109 Paper by Department of Defence

Canberra, 6 March 1968

6/1968. Supplement 3. Top Secret Austeo

Defence Committee Non-Proliferation Treaty

Attached is a paper prepared by the Department of Defence for consideration by Defence Committee in conjunction with Agendum No. 6/1968.1

Non-Proliferation Treaty-Considerations Relating to Australian Attitude

The Australian Government must shortly determine its attitude to a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a draft of which, agreed between the United States and the U.S.S.R. is currently before the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee of the United Nations.2

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  1. The propositions in favour of signing the Treaty include the following
    1. it is in Australia's interest that an outbreak of nuclear war anywhere in the world be prevented or avoided;
    2. our interest in this respect is the same as that of the U.S. and U.S.S.R.;
    3. the best hope of nuclear war being avoided is through the concerted action of U.S. and U.S.S.R. acting with the support of as many other States as possible;
    4. the emergence of additional nuclear powers could upgrade the possibility of nuclear war occurring.

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  1. [matter omitted]
    1. d. signature by Australia of the Treaty as proposed by U.S.A., and U.S.S.R. goes beyond denying Australia the right to make and use nuclear weapons. It would (inter alia) subject Australia to safeguards and inspection in relation to mining of uranium ores, beach sands etc. and their processing and would place Australia in the hands of the nuclear States in regard to the use of nuclear devices for peaceful purposes. It would also put substantial limits on Australia's capacity to develop her technology for the making of nuclear devices, let alone weapons;
    2. e. as will be shown it is not merely a case of considering signing the Treaty. Signature will subject signatories to the safeguards provisions of the I.A.E.A. Statutes which
      1. can be varied without Australia's consent;
      2. could be varied to preclude research which might be applied to both weapons, power and other peaceful purposes;
      3. could possibly have the effect of precluding Australia from fuelling nuclearpowered ships and submarines, whether merchantmen or warships and whether equipped with nuclear weapons or not;

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  1. Not merely can we not guess what will be achieved in the next 25 years we are basically ignorant of what our nuclear allies have achieved in the past decade. We are therefore in a poor position to judge the future effectiveness of a safeguards system.

Effect on Australian Interests


  1. The Joint Planning Committee has assessed that for the foreseeable future (the next 10 years or so) it is not necessary for Australia to acquire a nuclear capability. But this depends on the assumption that the U.S.A. will provide the necessary protection for Australia-that, in effect, the U.S.A. will risk nuclear attack against itself to prevent a nuclear attack on Australia. The Committee also recognises the unpredictable factors affecting the longer term, including the success of the Treaty and strategic and technological developments. To be added as another factor is the continuing existence of the ANZUS Treaty. While its term is indefinite, provision exists for any party to withdraw on twelve months' notice. It is certainly possible that these factors may combine in the future to make a credible nuclear capability both desirable and more feasible.

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  1. The case of nuclear weapons etc. against an invasion force needs special consideration. There are two points of view:
    1. One considers that the use of nuclears in a State's own territory or territorial waters, or against hostile forces on nearby high seas would be unlikely to trigger major deterrent systems or to lead to general nuclear war. This school of thought considers that a large and isolated country such as Australia could find itself in circumstances in which the use of nuclear weapons would be desirable.
    2. The other view is that an attack on or threat to Australia might well be of a type for which nuclear weapons could not be used and which they would not deter. Subversion and insurgency are within this category but save in the case of Papua/New Guinea appear fanciful in the Australian context. Further an Australian nuclear capability is seen likely to stimulate a non-nuclear potential to seek one, either by acquisition or alliance with a nuclear power. This could create a situation in which it would be very doubtful whether Australia, with its high vulnerability to nuclear attack, because of its large and few conurbations could contemplate the escalation of any conventional military operations, even by defensive use of nuclear weapons.

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Australia's Attitude to the Treaty

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  1. The Treaty's provisions in their current form leave much to be desired. The blank cheque involved in possible amendments of the I.A.E.A. Statutes is far from satisfactory and could be dangerous. The cost to Australia of the safeguards provisions, with their concomitant inspection services could be quite large. Moreover some of Australia's mineral and ore processing industries could be prejudiced.
  2. While the Treaty is clearly in overall terms, a step in the right direction, it does not dispose of the threat of nuclear war, it is not set in the context of disarmament, it places no obligations on the haves to control or limit their activities in the nuclear field and on the contrary it places virtually the rest of the world, excluding France and China, in the hands of the haves-not merely as to possession of nuclear capability but as to the enormous potential of technological development in the nuclear field. In technological terms the treaty could not fail to give the haves an even greater headstart on the rest of the world.
  3. Not merely do we face all the uncertainties as to how the Treaty will work out, such effectiveness as it has must depend not only on the number of countries becoming parties to it but on the number of countries having nuclear potential who do so. The provision of Article IX (iii) for a minimum of 40 non-nuclear States hardly seems satisfactory.
  4. All these considerations suggest that the proposals as to the life of the Treaty and conditions for withdrawal are unsatisfactory and that Australia's best interests would be served by going along with the Treaty only if its term is 10 years and its form thereafter is left for further consideration.
  5. It would appear at this stage of our national development that Australia would be giving far too many hostages to fortune if it were to go along with the Treaty as it stands. To deny ourselves the right to make nuclear devices let alone weapons for 25 years is to deny ourselves access to the technological world of 1993. We have as much-perhaps less-chance of foreseeing that world as our grandfathers of 1900 could foresee today's world. Nuclear energy will be developed and will be used for purposes now only dimly perceived. Our signature of the Treaty will not stop progress and progress should not be stopped. The Treaty is directed to manifestation; it is unconcerned about root causes and for that reason alone contains the seed of its own futility.

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  1. The foregoing and all the other papers before the Defence Committee stem from a direction of the Prime Minister that a study of the political, strategic, economic and technological aspects of Australian policy in regard to nuclear weapons should be carried out under the overall direction of the Defence Committee. While certain studies were expedited because of their relation to the question of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, much remains to be done and it will be some time before conclusions and recommendations can be formulated.
  2. However from the work so far carried out it appears that an independent nuclear weapon programme would not be beyond Australian resources if it were considered to be politically[,] economically and militarily desirable. While the financial and other implications are far from being determined, the option to acquire by local manufacture an independent nuclear capability must therefore be regarded as being available to Australia.

Appendix 1

Notes on Text of Draft Non-Proliferation Treaty

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Article X3

  1. As indicated in the External Affairs paper, fears have been expressed at the restrictiveness of the withdrawal provisions. In this regard the circumstances under which withdrawal might become desirable in the future are impossible to forecast. The External Affairs paper suggests that a country which felt it was facing an extreme danger could presumably bring itself to an advanced stage of weapon production before announcing its withdrawal, thus reducing the lead time to a comparatively short period. If this is accepted for Australia it must also be accepted that other countries could do likewise, in which case the Treaty would not be regarded as effective.

[NAA: A1838, 680/10/2 part 2]