51 Submission from Menzies1 to Cabinet

Canberra, 7 June 1961


Submission No. 1156—Nuclear Tests Conference: Control Posts in Australia


Since the Nuclear Tests Conference was resumed at Geneva on 21 March,2 the Soviet Delegate3 has repeated his request that all the seven control posts scheduled for Australia be set up in Phase I of the planned three-stage establishment of a world-wide control system to police a nuclear tests ban. United Kingdom Ministers, envisaging the possibility that in the fairly near future the negotiations might break down unless new ideas are introduced, have asked if Australia will agree in principle and in advance that the United Kingdom negotiators may:

  1. indicate flexibility by stating at a judicious moment that they would be prepared to consider the Soviet demand further if they saw any evidence on the Soviet side of a constructive attitude towards the question of inspection and control; lacking this, they would feel unable to approach the Australian Government; and
  2. at a later stage, either to protect the Western position from any possible criticism in the event of imminent breakdown, or in exchange for a really valuable Soviet concession, actually to offer control posts in Australia in Phase I.

[matter omitted]

Implications for Australia:

  1. Support for the early conclusion of a controlled nuclear tests ban treaty is settled Australian policy; and it is no part of this submission to seek to change that policy. Such a treaty would allay fears of increased atmospheric radioactivity, would for the first time bring the U.S.S.R. under a system of control, could be the forerunner to and pattern for a controlled process of general disarmament, and would inhibit the emergence of 'Nth' nuclear powers.
  2. This last advantage is usually cited as the most important; and indeed there is some reason to believe that it was in an effort to prevent China becoming a nuclear power that the U.S.S.R. as well as the U.S.A. and U.K. agreed to meet in Geneva to draft a treaty. We must nevertheless recognize that the existence of a treaty would not prevent the emergence of 'Nth' powers: new nuclear powers could 'legally' emerge either
    1. by refusing to become party to the treaty and developing and testing weapons of their own (or others') design;
    2. by joining the treaty but manufacturing either already-tested weapons of others' design or untested weapons of their own design;
    3. by joining the treaty but procuring ready-made weapons from others.
  3. With or without a treaty, therefore, the possibility exists of new nuclear powers emerging. I take it as needing no argument that if China or Indonesia or other significant countries in our area were to acquire nuclear capability in any of these ways, then Australia would at that time be forced to consider whether to acquire nuclear capability also. Indeed, even our present military thinking does not exclude the possible contingency in the longer term that a nuclear capability in some form might be required for our security-for example, if tactical nuclear weapons should become standard equipment in the forces of our allies and of our potential enemies. (See Annex C for a Defence Department memorandum on the question of nuclear capability for the Australian forces.)
  4. 'Nuclear capability' can take the form of either strategic or tactical nuclear weapons; and it may be acquired in several different ways ranging (in increasing order of dependence on our allies) from fully indigenous manufacture using our own designs, to indigenous manufacture using others' designs, to sole control by Australia over a stockpile in Australia of weapons manufactured by an ally, to joint control with that ally over such a stockpile and finally to sole control by that ally over such a stockpile. Moreover, there is the problem of acquiring adequate means of delivery, without which the possession of nuclear weapons (particularly strategic) would have little meaning.
  5. A choice between these two forms of nuclear capability and the several methods of its acquisition will depend on complex considerations: security requirements, financial and skilled manpower limitations, and time, are not always compatible factors. Moreover, all methods of acquisition, except indigenous manufacture using indigenous materials and to an Australian design, depend in varying degree on the co-operation of our allies, which in some cases at least may not be forthcoming-e.g. it is present policy both in the U.K. and U.S.A. not to give sole control of their nuclear weapons or even nuclear 'know how' to another (non-nuclear) country.
  6. From the foregoing analysis and from the Defence considerations outlined in Annex C, it is apparent that the decision which will probably face a future Australian Government will be based on complex, delicate and most important considerations. My own prime concern, and our collective responsibility, is to ensure that so far as possible we take no decisions now which will commit our successors to a particular decision in the future or which will even restrict the freedom of their decision between the two forms of nuclear capability and the several means of its acquisition.
  7. I now apply this test to the United Kingdom proposal that Australian control posts be offered in Phase I.
  8. If Australia were to agree to being included in Phase I, we should be plunged at once (as soon as the Treaty was signed in Geneva) into ratifying the Treaty and into making arrangements for the establishment of control posts and perhaps a regional office here and into opening Australia to inspection-all this without any opportunity of first seeing how universal the Treaty was likely to be in its coverage. For example, it would force us to ratify, with all the consequences of acceptance of the Treaty, before we knew whether and on what terms Phase II countries such as China and Indonesia, or India for that matter, would accede to the Treaty. (It is entirely possible-even probable-that China at least will refuse to accede except on unacceptable terms (such as withdrawal of the United States from the Formosa Straits and indeed the whole Western Pacific, recognition of Chinese sovereignty over Formosa, diplomatic recognition by the U.S.A. and 'China's' seat in the United Nations from which Formosa would be entirely excluded) and will proceed with its presumed intention to achieve its own nuclear capability.)
  9. Australia could thus find itself party to a Treaty which excluded the testing of Australianmade weapons while not preventing China from developing and testing its own weapons. (Australia could in these circumstances 'legally' manufacture and stockpile nuclear weapons without benefit of testing (after all, the U.S.A., U.K., France and presumably U.S.S.R. were all successful at their first try); but we would be most seriously handicapped if we were unable to conduct test explosions and moreover it may not be possible without testing to develop tactical weapons at all.)
  10. This might not matter if we could be sure either that the Treaty would collapse if China refused to accede or that Australia alone could withdraw from the Treaty when it became clear that China would not join. A right of withdrawal is in fact written into the Treaty:

    'This Treaty shall remain in force indefinitely subject to the inherent right of a Party to withdraw and be relieved of obligations hereunder if the provisions of the Treaty and its Annexes, including those providing for the timely installation and effective operation of the control system, are not being fulfilled and observed.'

