84 Record by Booker of Conversation with German Ambassador1

Canberra, 2 February 1967

Confidential

Non-Proliferation Treaty

The German Ambassador called at his own request to explain his Government's attitude to the current discussions in regard to a Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to ask for an indication of our own attitude.

  1. The Ambassador said that he would take as his starting point the statement made at the United Nations General Assembly in 1963 by the Australian representative during the debate on disarmament.2 He said that the main point made in this statement appeared to be closely in accord with his own Government's views. In particular he referred to the following points:
    1. The problem of preserving a balance during disarmament was a fundamental one and it was necessary to work for disarmament that covered all forms of weapons including conventional armaments.
    2. Nuclear free zones might be acceptable in certain circumstances but only if the requirements of unanimity, balance, and verification were met and also if there were no nuclear targets within the zone.
  2. The Ambassador said that the need for balanced disarmament was very much in mind of his Government and for this reason it was concerned to see that any Non-Proliferation Treaty did not result in widening the disparity between the nuclear and non-nuclear powers. If the latter were to deny to themselves the acquisition of nuclear weapons it was not unreasonable to expect the nuclear powers to begin reducing their nuclear armaments. The German Government also believed that the Treaty should not result in denying the non-nuclear powers of the technological benefits of nuclear development. The Ambassador commented that a Treaty which did not meet these requirements might well diminish Germany's security rather than increase it. From his reading of Australian statements, he had the feeling that Australia might be inclined to make a similar assessment.

[matter omitted]

  1. Dr Ritter said that he doubted whether such a treaty would do much to reduce Germany's fear of Russia and he assumed that it would do even less to reduce Australia's fear of Communist China. I agreed that this was so. A treaty which did not embrace Communist China would clearly make little practical contribution to the security in the Asia Pacific region. The main danger of nuclear war now lay in the possibility that the use of nuclear weapons might be resorted to by the irrational or irresponsible leaders. The present leaders of China certainly seem to qualify at this description. Nevertheless it was necessary to take a long-range view and to hope that it might one day be possible to embrace China in an effective system of nuclear limitation and disarmament.
  2. I said that we shared the German Government's hope that the technological gap between the nuclear and non-nuclear powers would not be widened. The use of nuclear explosives for development purposes might well play an important role in the future of Australia. We had already felt some inconvenience as a result of our adherence to the Partial Test Ban Treaty which appeared to mean that at the present stage of technology use of such explosives would in practice be an infringement of the Treaty. We would therefore welcome some international agreement which enabled nuclear explosives to be used for peaceful purposes although we had not made up our minds as to how this might be brought about. Appropriate provisions could perhaps be included in a comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or in a Non-Proliferation Treaty, or alternatively, an entirely separate treaty might be drawn up. Dr Ritter said that his Government's present view was that this problem should be dealt with in a Non-Proliferation Treaty although no doubt it would be prepared to contemplate other ways of doing it.

[matter omitted]

  1. Dr Ritter expressed the view that it seemed unlikely that a treaty would emerge from the present discussions which would meet in any substantial way the security needs of the nonnuclear countries and he asked what Australia's attitude would be towards signing such a treaty. I said that our attitude could of course only be determined when we knew the precise terms of the treaty. It would perhaps be unrealistic to expect that it would be a major contribution to the problems of disarmament but it might be a step which could lead to a serious attempt to tackle these problems. Our attitude would no doubt to some extent be influenced by the views of other countries in the Asian and Pacific region. If these countries were prepared to accept a Non-Proliferation Treaty for what it was worth, we would be unlikely to stand out. If we signed it it would no doubt be on the same basis as we had signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty, namely that if Australia were faced with extreme danger, in which recourse to nuclear means was essential to our continued existence, we would be released from the provisions of the treaty.

[NAA: A1838, 919/12/7 part 1]