105 Record of Inter-Departmental Meeting

Canberra, 9 February 1968

Top Secret

Draft Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

Present:

  • External Affairs
  • ir Laurence McIntyre
  • Mr M.R. Booker
  • Mr W.T. Doig1
  • Mr W.B. Pritchett
  • Mr J.L. Allen2
  • Mr H.C. Mott
  • Prime Minister's
  • Mr G.J. Yeend3
  • Mr A.T. Griffith
  • Defence
  • Mr E.L.D. White
  • Mr C.W. Clugston4
  • National Development
  • Mr F.L. McCay
  • Australian Atomic Energy Commission
  • Sir Leslie Martin
  • Mr M.C. Timbs
  • Mr A.C. Thomas5

Sir Laurence McIntyre opened the meeting by saying that time was growing short for the establishment of an Australian attitude towards the draft treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. It was necessary to agree upon a submission to go before Ministers soon in the expectation that the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee (ENDC) would send a draft treaty to the resumed session of the 23rd General Assembly. The Department of External Affairs believed that the proper course would be for Australia to indicate that it was willing to sign the treaty.6

[matter omitted]

  1. Mr White said that the consequences for our relations with the US of our exercising the various options open to us as regards the treaty were also of some moment.

[matter omitted]

Australian Atomic Energy Commission

  1. Mr Timbs said that the paper assumed that Australia would sign the treaty and no doubt this was based on an assessment of the political considerations. On the assumption that we would sign, the time factor became more important than if we were to give the treaty an exhaustive examination without undue regard to the time this would take. If we took the view that it was not so important to make a statement to the General Assembly, time would not matter so much and we could give the subject the study it deserved.
  2. He said that he was not concerned about diplomatic activity but about the future of this country and whether we had time to make a proper assessment of the treaty. The AAEC had been trying to get inter-Departmental consideration of the subject for over 12 months, but had been unsuccessful. That was why it found it difficult to be faced now with a paper dealing with what might be the most important decision the government would take in half a century and to have this pushed through in two to three weeks. This was a bit rich.
  3. He said that he did not find the External Affairs paper helpful. It was misleading in many respects and did not fill out the implications of the treaty or take account of the technological aspects. Some statements it made were open to challenge on technological grounds. The treaty had implications in three important fields-political, defence and civil. In the latter two fields, its implications were not understood at this stage and these should be areas for detailed study, not a rushed job. He would have preferred to have been able to examine these questions over the past 12 months. One field for study was article III, which favoured the nuclear powers at the expense of non-nuclear countries. It would introduce IAEA inspectors into fields from which they had been excluded, and it would put technologically advanced countries in remote areas, like Australia, at a disadvantage.

[matter omitted]

  1. Mr Timbs said that we would have to abandon our option to make or acquire nuclear weapons if we signed the treaty. If precedent meant anything, we could be sure that the political considerations influencing our attitude would change over a long period. There was nothing wrong with the view that, in the last resort, the defence of this country was something for which we had to bear responsibility, even though it was true that we had our great and powerful friends.
  2. Mr Booker referred to the question of urgency. We should bear in mind that, if we signed promptly, we might be able to persuade others to sign. The more widely supported the treaty was, the more effective it would be, and it was surely in our interest that it should be effective. Ministers should be in a position to make up their minds by 15th March whether they wanted to decide upon an Australian attitude. If not, we would be unable to influence others.

[matter omitted]

  1. Sir Leslie Martin said that, in considering the political aspects of the treaty, External Affairs was working under a disadvantage. The draft paper had been prepared against a background of weapons development in 1945. It would not matter now if a country had no uranium, it could still build an atomic bomb. The document tended largely to ignore technological developments. The smallest countries could now do things that hitherto we had considered [beyond them].7 It was important that consultations between interested Departments should occur quickly and be carried out with all speed.
  2. Mr Pritchett asked if this meant that a country we had considered to be technologically backward could produce an atomic bomb without other countries knowing of it. Sir Leslie Martin replied that we were not aware of the Chinese bomb until the last minute. We should consider the non-proliferation treaty with all the facts of science before us. This had not been done yet.

[matter omitted]

  1. Mr Timbs commented that the submission tended to assume that, if we did not become a party to the treaty, the USA would abandon us. Mr Booker said that it did nothing of the sort. Mr Timbs said that we could get everything we wanted from the Americans in the nuclear field under the bilateral agreement we had with them.8 If we signed the treaty we would not get any more than this, so we might be giving away something for nothing. In fact, we might even get less under a non-proliferation treaty than we got now. Sir Laurence McIntyre said that this was a marginal argument against signing. Mr Booker said we might also get less if we did not sign.

[matter omitted]

  1. Mr Timbs said the safeguards article was most important. One problem was that the IAEA safeguards affect adversely the confidence of its signatories. He expected that there might be pressure to reduce the period of the treaty. Mr White said that, with the rapid advance of technology, any decision looking ahead more than 10 years would be a decision in the dark. [In response to a question,]9 Mr Booker commented that the treaty did not prohibit the development of a missile capacity.

[matter omitted]

  1. Mr Timbs said that in 10 years many countries would have nuclear power. At that point, the leadtime for the production of nuclear weapons would be reduced from 10 years to 18 months. His personal reaction was, the shorter the term the treaty the better. Mr Booker said that, if we decided not to produce nuclear weapons, surely it was in our interest to make the non-proliferation treaty as effective and all-embracing as possible. The period in which we might need protection most presumably would be that starting in about 10 years time. If we accepted the JPC recommendations, it seemed to follow that we needed the best possible non-proliferation treaty.
  2. Mr Yeend said that, if the policy were to sign the treaty and to keep our nuclear options open as far as possible having regard to its terms, it did not matter how long a period the treaty would be in operation. Mr Timbs said that the critical period would start when Australia developed a firm nuclear option. Mr Griffith thought it would be best to have as effective a treaty as possible.
  3. Mr Timbs believed that the major threat to Australia would be from China. The only possible defence against a nuclear missile system was nuclear weapons. If we were threatened in 10 to 15 years and had signed away our right to make nuclear weapons or to acquire them, we would be in a pretty pickle. Mr Pritchett said that this was based on the assumption that we were the only ones likely to be threatened by China. In fact, it was clear that more countries than Australia would be threatened. We would not be alone.

[matter omitted]

[NAA: A1838, TS919/10/5 part 2]