JIC (AUST) (69) 51: Comments on Nuclear Aspects
It is difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of a conflict between new nuclear powers that would not involve the super-powers. One of the concepts underlying the NPT is that any nuclear outbreak, anywhere would constitute a threat to the security of the major powers and their allies. The USA and the USSR, therefore, are concerned that there should be no such outbreak, the possibility of which increases in proportion with the number of nuclear powers.
It is perhaps not desirable to place too much emphasis on the security assurances associated with the NPT as a prime determinant of the success or failure of the treaty. [matter omitted] For countries like Australia, existing alliance commitments constitute a much stronger assurance of security than do the NPT security assurances, which are intended mainly for the non-aligned parties to the treaty.
Global Problems and Developments of Significance to Australia
It might be better not to make too much of the possibility of doing weapons work legitimately under the treaty as a reason why it might not be effective. The Department of Defence has had a prime interest in establishing the extent to which the lead time for the production of weapons could be reduced legitimately under the treaty. It considers this a vital Australian interest. In the normal course of events, anyway, with or without the treaty, as countries develop their nuclear technology they will advance into fields that could have application to nuclear weapons. This is an acceptable concomitant of a developing nuclear capability.
If the treaty is to foster the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, which is one of its prime aims, it will be essential that states should have the right to carry out a good deal of work that could have a dual application-to weapons or to peaceful uses. If this were forbidden or prevented, the treaty would not succeed. Two minor points: this treaty does not prevent nuclear testing, but the partial test ban treaty does, in all environments except underground; and withdrawal from the treaty is not as simple an affair as made out. In practice, withdrawal would be likely to attract strong international pressure upon the country in question. In any case, it is likely that the safeguards agreements and national intelligence systems would give considerable warning of breaches of treaty obligations.
It is certainly valid to argue that the treaty may not constitute an effective barrier to proliferation. It will only be as effective as nations wish to make it, and here only time will tell. But it offers considerably more hope than no treaty at all.
[NAA: A1838, TS919/10/5 part 20]