115 Note by Plimsoll

Canberra, 21 March 1968

The Defence Committee this morning discussed the paper prepared by the working group (Agendum No. 9/1968)1 set up by the Defence Committee on the Non-Proliferation Treaty. At the opening of the meeting the chairman (Sir Henry Bland) asked for general comments on the paper, without going into detail.

  1. I said that I thought the paper did not give sufficient weight to the fact that the Treaty would restrain other countries as well as restraining Australia. I added that I attached a lot of importance to the question of the effect on Australia's relations with the United States of refusal by Australia to make an honest effort to adhere to the Treaty. I said that I thought the discussion of the financial aspects of making an independent nuclear capability, in paragraphs 35 to 38, was quite inadequate. It did not contain enough detail; it did not cover delivery systems, or additional means of nuclear defence, or necessary infrastructure; and it did not discuss the financial or other impacts of a nuclear weapons policy upon the composition and role of the Australian conventional forces. I said that I thought it was right to put to Cabinet the three broad courses of action set out in paragraph 82, and that I favoured 82(c),2 and thought that we ought to define in detail the understandings, qualifications, and possible amendments that needed further exploration.
  2. Sir Philip Baxter (AAEC) said that he would go along with 82(c) at this stage but he agreed with us that it had to be defined in detail. 'The whole document had been written in a minor key, and the AAEC would have written it in a major key.'' (I do not know what he meant by that.) He said that there were some important omissions in the paper. For example, paragraph 11 did not indicate the full extent of obligations.
  3. Vice Admiral Sir Alan McNicholl (CNS)3 said he agreed with me that the financial sections were optimistic. He thought also that the paper underestimated the lead which some other powers had on Australia in the development of nuclear weapons.
  4. Lt.-General Sir Thomas Daly (CGS)4 agreed that we should work out in detail what Australia's reservations should be. He suggested also that the nuclear powers should be asked to accept conditions which would apply to provision by them of assistance in nuclear explosives for peaceful uses, so that other countries like Australia would not be expected to pay whatever price a nuclear power wanted to exact.
  5. Sir John Bunting (Cabinet Office)5 agreed that we should spell out the reservations. He said that the paper did not adequately cover what Australia should do if its reservations were not met, but he admitted that it might be too early to decide that. He felt it would be proper for the paper to put more emphasis on the defence side, particularly on the value of an effective defence treaty. He thought that that aspect outweighed the civil side, and that it would be worth accepting restrictions on civil use if it contributed in a major way to defence.
  6. Sir Richard Randall (Secretary of the Treasury) said that the Appendix on the costs of a nuclear explosives programme was a joke. He associated himself with what I said and then proceeded to relate paragraph 38 to paragraphs 39 and 40 in order to show what an independent nuclear capability really was and how far short of this the financial estimates were.
  7. Mr C.L.S. Hewitt (Secretary, Prime Minister's Department) said that in paragraph 93 there should be reference to matters covered in paragraph 63. Cabinet's attention should be drawn more forcibly to the injection of foreigners in our life as represented by inspectors of various activities at various levels. It should be mentioned specifically instead of being included in the dragnet clause 93(c).
  8. Sir Henry Bland said that the document did not sufficiently direct attention to the civil side. He considered that Australia should seek amendments to the Treaty that would attempt some severance of the civil and military obligations. He pointed out too that the Australian defence effort depended on civil capacity. He thought there was too much fuzziness in the paper. Too many assumptions were being made that we would not be liked by the United States if we did not go along with the Treaty, and that it would have implications for ANZUS. He said that this was insulting to Australia. We could not be xpected to go along with the United States on everything. Moreover by adhering to the Treaty there was the danger that we might put ourselves in too great dependence on the United States for civil development. Moreover the paper should not present the position as though Australia was likely to be the only man out. Other countries like Germany had doubts, and we might set out to encourage others and in that way find ourselves one of a band.
  9. Sir John Bunting commented that, despite what Sir Henry Bland had said, he was concerned about the likely effects on the United States.
