153 Record of Discussion at the Italian Foreign Ministry between Hasluck and Medici1

Rome, 25 September 1968

Secret

The following officials were present during the discussions:

Australia

H.E. Mr W.R. Crocker, Australian Ambassador to Italy
Mr J.R. Holdich, First Secretary, Australian Embassy, Rome
Mr D.W. Argall, Second Secretary, Australian Embassy, Rome

Italy

Senator Oliva, Under-Secretary, Italian Foreign Ministry
Ambassador Gaja, Director-General of Political Affairs
Ambassador Pinna-Caboni, Director-General of Emigration Affairs
Minister Valdettaro, Deputy Director-General of Cultural Relations
Counsellor Gardini, Press Office
Counsellor Biancioni, Cultural Division
Ambassador Majoli, Italian Embassy, Canberra
and about half a dozen other senior officers

[matter omitted]

Mr Hasluck said that Australia would have preferred not to have had a non-nuclear conference at this time. There were various important problems still to be settled, and the conference would take its decisions by means of majority resolutions; this was an unreal way of doing business of this sort.

Australia was against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, but there were various fundamental problems still to be resolved. Agreed stages should be decided upon for nuclear powers to exercise restraint. Australia was faced with an aggressive, hostile China, a China which possessed nuclear arms but which would almost certainly not become a party to the Treaty. Australia must rely for its defence against China on the United States, and therefore did not want the freedom of the United States to be limited. Australia did not want nuclear arms itself but could not foreswear them indefinitely. Australia was also concerned to ensure that she was not hindered in her development of nuclear power for peaceful purposes. Sensible or productive discussion of these matters could not take place at Geneva. In view of these uncertainties, deficiencies and special political problems, Mr Hasluck said, it was unlikely that Australia would sign the Treaty in its present form.

[matter omitted]

Mr Hasluck said that Australia might sign the Treaty but would be extremely unlikely to ratify it and would feel compelled to say so at the time of the signature. Signature, Mr Hasluck said, did not imply ratification.

[matter omitted]

Mr Hasluck said that the guarantee contained in point 12 of the preamble could be exercised only within the framework of the procedures of the Security Council. Did such a guarantee mean anything? Australia was sceptical. Australia, with many free Asian countries, regarded China as a greater nuclear menace than the USSR. There was an acute state of fear of China in India, which country might as a result wish to develop its own nuclear devices. The nuclear blackmail practised by China was one of the chief causes of uncertainty and fear in the world. Living as it did on the fringes of Asia, Australia regarded this form of blackmail as a major problem. Australia thought it possible that the USSR might actually act as a deterrent to China. Senator Medici spoke scornfully about the possibility of India defending itself successfully in the event of a clash with China. China could move south to Calcutta within two weeks if it wished to do so. From the military point of view the ratio of power between India and China was 1:10. India was 'feeble'.

Mr Hasluck said that this was the whole point; this was why India was so afraid. Unfortunately, India felt unable to accept the United States deterrent as a guarantee. While India and other independent Asian countries could see prospects for a détente with the USSR, no Asian country could expect or trust any commitment by China not to use its nuclear capability. Australia's hopesbut they were slender ones—rested on the United States deterrent. Slender because would the United States use its deterrent to save 12 million people in Australia, in the knowledge that this action would immediately endanger 200 million people in the United States?

[matter omitted]

[NAA: A1838, TS919/10/5 part 18]