139 Press Release by Department of External Affairs

New York, 18 May 1968

Draft Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Australian Statement at the United Nations

Following is the text of the statement made in the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly by the Australian Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Patrick Shaw, C.B.E., on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. The statement was made on Friday 17th May, 1968 (New York time):

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'The Australian delegation considers that there are several primary conditions for the successful operation of a treaty of this type.

First, and obviously, the treaty will need to attract support well beyond the forty states required under article IX to bring the treaty into effect. In particular it will be important that the treaty be adhered to by those non-nuclear weapon states that have already achieved, or have the means to achieve, a significant measure of nuclear development. Australia's judgment as to whether the treaty will indeed be an effective one will be very much influenced by the attitude of these countries.

Under the provisions of the treaty, states not already possessing nuclear weapons are required to renounce their right to acquire them. We have heard it argued that this would be no great loss. This may be true, but it is a judgment to be made by individual countries in the light of their own strategic circumstances. If states become parties to the treaty and if they are subsequently threatened, their recourse would be to seek support by a larger power or combination of powers. Should effective support not be forthcoming, a country faced by a threat that it believed it could not handle alone by conventional means could be strongly moved towards the acquisition of nuclear weapons, whatever its obligations under the treaty. In such circumstances, the treaty would be placed under very great strain.

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The Australian delegation has noted that article X(i) of the draft treaty confirms the right of a party to withdraw from the treaty if it decides its supreme interests are jeopardised. We would all hope that such dire circumstances would not arise but in view of the impossibility of seeing as far into the future as the twenty-five years for which the treaty will initially be current, we regard this provision as an essential ultimate resort for non-nuclear countries who might be faced with the prospect of aggression.

Another important criterion that the Australian delegation considers essential to the successful operation of the treaty relates to the requirement, also contained in General Assembly Resolution 2028 (XX),1 that the treaty should in no way impede or burden nuclear research, development, production or use for peaceful purposes. This requirement is of paramount importance to my country and the Australian delegation has been much heartened to note the emphatic assurances in this respect given by the United States and USSR delegations. We endorse also and in particular the positions expressed in this debate by the delegations of the Netherlands and Japan.

I am led immediately to a number of further points which are directly related to the point I have just made. These relate to article III.

In the first place there must be certainty about the character of the safeguards agreement to be negotiated and concluded with the IAEA. The safeguards system must be such as not to impede or burden nuclear research, development, production or use for peaceful purposes. Certainty implies, inter alia, that when once an agreement is negotiated, its terms are not varied by changes in the IAEA arrangements not related to the treaty.

So, in common with other countries, Australia would wish to know precisely where it stood in relation to safeguards before considering ratification of the treaty.

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Of particular importance to Australia would be the initial point at which materials would attract safeguards under article III (i) of the draft treaty as 'source material'. As things stand, taking account not merely of the impediment to industrial activity that would flow, the Australian Government would find much difficulty if safeguards were to be applied to legitimate bona fide activities in the mining and early processing stages.

The Australian Government also shares the views of others that considerations of national security require that governments should continue to have the right to reject individual safeguards inspectors.

The Australian Government noted the statement2 by the United States State Department on March 14, 1968, regarding the legitimacy under the treaty of the use of nuclear energy for nonexplosive military purposes. The Australian delegation states its understanding that the use of nuclear energy for non-explosive military purposes, such as naval propulsion, is legitimate and permitted under the treaty.

The Australian delegation, in relation to the provisions of article III (3) and article IV of the treaty, states its understanding that, under the treaty no nuclear activity in research, development, production or use is prohibited nor can the supply of knowledge, materials and equipment be denied to non-nuclear weapon states, until it is clearly established that such activity or such supply will be used for the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

Article IV establishes an obligation on parties to the treaty in a position to do so to co-operate in contributing to the further development of the application of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The Australian delegation will be keenly interested to learn how this obligation will be implemented bearing in mind that the national policies of some countries have placed restrictions on the free flow of scientific and technological information in the nuclear field. It suggests that should the non-proliferation treaty come into force these policies should be reviewed in order to promote the fullest possible exchange of scientific and technological information for peaceful purposes.

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Some delegations have referred to the significance of article V of the draft treaty relating to the potential benefits from the peaceful application of nuclear explosions. As a continent with a low rainfall, a poorly indented coastline and little topographical relief Australia has a special interest in the possible use of nuclear explosions for major engineering projects.

The Australian Government accepts that at this stage of technological development an effective non-proliferation treaty cannot permit the production of any nuclear explosive devices whatsoever by a non nuclear weapon state party to the treaty. At the same time the Australian Government holds strongly to the view that a non-proliferation treaty must not impede progress in the development and application of the technology of peaceful applications of nuclear explosives. Experience with the limited test ban treaty has shown that, if it is to avoid doing so, a non-proliferation treaty must deal positively with the requirement for peaceful nuclear explosions.

The Australian delegation hopes that article V of this draft treaty would lead to the development of such a positive approach.

The Australian Government believes that all states must have access to nuclear explosives for peaceful purposes. It is the Australian Government's view that this article and the international arrangements made under it should interfere with the rights of states to carry out projects involving peaceful nuclear explosions only to the extent necessary to protect the interests of all parties against dangers arising from the specific subject matter of the treaty. Accordingly it does not accept the view expressed in the intervention of the distinguished representative of Sweden that technical and economic judgments on projects should be the responsibility of an international body and not of the state directly concerned. International arrangements under the treaty need go no further than to provide appropriate assurances on safety and adequate demonstration that the explosions will not be used for nuclear weapons development.

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[NAA: A1838, 680/10/2 part 5]