37 Cablegram from Mission to the United Nations to Department of External Affairs

New York, 23 October 1958

1152. Priority

Disarmament

  1. Following is full summary of Australian statement to First Committee today.1
  2. Present debate on Disarmament so far has not been very encouraging although many approached present assembly with rather stronger hopes that the United Nations might at last be on doorstep of some real progress.

[matter omitted]

  1. Mr. Casey stated last year that Australia would be prepared to accept in principle the establishment in Australia of International Inspection Posts as in the draft Western proposals of August.2 This statement of Australian policy refers to acceptance only of the principle of Inspection Posts. If Posts were actually to be established, Australian security requirements would have to be met and we would expect close consultation in any technical discussions related to establishment of Posts and inspection procedures. Effective Control System will require the establishment of Control Posts in many other countries and many parts of the world where there have not yet been any nuclear tests. We should ensure that Control System will cover the whole world. No significant area of the world could safely be omitted. There will consequently be many practical problems and some political problems to be resolved before the Control System is complete. We recognize that the forthcoming negotiations at Geneva may be somewhat protracted. At an appropriate stage, other countries will have to be brought in to the extent that their agreement is necessary for practical implementation on their territory of proposed control methods.
  2. Urgent need for early agreement on these matters is pointed up by general recognition that all our unsettled problems in the field of nuclear disarmament are likely to be gravely complicated very soon by the emergence of additional nuclear powers. There is no longer any scientific secret that can maintain narrow monopoly of these weapons. A number of countries have technical capacity, basic industrial framework, trained scientific personnel and raw materials to enter the nuclear arms race if they choose. This presents serious problems, which have not yet been fully faced by the United Nations and apparently by major nuclear powers. Australia regards prospective wide diffusion of the production of nuclear weapons as an issue of the greatest importance and urgency. Australian viewpoint was already indicated by Mr. Menzies on 19th September, 1957 in a statement to the Australian Parliament. (Quoted from Prime Minister's statement on this problem).3
  3. Since Mr. Menzies made this declaration, probability of wide diffusion of manufacture of nuclear weapons had increased. It may be that the fourth, fifth and perhaps even the sixth, nuclear power would feel compelled to exercise no less restraint in the use of nuclear weapons than the present nuclear powers but process of securing international agreement is complicated by every expansion in the number of Governments involved, and if the manufacture and possession of nuclear arms becomes widely diffused the negotiation and implementation of an effective disarmament agreement might become practically impossible. Therefore matter of urgency not only that Control System for the suspension of nuclear weapons tests be set in operation as soon as possible, but also that agreement be reached on other disarmament measures, such as will remove present incentive to additional countries to manufacture nuclear weapons.

[matter omitted]

  1. Even if test suspension became effective complex problems of nuclear disarmament and its relation to conventional disarmament remain. With this in mind repeated some observations made at the Twelfth General Assembly on Australian attitude towards disarmament in general. Viewing problems of defence against potential aggression in our part of the world we have never considered it realistic to draw very sharp distinction in disarmament plans between conventional forces and nuclear weapons. In the United Nations we have consistently maintained the view that the prohibition of nuclear weapons under an effective international control should go hand in hand with major reductions in conventional forces and weapons to agreed levels. Australia is very conscious that agreement developed mainly against the background of security problems of great powers may require some adjustment to take account of the effects of proposed arrangements upon security of smaller countries in various parts of the world and we feel in Australia that a disarmament agreement that did not impose suitable obligations upon Communist China would fall short of what is needed for security in our part of the world. At the present time the major potential danger to the peace of Asia and security of countries bordering on Asia is disproportionate strength of Communist China's conventional forces and militarizations of tremendous and growing population. Not surprising that we sometimes feel misgivings lest preoccupation with problem of reaching agreement on suspension of nuclear tests, on measures against surprise attack in Europe or across the top of the world, and on nuclear disarmament may make it difficult to devote adequate attention to other fundamental aspects of disarmament which are of direct and vital concern to Australia and neighbours.
  2. Deferred comments on various resolutions.

[NAA: A1838, 3107/33/4 part 1]