114 Minute from Booker to Plimsoll

Canberra, 21 March 1968

Top Secret

Non-Proliferation Treaty

American 'Interpretations'1

The American 'interpretations' of the treaty which they submitted to the Russians in April last year have important bearing on any arguments to the effect that the treaty will have worse consequences for Australia than are apparent from the text.

In particular paragraphs 1 and 111 of the interpretation support the view that any kind of manufacture short of the manufacture of an explosive device, and any non-explosive military use of nuclear energy, are not prohibited in the treaty.

The United States has warned the Soviet Union that if these interpretations are not accepted 'this would be likely to disturb the entry into force of the treaty as a whole'.

Thus from Australia's point of view the attitude of the United States [gives]2 assurance that our interests will not be endangered by 'expanded' interpretations of the treaty.


There is much uncertainty in regard to safeguards and it is unlikely that this will be cleared up before the agreements are actually negotiated.

This need not however prevent the Australian government taking a decision in principle to support the treaty provided satisfactory safeguards could be worked out.

Australian ratification of the treaty can in fact be delayed until we have reasonable certainty that our requirements are met.

In considering these requirements we need to bear in mind that if we insist on weak provision for ourselves the same will have to be accorded for others and this might make the treaty worthless.

The treaty is not a control measure and all that is being attempted in the safeguards article is the setting up of an inspection system which would provide adequate intelligence as to what other countries are doing in the nuclear field and thus give forewarning in the developments in the direction of a breach of the treaty.

There are no sanctions that can be applied against any breach but if a breach is detected this could be used by such countries as Australia to claim an exemption for themselves from the treaty.

It is still asserted in the paper (para. 22) that any amendments to the IAEA system would be imposed on signatories. This is conceivable but seems unlikely in view of the American statement that any changes would have to be with the consent of the parties. In any case this point can be cleared up before we ratify the treaty.


A short duration could well mean that we would have an ineffective treaty. Danger of nuclear proliferation by such countries as Japan, U.A.R., and Indonesia [lies] not within the next ten years but more probably within the next 10 to 25 years.

There may be danger in a situation in which countries looked forward to being able to freely develop nuclear weapons 10 years from now.

Australia's role

It might be emphasised that what is required from the government is a decision to confirm our policy of working towards an effective proliferation treaty and indicate our readiness to sign such a treaty.

Our requirement in terms of amendments to the present draft will of course have to be defined; and also our requirements in regard to such uncertainties as exist [in interpreting this draft].

If these requirements are not met it will still be open to us to refrain from signing the treaty.

If at the time the treaty is open for signature we have confidence but [not] certainty that our requirements would be met, we could sign the treaty but refrain from ratifying it until there was more certainty. Australia's prospects

Australia's prospects of securing an effective treaty will be [improved] by taking a positive attitude towards it because

  1. we would have greater influence over its actual terms, and
  2. we could help to persuade a sufficiently wide group of non-nuclear countries to support it.

It needs to be borne in mind that if we refuse to accept the responsibility of supporting the nonproliferation treaty we cannot expect the United States to take a co-operative attitude towards us in regard to future [developments] in the peaceful uses field.

[NAA: A1838, 680/10/2 part 3]