154 Report on Conference of Non-Nuclear-Weapon States

Canberra, 28 September 1968


The Conference of Non-Nuclear Weapon States was held in Geneva from 29th August to 28th September 1968.


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

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31. The resolution on nuclear-free zones and the two on disarmament generally presented the Australian delegation with few problems, and we were able to vote in favour of all three.1 The disarmament drafts in particular were the results of amendments and amalgamations, and in their final form were fairly innocuous, our only problem being their concentration on nuclear disarmament to the exclusion of conventional disarmament. In the upshot, all three resolutions gained broad acceptance both in the Committee and in Plenary. Australia explained its vote for the nuclear-free zones resolution in Committee by saying that it was fully prepared to support the draft but that at present the conditions for a workable nuclear-free zone did not exist in Asia and the Pacific because of the attitude of Communist China.

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52. Sweden led the debate on the peaceful uses of nuclear explosions into political paths. Sweden's argument was a repetition of that advanced by Mrs Myrdal in New York. It tabled a resolution implying that all peaceful nuclear explosions, whether within or outside a nuclear weapon state, should come under the control of an international 'regime'.

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53. In the event there was no opposition to the Swedish resolution and it was carried by a large majority, though with a number of abstentions including Australia.

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Outcome of the Conference

81. The Conference has little of a concrete nature to show for itself. Resolutions that, in their original form, made far-reaching and often contentious recommendations usually ended as unexceptionable homilies that said and meant little.

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85. The results of the Conference in the fields of security and disarmament were fairly satisfactory for the West and for Australia. Indeed, they were better than had been feared when preparations were being made for the Conference in the aftermath of the non-proliferation debate in New York. The drive for a strong non-use declaration collapsed, with the result that no resolutions were passed that might have affected the capacity of the United States to use and to deploy nuclear weapons in protecting its allies. The pressures exacted upon the nuclear powers to disarm were neither strong nor concerted. Pressure for convening future conferences and continuing the work of this conference in some special committee in New York was likewise blunted.

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94. As regards security and defence, the delegation considers that the outcome of the Conference was not such as to affect Australia's established policies or its alliances. In particular, the Conference did not affect the right of Australia's allies to use or deploy nuclear weapons in Australia's defence. Nor did it affect Australia's ability to seek such protection.

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Annex 2

Instructions for the Australian Delegation to the Conference of Non-Nuclear Weapons States

  1. The delegation should be careful not to commit the Australian Government either directly or even by implication to the signing of the non-proliferation treaty.
  2. They should use such opportunities as may arise to explore further the various matters in respect of which the Australian Government has expressed doubts or reservations but they should not be forceful in creating such opportunities.
  3. They should gather as much information as they can about the attitudes and policies of countries of major interest to Australia, and obtain interpretations of importance to Australia regarding the non-proliferation treaty, particularly in the fields of safeguards and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy (including nuclear explosives).
  4. They should be watchful for any moves that might limit the capacity of the United States to exercise a nuclear deterrent for the better security of Australia.
  5. They should see opportunities of reaching common viewpoints with countries who share a common interest with Australia.
  6. As matters arise for decision they should seek further instructions from the Government.

[NAA: A1838, TS680/10/2 part 7]