. It is considered that Australian representatives at the forthcoming resumed Session of the General Assembly should be in a position to state that Australia will sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and urge others to do likewise. It seems likely however that the process of obtaining forty ratifications in addition to the nuclear powers may take some time. During this period, the position and views of other major countries on signature and ratification should become clear. The timing of an Australian ratification could therefore be left for later decision particularly as the question of legislation may need to be examined.


  1. It is recommended that:
    1. Australia should in principle decide to become a Party to the Treaty as at present drafted on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons which is expected to come before the United Nations General Assembly in resumed Session in April, 1968;
    2. The Australian Delegation to the resumed Session should indicate Australian support for the Treaty, and for a Security Council guarantee by the major nuclear powers of the security of countries subject to nuclear threat or attack;
    3. Australian representatives should seek to secure the widest possible support for the Treaty.
    4. The timing of Australia's ratification be left for decision by the Prime Minister and the Ministers for External Affairs and Defence in the light of attitudes expressed on the Treaty, particularly by powers such as India.

[NAA: A1838, 680/10/2 part 1]