66 Note by Department of External Affairs on Interdepartmental Committee Meeting on IAEA Safeguards

Canberra, 22 June 1965


Mr. E.L.D. White,1 Chairman(Defence)
Mr. W.F. Caplehorn2 (Defence)
Mr. A.D. Thomas3 (AAEC)
Mr. A.R. Wilson4 (AAEC)
Mr. L.D. Thomson5 (External Affairs)
Mr. D.W. Evans6 (External Affairs)
Mr. J.A. Piper7 (External Affairs)
Mr. C.G. Woodard8 (External Affairs)
Mr. A.T. Griffith (Prime Minister's)
Mr. J. Butler9(Prime Minister's)
Mr. R.H. Mathams10(J.I.B.)
Mr. G. Tredinnick11(Treasury)

The meeting discussed a paper prepared by the A.A.E.C. on safeguards and their effect on Australian atomic weapons production capability.12 It is intended to present the final version of the paper to the Defence Committee.13 Reference was also made to an External Affairs paper on the history of [Australian policy towards the acquisition of nuclear weapons capability].14

  1. The A.A.E.C. paper (which has been provisionally approved by the Commission Chairman) covered the nature of the safeguards; their application by both bilateral and international arrangements; the means of obtaining uranium 23515 and plutonium; and the effect of safeguards on weapons production. It concluded that Australia's capability for producing atomic weapons would not be substantially changed by the transfer of safeguards to IAEA administration.
  2. The gist of the history paper was that, while Australia had publicly supported moves to discourage proliferation, it had not abandoned its option on acquiring or developing nuclear weapons in the future. The wish to maintain the option was stated in the Prime Minister's letter of June, 1961, to Mr. Macmillan.16 This should be brought to the attention of the Defence Committee.
  3. There is a discrepancy between the scope of the IAEA Statute17 ('furthering any military purpose')18 and the practice of the Board of Governors, whose attention has been restricted to weapons. This should also be brought to the notice of the Defence Committee. The Statute is ambiguous in that most applications of nuclear energy could be regarded as, at least indirectly, furthering a military purpose.
  4. It was assumed that the statutory provision for safeguards on information would be applied where practicable. Safeguards would not prevent facilities supplied from being copied; but a long time lag would be involved.

[matter omitted]

  1. The A.A.E.C. are firmly of the opinion that the transfer of safeguards to IAEA administration would not inhibit Australia's capacity to develop nuclear weapons any further than the present bilateral safeguards. They stress Australia's dependence on United States assistance at Lucas Heights;19 and the difficulty of renegotiating the existing agreement, should Australia refuse to transfer to IAEA safeguards. They consider Australia has little bargaining power in this matter. The United Kingdom has also become enthusiastic about extending non-proliferation agreements to Commonwealth countries.
  2. These assumptions of the A.A.E.C. were questioned. Australia might gain in bargaining power by opposing transfer to IAEA safeguards without a suitable quid pro quo. IAEA safeguards could conceivably present a greater obstacle to a weapons development programme, for instance in a political situation where the United States would be prepared to turn a blind eye on an Australian violation of safeguards. The acceptance of IAEA safeguards would raise the pressure to accept safeguards on assistance provided by countries other than the United States.
  3. Discussion of the evasion of safeguards led to consideration of the Indian case. This appears special in that the safeguards provisions are meagre.
  4. In the Chairman's opinion the broader political aspect was not relevant to the discussion. The object was to supply the Defence Committee with the factual data that would enable it formulate a defence view of safeguards. The defence view could then be weighed against other aspects, such as the political and commercial, in reaching an overall conclusion.
  5. A small editing group, consisting of Defence, A.A.E.C., and External Affairs members, will produce a draft of the Defence Committee paper for circulation to the other members.

[NAA: A1838, 919/19 Annex]