  10. I said that I disagreed firmly with two arguments of Sir Henry Bland. First, I said that refusal of Australia to adhere to the Treaty, assuming most other significant countries did so, would not be a simple difference of opinion with the United States over world strategy and world order, because the Americans were trying to prevent the emergence of more nuclear powers. I thought the Americans might very well say that this changed their relations with Australia even on a question like ANZUS. Secondly, I thought it would be very bad for Australia to try to encourage other countries to resist the Treaty or to approach the question on the basis that we wanted the Treaty to fail. I thought it should be Australian policy to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and we should be trying to get the sort of treaty that we could adhere to ourselves. It would be very bad for our relations with America and, I thought, for its impact on Australian domestic opinion, if it appeared that Australia was trying to prevent a Treaty being reached on non-proliferation. It might be that we failed to secure the sort of treaty and understandings that we wanted, and that some other significant countries shared our views. But that was quite a different matter from approaching the question on the basis that a treaty was to be avoided if at all possible. In my opinion, Australia should want an effective treaty.
  11. Mr Hewitt asked whether Australia had received any concrete intimation from the United States that it very much wanted Australia to adhere to the Treaty, and that our failure to do so would have a harmful effect on relations with the United States.
  12. I replied that this had never, as far as I knew, been said to us directly. Late in 1967 Mr Foster (the head of the Disarmament Agency in the United States, and an important figure in the Administration) had spoken to me in New York of the importance which the United States attached to the Treaty, and had said that the United States would put very great pressure on any country which failed to sign. But I said that we had deliberately avoided probing the United States too deeply on this until Cabinet had had a chance to determine policy, because if we were to make an approach it might lead to a firm statement of the American position towards Australia and the Treaty before our own views had been set.
  13. Sir Henry Bland said it was significant that in all the cables from Washington there had been no reference to the United States putting pressure on Australia. His own interpretation was that it was the typical situation of the United States taking us for granted.
  14. Sir Philip Baxter said that he was not an advocate of nuclear proliferation, as my remarks might have implied, but he was an advocate of keeping the option open for Australia to manufacture nuclear weapons. The paper at present under discussion was a Defence paper. There should be another paper on civil use, in which other Departments, including the Department of Trade, should have the opportunity to express views. There should be reference to industrial espionage. By adhering to the Treaty Australia would accept an obligation to have IAEA safeguards which could be altered by the Agency; Australia would be signing a blank cheque. It was most important to have a reservation to cover that.
  15. The Committee then briefly discussed the paper page by page. I shall not recall the whole of the discussion but only some points of special interest.
  16. On paragraph 20 Mr M.C. Timbs (AAEC) said that the definition of 'manufacture' was of no importance because the IAEA Statutes would cover such a field as to nullify any benefits from securing a closer definition of 'manufacture'.
  17. Sir Henry Bland said that the attention of Cabinet should be drawn to the particular conception of IAEA negotiating agreements with individual countries. IAEA would have all the cards in its hands, because it would [negotiate]6 separately with each country and would be in a position to dominate the negotiations. It would be dictating the Treaty for each country. I said that I did not agree with that. The individual countries would have some contact with one another and could secure uniformity and avoid the IAEA playing them off against one another. I agreed however that this was a point to which attention might be drawn.
  18. On paragraph 24 Sir Philip Baxter raised an objection to the last sentence, which reads 'For Australia, the adherence of some countries of South East Asia, particularly Indonesia, would be of special significance'. Sir Philip said that not only Indonesia but every country of South East Asia was important. If a South East Asian country did not adhere to the Treaty, it would be possible for China to move nuclear weapons into it which could be used against Australia. I said that I thought the sentence should remain. We had to look at the threat to Australia in broad terms, and the fact that Burma or Cambodia did not adhere to the Treaty would not in itself be a reason for Australia [staying]7 out. It would have to be weighed in the balance against other factors. But Indonesia was worth special mention, because of its size, its closeness to Australia, and the special importance of its foreign policy to Australia. The Committee agreed to leave paragraph 24 in its present form.
