148 Submission from Hasluck to Cabinet

Canberra, 13 August 1968


Conference of Non-Nuclear States

The purpose of this submission is to seek the approval of Cabinet for the attendance of an Australian delegation at the conference of non-nuclear weapon states in Geneva from 29th August to 28th September.


2. On 17th November, 1966, the General Assembly decided to convene a conference of non-nuclear weapon states to consider the questions of the security of non-nuclear states, the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the use of nuclear devices for peaceful purposes. Voting was 48 in favour, 1 against (India) and 59 abstentions, including Australia. The resolution, which was mainly a Pakistan initiative, did not arouse much enthusiasm at the time, as is evident from the voting.

3. In 1967, an 11-nation committee made the initial preparations for the conference, and recommended that nuclear weapon states should be invited to participate in the conference with full rights except the right to vote. The Assembly adopted on 19th December, 1967, resolution 2346 (XXII) B, which approved the recommendations of the preparatory committee and decided to convene the conference from 29th August to 28th September, 1968. Voting was 90 (Australia) in favour, none against and 8 abstentions.

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16. On the basis of an examination of the provisional agenda and statements during the non-proliferation debate, and of reports from Australian diplomatic missions, the political committee is likely to be concerned in the main with two subjects:

  1. Disarmament: Certain non-aligned countries are likely to argue that the nuclear powers must make (and be seen to be making) more rapid progress towards nuclear disarmament, so as to balance the non-nuclear countries' self-denial in regard to the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Item 3, in particular, could direct the discussion of disarmament into difficult paths for the nuclear powers.
  2. Security of non-nuclear countries: Some countries will argue under item 1 that the security assurances associated with the non-proliferation treaty are deficient, and must be supported by more precise guarantees from the nuclear powers. Under this heading, the question of a declaration by the nuclear powers that they would not in any circumstances use their nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries may arise. (This was urged several times during the non-proliferation debate in the UN, and has been mentioned, for example, by the Yugoslavs, as a possible topic for the non-nuclears' conference.)

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Australia's Position

18. The conference will thus probably develop in at least two main directions. The first will be concerned with elaborating upon or elucidating the provisions of the non-proliferation treaty. The second, which would be more independent of the treaty although still linked with it, would be aimed at extracting from the nuclear powers concessions in the fields of security and disarmament, and in regard to the peaceful uses of nuclear developments. In addition there will probably be moves by some countries in a political direction which would have the effect of impeding the military effectiveness of the United States; such moves might be made under the foregoing headings, and will need careful and subtle handling by the United States and its associates.

19. The outcome of the conference seems likely to affect, to a greater or lesser degree, the attitude towards the non-proliferation treaty of a considerable number of countries, including those countries which Cabinet designated as significant to Australia.

20. In this situation, Australian representation at the conference would enable us:

  1. to defend, and where possible further to establish, interpretations of importance to Australia regarding the non-proliferation treaty, particularly in the fields of safeguards and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy;
  2. to work towards establishing common ground and closer association with those countries that are important to us;
  3. to help where necessary in the maintenance of Western positions of importance to Australia in the fields of disarmament, weapons control and security.

21. In regard to (c), the Australian delegation would want to oppose efforts to restrict the nuclear powers in their right to use and to deploy their nuclear weapons for the protection of their allies. It would want specifically to oppose the emergence of any formula which would prevent the United States from using nuclear weapons to defend Australia.

22. Australia would have a positive interest in the discussion affecting articles IV and V of the treaty. It would want to defend the interpretations of those articles that are of concern to Cabinet. It would want to argue that under the treaty the exchange of nuclear information, materials, and equipment should be as free as possible, and to keep open the option for countries to gain the advantage of the peaceful applications of nuclear explosions pursuant to bilateral agreements with nuclear powers.

23. With regard to safeguards, Australia would, where appropriate, want to press its views regarding the nature of the agreements to be concluded under the treaty. It would want to seek support for the principle that these arrangements must be as simple and non-intrusive as possible.

24. It is of course possible that extremists might take over at the conference with the consequence that the non-proliferation treaty would be interpreted in a way unsatisfactory to such countries as Australia; and also that unsound disarmament schemes would be adopted by majority vote. It is because of this possibility however that a full attendance of responsible nations is desirable. Such nations will at least be able to register substantial dissent from any unrealistic or mischievous proposals.

25. Finally, absence of Australia from the conference runs the risk of cutting Australia off from some useful forms of association with other countries, including the United States. The conference could lead to certain continuing international machinery in the nuclear field, and if Australia is not present at the conference, it might not be included in committees, etc. The practical impact of such machinery might or might not be negligible, but it would not, to say the least, look well for Australia to be out of all this.


26. I therefore consider that it would be in Australia's interests to be represented at the conference of non-nuclear nations to be held in Geneva from 29th August to 28th September. I recommend that the Secretary-General's invitation to attend be accepted and that the Australia delegation be directed to carry out the functions broadly described in paragraph 20 above.1

[NAA: A5882, CO32 part 2]