111 Cablegram from Department of External Affairs to Posts

Canberra, 15 March 1968

803. Confidential

Non-Proliferation Treaty

Our 627 to Washington and Washington's 9641

The text of the draft treaty2 has been under consideration by interested departments in the AAEC. Clearly it leaves open the interpretation of a number of important matters and the full and precise effect of the treaty will not become apparent until these interpretations have been established. It will be important, therefore, for Ministers to have as authoritative guidance and understandings as possible of these matters when considering whether the treaty is likely to be effective and whether Australia should adhere, particularly since it seems the negotiation of obligations essential to the implementation of the treaty, the safeguards system, is not to be undertaken until after signature and ratification. It would be most helpful, therefore, if you could keep in touch at a responsible working level and let us know how attitudes to the treaty provisions are shaping, particular queries and difficulties that are arising and what interpretations are being placed or sought on vaguer provisions.

  1. Set out below are some queries that have arisen in our own discussions and we would be glad if (except for the posts mentioned in para. 6) you would take early opportunity to explore thinking on these and report. We emphasise that these are preliminary queries at the official level and cannot in any way be taken as reflecting interest or views at the governmental level.


    1. The treaty is concerned with the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear explosive devices. What is the basic policy concept of the treaty in regard to research and development directed solely towards improving a country's capacity to produce nuclear weapons and explosive devices? Is it the intention of the treaty to stop research and development in this field and so to consolidate existing inequalities of development, thus placing certain non-nuclear countries for the indefinite future in a favoured position in relation to others under Article X3 (Withdrawal)?
    2. Article II of the draft treaty provides that non-nuclear signatories will not 'manufacture ... or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.' Is it intended that all research, development or production, in respect of which there is a genuine peaceful intent, be allowed even if they are also significant to the manufacture of a weapon or explosive device? (For example, highly enriched uranium produced by the diffusion process is used both in the production of nuclear weapons and in fast-reactors. Could a party interested in a civilian fast reactor programme engage in research and development on the diffusion process, though this would at the same time increase its capacity to produce weapons?)
    3. How is it envisaged that this intent be established? By the IAEA?
    4. Article XII(5) of the IAEA Statute provides that the agency can 'require deposit with the agency of any excess of any special fissionable material recovered or produced as a by-product over what is needed (for research or other peaceful purposes)'. Is it the understanding that this provision will be included in the new safeguards system?
    5. The current IAEA safeguards aim to prevent materials, equipment etc. made available by the agency being used to further any military purpose. Under the treaty and revised safeguards system will it be permissible to allocate fissionable material to military applications other than nuclear weapons and explosive devices (e.g. to warship propulsion or mobile power plants)? If so, will safeguards procedures be applied to the materials used?
    6. In purely procedural terms, the current provisions of the treaty appear to require governments to accept in advance obligations in regard to safeguards that will not be defined until the new safeguard system is established. It is envisaged that the new safeguards system will be established before ratification of the treaty? What would be the position if a party withheld consent to later amendments to the safeguards system?
    7. Are any restraints seen on countries that form new regional groupings similar to Euratom, negotiating as a group on safeguards?
  1. We note from Bonn's telegram No. 1164 that there appears to be considerable interest in securing amendments to the treaty in respect particularly of the provisions for review, duration and withdrawal. It would seem important, as the Germans point out, to make the treaty 'adaptable to future political, economic and technological developments'. Please report thinking on these aspects at your post.

For Washington

[matter omitted]

  1. [matter omitted] For information. We do not wish you to take up consultations at this stage but should appreciate reports on anything you might pick up.

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