  19. On paragraph 31, Mr Timbs said that the State Department's statement was a red herring.
  20. There then followed a fairly long discussion on finance (paragraphs 35 to 38).
  21. Mr A.S. Cooley (Secretary, Department of Supply) said the costs set out in the Appendix had been carefully worked out. It covered the costs of war-heads, but not delivery systems etc.
  22. Sir Philip Baxter said that some of the costs were quite accurate and were based on past experience in Australia and overseas. But the costs for producing concentrated U235 were much less certain, and the figures in the paper were subject to error on that point. But Australia was not likely to make it that way. The centrifuge method was emerging as operable and economic. The cost for a nuclear weapons programme was not very large, and was not likely to be more than double what was shown in the paper and could indeed be less than shown in the paper. The scientific world was bursting with reports of cheaper and easier methods of making weapons. He said he admitted there was nothing in the paper on delivery systems, but he was under the impression that the F111 was a nuclear bomber.
  23. Sir Richard Randall said that what Mr Cooley and Sir Philip Baxter had said supported in his opinion what he had said earlier. Manufacturing nuclear weapons was only the beginning of things. The paper should define what was meant by 'independent capability', and in this connexion should draw on paragraphs 39 and 40.
  24. I repeated my earlier question about what was the effect of a nuclear weapons programme on the other parts of a Defence programme. The paper assumed that nuclear weapons would be superimposed on the present Defence forces, but there would be considerable changes. Perhaps the present conventional forces would be cut. Alternatively could the economy stand both conventional forces and nuclear forces? I also remarked on Sir Philip Baxter's statement about the F111 being a means of delivering nuclear weapons; I said that, if Australia is going to get into the nuclear weapons field, we probably had to think of intercontinental missiles.
  25. Sir Richard Randall intervened again to support what I had said about nuclear forces being superimposed on conventional forces.
  26. Sir Philip Baxter said that we should not think of nuclear weapons only as a deterrent. There were technical uses for them, and they could be used as depth charges. You could sneak them into enemy cities.
  27. There then followed a lengthy discussion on paragraphs 84 to 90. Sir Henry Bland circulated a revised text which indicated that we should not take it for granted that the United States would react badly to Australia not signing the Treaty. The discussion was confused because, as I pointed out, Sir Henry Bland was confusing 82(b)8 and 82(c). I said that we should not discuss at present with the United States what it would do if Australia did not sign the treaty. On the contrary, we should try to get the sort of treaty we could sign. This part of the paper is now being redrafted.
  28. Air Marshal Sir Alister Murdoch (CAS)9 said we should try and get the ANZUS Treaty strengthened as a condition of Australia signing the non-proliferation treaty. It should be made more watertight that the United States had to come to Australia's assistance in the case of need. I replied that this was simply not a starter. In the present mood of Congress, an amendment to strengthen a Treaty commitment for defence could not be adopted. Furthermore, the real basis of security was not simply a legal treaty, important though it was, but the development of mutual trust and co-operation between Australia and the United States.
  29. Some amendments were made to paragraph 93,10 which largely had the general effect of making it more specific and clear.
  30. Sir John Bunting asked that a revised paper should be available for Ministers by tonight or by 7.15 a.m. tomorrow so that Ministers could have copies before they scattered for the weekend. Otherwise, he knew from experience that not all Ministers would get the paper in time. The Defence Committee therefore agreed, though the paper in its present form was longer than desirable, it was better to pass it to Ministers in substantially the present form rather than have the delay of preparing a new and briefer paper. It will be revised by a small group in the light of this morning's discussion but, as it would not be possible for members of the Committee to see it again before circulation to Ministers, it was open to any member to brief his Minister if he disagreed on any points of the final version.
  31. Lieut.-General Sir John Wilton (Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee) was absent because he is in Viet-Nam.11

[NAA: A1838, 680/10/2 part 3]