118 Cablegram from High Commission in London to Department of External Affairs

London, 17 April 1968

6145. Confidential Priority

Non-Proliferation Treaty

Your 3729.1

Below is text of Foreign Office answers to queries in paragraph 3 of your 2602.2

  1. Article II will commit the non-nuclear-weapon parties not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. It will not forbid research and development in this field up to the threshold of manufacture, even if such research and development is directed solely towards improving a country's capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. The reason for excluding any prohibition on the research and development of nuclear weapons or explosive devices was that up to a fairly advanced point such research and development is relevant also to peaceful uses of nuclear energy. But if it became known that a country was doing work positively identifiable as directed towards nuclear weapons then, to an extent dependent on the stage reached, its motives would be suspect and its good faith called into question. Its potential non-nuclear-weapon enemies would be likely to conduct similar research and development up to the threshold of manufacture. This could have a destabilising effect on the treaty and could lead to withdrawals under Article X.
  2. A fortiori, research and development in other fields of application of nuclear energy will not be rendered impermissible by the fact that the work may have incidental significance for the production of nuclear weapons or explosive devices, and there could certainly be no reasonable objection to work of the kind referred to in the example. To ban all such research and development would unreasonably hamper the civil nuclear industry of the non-nuclear-weapon states, party to the treaty. The treaty, in its Article IV, clearly endorses and encourages peaceful nuclear research. But to the extent that the explosive predominated over the non-explosive significance of a given programme of work the considerations outlined in the answer to question 1 would apply.

[matter omitted]

  1. Hope-Jones,3 Head, Atomic Energy and Disarmament Department, in handing us the answers to your queries expressed his 'grave concern' about the suggestion in a report in The Times 15th April, that Australia had doubts over the nuclear treaty. The main points made by the correspondent were:
    1. 'The Federal Cabinet at its meeting in Canberra on Wednesday must reach a decision on an international issue that has caused considerable concern among Ministers and their advisers. This is the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons ...'
    2. 'In its discussions so far the Cabinet has been almost unanimous in support of the basic aim of the Treaty, but at each Cabinet meeting new doubts, mainly of interpretation, have developed.'
  2. Hope-Jones said it was of great importance that Australia should sign the Treaty, which to a large extent depended on regional acceptance for its success. If Australia did not sign then other countries in Asia might find difficulty in signing.
  3. He drew attention to the disadvantages of not signing the Treaty. Australia would be unable to get cheap nuclear explosions for development purposes from the United States, Britain would have to reconsider her programme of cooperation with Australia in atomic energy, and a country which was not party to the Treaty would not be able to get nuclear material from countries which were signatories.
  4. Hope-Jones offered all possible British assistance in relation to any problems Australia might have with the Treaty. He commented on the orientation of the queries we had put to them. He thought they indicated a concern about the extent to which a country could develop its potential nuclear capability without contravening the Treaty. He said that such a concern was often directed towards what other signatories to the Treaty, rather than the country posing the questions, might be able to do without breaching the Treaty.
  5. We told Hope-Jones that we would convey his concern to you, but pointed out, as you did in your cable 2602, that the queries were preliminary ones and did not reflect particular interests or views at governmental level.

[NAA: A1838, 680/10/2 part 4]