  11. The Treaty would undoubtedly collapse were the United Kingdom and U.S.A. to exercise this right in the event of China failing to accede. It would also collapse were the U.S.S.R. to withdraw in the event of France refusing to accede (President de Gaulle has stated that France will not cease her nuclear tests until she has achieved nuclear parity with the three nuclear powers or unless there is general nuclear disarmament). However, there is no certainty whatsoever that the United Kingdom and the United States of America would withdraw: they are both advanced nuclear powers and would not view the emergence of China as a (primitive) nuclear power nearly as seriously as would Australia, a non-nuclear power. Indeed, we have recently been told by State Department officials that the United States has in no way decided that Chinese refusal to accede would automatically lead to U.S. withdrawal from the Treaty since withdrawal would, inter alia, require the West to give up its intelligence opportunities in the U.S.S.R. Nor ought we to rely on France refusing to accede and the U.S.S.R. consequently withdrawing.
  12. We accordingly cannot count on the general collapse of the Treaty in the event of important countries not acceding. But neither can we be certain that Australia alone would, in practice, be able to exercise its right of withdrawal.

[matter omitted]

  1. It would be preferable, therefore, to keep out of Phase I and to reserve our ratification until we had been able to assess the intentions of other countries important to our security. We must recognize, however, that this will probably not be possible. Australia has long been a convinced advocate of a controlled nuclear tests ban treaty; we have even stated our willingness in principle to agree to the establishment of control posts in Australia. Accordingly, if the U.S.S.R. were to continue pressing her demand for Australia's inclusion in Phase I, we would find it quite impossible to stay out-especially if a refusal on our part were clearly the only remaining obstacle to the signing of the Treaty.
  2. The foregoing analysis leads to the conclusion that inclusion of Australia in Phase I would in fact restrict the freedom of decision of our successors; but that inclusion in Phase I cannot be avoided. Can we nevertheless mitigate the effects of that seemingly inevitable inclusion?
  3. We could seek to overcome the specific disability placed on us by a Treaty-not being able to test Australian-made weapons-by attempting to avoid completely all need for testing. One possible way would be to try to secure now from the United Kingdom recognition of an obligation to allow Australia the right of access to United Kingdom nuclear weapon 'know how' (or preferably-inter alia, because of the time lag between a decision to manufacture and the development of an operational weapon-the right to draw on the U.K. nuclear weapons stockpile) in the event of important countries in the general Pacific and Indian Ocean areas acquiring nuclear capability. There would then be no (or at least a much-reduced) need to test the weapons produced here since they would be of proven design. The justification for seeking such an undertaking is that Australia is regarded, particularly by the U.S.S.R., as an essential and early adherent to any nuclear tests ban Treaty only because we have accommodated the United Kingdom in the past by allowing United Kingdom tests here; that the proposed Treaty might not succeed in one of its objects-the prevention of the spread of nuclear capability; and that because of these facts we feel that the United Kingdom should now recognize its obligations to provide Australia, if ever necessary, with nuclear weapons or, failing this, with full manufacturing data.

[matter omitted]


  1. I recommend that I be authorized
    1. to reply to the United Kingdom—
      1. agreeing to the United Kingdom first-stage proposal (para. 1(i));
      2. declining to agree to the United Kingdom second-stage proposal (para. 1(ii));
      3. requesting that we be kept informed of the progress of the negotiations and in particular of any occasion when the offer of Australian control posts in Phase I might conceivably be exchanged for a really valuable Soviet concessions;
    2. to send at the same time a Prime Ministerial message to the United Kingdom seeking recognition now of the United Kingdom's obligation to provide Australia, if ever necessary, with a nuclear capability (para. 26).4

[matter omitted]

Annex C

Question of Nuclear Capability for the Australian Forces

Memorandum by Defence Department, 7 June 1961

Present Australian Government Policy

  1. Present Australian Government Policy on the acquisition of a nuclear capability for the Australian Forces, as announced by the Prime Minister in September, 1957, is that Australia's immediate plans for defence should be in the 'conventional field', although the Prime Minister also stated that the possibility of future procurement of nuclear weapons as distinct from their manufacture is not excluded. This policy has been re-affirmed on a number of occasions since 1957.

[matter omitted]

Comment on External Affairs' Inquiry

  1. We have no formal assurances from either the U.K. or U.S.A. that a nuclear capability would be made available to Australia, if required, either under direct Australian control or by means of some alternative arrangements (e.g. joint control or 'key-of-the-cupboard').
  2. The Department of External Affairs has sought Defence views on the proposal that, in return for Australian agreement to accept control posts in Phase I of the treaty for the suspension of nuclear tests, which would preclude us from conducting our own tests while giving no guarantee against the spread of nuclear capability, we should seek an assurance from the U.K. that she would provide Australia, if at any stage we consider it necessary, with nuclear know-how.
  3. It is recognized that wider policy considerations are involved in this matter. So long as the possibility remains of other countries achieving a nuclear capability, it is obviously highly desirable from the defence point of view to obtain from the United Kingdom (and the U.S.A.), any assurances that might be possible to provide Australia with nuclear weapons or, failing this, full manufacturing data, if at any time the Australian Government should consider this necessary for national security. So far as information on 'know-how' is concerned, there could be considerable risk of not getting this in time if it is not in our possession until the need arises.5

[NAA: A4940, C3348]