Draft Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
The Eighteen Nations Disarmament Committee is expected to complete its consideration of the draft treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons by March 15th.1 The draft will then be transmitted to the United Nations for consideration by the resumed session of the 22nd Session of the General Assembly which is expected to commence in the latter part of April. Discussion of the treaty in the General Assembly is expected to continue for a month or so and if the draft is adopted the treaty would presumably be open for signature by about June.
- If Australia wished to be in a position to influence the final form of the treaty it will be desirable for our representative to have instructions as soon as possible after the ENDC report is available. There will be very considerable international activity in the period immediately before the resumed session of the General Assembly and of course during its discussions. Assuming that Australia were to take a policy decision to sign an effective treaty we would need to work closely with associated countries in ensuring that such a treaty was in fact adopted by the General Assembly.
- Whether the present draft meets the requirement of an effective treaty is at present under examination in the Government Departments concerned. Decisions will however have to be made by Cabinet as to whether the treaty can be basically accepted in its present form; whether certain amendments already put forward by other governments might be supported; and whether we should put forward amendments of our own.
The Case for Signing
- The arguments in favour of signing a non-proliferation treaty are basically as follows:
- It is not possible for Australia to provide for its own security against nuclear attack. To do this it would not be sufficient to acquire nuclear weapons. It would be necessary also to have a delivery system with inter-continental range. Moreover for Australia to have a plausible deterrent it would need to be able to strike back powerfully after it had been subject to an initial nuclear attack. Apart from the economic cost which any country faces in developing this second strike capability Australia is faced with the enormous disadvantage of its geographical position, the distance at which it would have to strike at any probable enemy, and the vulnerability of its cities and industrial complexes.
- Australia's security lies in the prevention of any nuclear outbreak. The danger of such an outbreak increases to the extent that further countries acquire nuclear weapons. It is true that there are already five countries with nuclear armaments and that two (France and Communist China) will not sign the treaty. This means that the danger of nuclear outbreak is already considerable. But it would clearly increase if such weapons were acquired for example by Japan, India, U.A.R., Israel, Cuba and Indonesia. Some horses have bolted, but it is still desirable to shut the doors on the ones that remain.
- It has been argued that no country would come to Australia's assistance if subjected to a nuclear threat because such a country would thereby risk the destruction of its own cities. Thus it has been said that the United States would not risk the destruction of San Francisco to save Sydney. This is a questionable argument. The truth is that the United States (and indeed the Soviet Union) know that if nuclear aggression succeeds anywhere in the world their own cities would sooner or later be exposed to destruction. Any nuclear threat to such countries as Australia is thus ultimately a threat to the United States and to the Soviet Union. The security of the super powers themselves depends upon their being able to prevent any nuclear outbreak because if nuclear aggression succeeded the result would be the creation of a nuclear power capable of challenging their own power. It is in the interests of such countries as Australia that the task of the super powers in preventing nuclear outbreaks should be simplified by the prevention of further proliferation of nuclear weapons.
- If it is accepted that Australia's interests lie in the prevention of the proliferation of nuclear weapons it follows that it should support a treaty directed to this purpose and do its best to ensure that the terms of the treaty are effective in achieving it in a durable way. Conversely it may be said that Australia's interests would not be served by an ineffective treaty notwithstanding that this might mean that our own obligations under the treaty would be less.
- The treaty as at present drafted would prevent us from manufacturing or acquiring any nuclear weapons or explosive devices. It would not prevent us engaging in any form of nuclear development of which it could not be said that its only purpose was the manufacture of an explosive device. Thus it would still be possible for a non-nuclear signatory of the treaty to carry its nuclear technology to the brink of making a nuclear explosive device. Its nuclear activities would however be subject to a wider range of compulsory inspections than are at present applied to such countries as Australia.
- To put this in concrete terms let us suppose that a gaseous diffusion plant to make enriched nuclear material could have no other purpose but to produce material for explosive devices. Such a plant would be banned under the treaty because it would be part of the manufacture of nuclear explosives. Let us suppose however that such a plant is required to produce enriched material for use, say, in an advanced type of nuclear reactor. It would not then be banned under the treaty but would be covered by the provision ensuring to countries the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
[NAA: A1838, 680/10/2 part 2]