188 Minute Paper by Whitlam1 for Executive Council

Canberra, 11 January 1973

Ratification of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Recommended for the approval of His Excellency the Governor-General in Council that:

  1. Australia ratify the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which was opened for signature at London, Moscow and Washington on the first day of July, One thousand nine hundred and sixty-eight and which was signed for and on behalf of Australia on the twenty-seventh day of February, One thousand nine hundred and seventy;
  2. the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs be authorised to draw up and complete appropriate Instruments of Ratification for that purpose; and
  3. the Instruments be deposited with the Governments of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America.

Explanatory Memorandum

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), a copy of which is attached,2 was drafted by the United States and the Soviet Union and, after consideration in the then Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee, was submitted to the United nations in June 1968.

It was opened for signature on 1 July 1968.

The NPT entered into force after the three depositary Governments (the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom), plus 40 other States had signed and ratified, on 5 March 1970. At that time 55 other countries had signed but not ratified. Australia was one of these, having signed on 27 February 1970, with a declaration regarding eventual ratification.

Cabinet considered the NPT when the issue was brought before the United Nations in 1968 and again in early 1970 when it became apparent that the Treaty would soon enter into force. At the latter meeting it was decided that Australia should sign, but that a decision on ratification should be delayed until the following two conditions had been satisfied:

  1. The safeguards and inspection arrangements called for under the Treaty must not burden research, development, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes; nor should they constitute an obstacle to a nation's economic development, commercial interests or trade. They should be applied in a non-discriminatory fashion and should be effective in ensuring that any breaches in the Treaty would be detected.
  2. A condition of an effective Treaty must be that it should attract 'a necessary degree of support'.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is assigned the task of negotiating safeguards agreements with States Parties to the Treaty so as to verify that those Parties are fulfilling the obligations assumed under the Treaty.

In April 1971, Australia agreed to the adoption of a report by the IAEA Board of Governors, on the structure and content of NPT safeguards agreements. Thus the reservations expressed in (a) are no longer an obstacle to ratification of the NPT by Australia. Under the terms of the Treaty, Australia is required to enter into negotiations with the IAEA on a safeguards agreement prior to ratification or, at the latest, on the day that instruments of ratification are deposited. Arrangements are being made to initiate this process.

The total number of countries which have now ratified or acceded to the NPT is 73. These include the United States of America, Britain, the USSR, New Zealand, Canada, and Malaysia. A further 27 countries have signed, but not ratified: including Japan, West Germany, and Indonesia.

The Australian position has been that the Treaty must attract the support of a sufficient number of significant countries before it becomes effective. Such countries are those:

  1. which have an existing nuclear capability; or
  2. which have an existing or future potential for such a capability; or
  3. other Asian nations generally.

Of the nuclear powers, neither France nor China has signed the NPT. Of those countries with an existing or future nuclear potential, only Canada and Sweden have ratified; and several including India, Pakistan, South Africa, Israel and North Viet Nam have not signed. Of the countries of the Asian region, only Afghanistan, the Republic of China, Laos, Malaysia, the Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, and South Viet Nam have ratified.

In recent months several countries which we have held to be 'significant' have apparently moved closer to ratification. Five of the six EURATOM countries, excluding France but including West Germany, have almost completed the negotiation of an IAEA safeguards agreement, along the lines approved by the Board of Governors in April 1971. This could facilitate the egotiation of future agreements. Despite the possibility of renewed political debate in the EURATOM nations, it is expected that the five mentioned above will ratify before long. It also appears that there is a trend in Japan toward ratification—although we expect ratification by Japan to take two years or more. Thus it seems that the NPT is likely to become a more 'effective' Treaty through additional support by 'significant' countries, in the relatively near future. On the other hand, there are several other 'significant' countries which show no signs of ratifying or acceding to the Treaty.

Ratification of the NPT does not mean that a country's national interests are necessarily subordinated permanently to the Treaty. Under Article X, any State Party may withdraw from the Treaty 'if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of the Treaty, have jeopardised the supreme interests of its country'.

The main obligations that Australia would undertake through becoming a Party to the NPT are:

  1. Australia would be obliged not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons directly or indirectly (Article II).
  2. Australia would be obliged not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of such weapons or devices (Article II).
  3. Australia would be obliged to accept 'safeguards' as set forth in an agreement to be concluded with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), for the exclusive purpose of verification of the fulfilment of the obligations assumed under the Treaty, with a view to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices (Article III(1)).
  4. Australia would be obliged to ensure that procedures for the safeguards shall be followed with respect to 'source or special fissionable material' whether it is being produced, processed or used in any principal nuclear facility or is outside any such facility (Article III(2)).
  5. Australia would be obliged to apply the safeguards on all 'source or special fissionable material' in all peaceful nuclear activities with the territory of Australia, under its jurisdiction or carried out under its control anywhere (Article III(2)).
  6. Australia would be obliged not to provide (i) 'source or special fissionable material' or (ii) equipment or material especially designed or prepared for the processing, use or production of such fissionable material to any other non-nuclear weapon State for peaceful purposes unless the 'source or special fissionable material' is to be subject to safeguards required by the Treaty (Article III(2)).

The treaty-making power is vested in the Crown and in Australia is exercised by the Governor-General in Council. The attached Minute seeks the approval of the Council for Australia to ratify the Treaty described and for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to draw up and complete appropriate Instruments of Ratification for that purpose, to be deposited at London, Moscow, and Washington.

[NAA: A1838; 919/10/5 part 36]