119 Record of Meeting of Officials of the United States and Australian Governments

Canberra, 19 April 1968


Draft Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons - Summary Record


United States of America

Mr Herbert Scoville, Assistant Director, Bureau of Science and Technology, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (Leader).
Mr George Bunn, General Counsel, ACDA
Mr Howard C. Brown, Senior Assistant General Manager, US Atomic Energy Commission
Mr Allan M. Labowitz, Special Assistant for Disarmament, AEC


Mr G.E. Blakers, Deputy Secretary, Department of Defence (Chairman of Meeting)
Department of External Affairs
Mr M.R. Booker, First Assistant Secretary (Alternate Chairman)
Mr W.B. Pritchett, Assistant Secretary
Department of Defence
Mr E.L.D. White, First Assistant Secretary
Mr E.G. Barlow, First Assistant Controller, Research and Development, Department of Supply (on secondment)
Department of the Treasury
Mr M.W. O'Donnell, Deputy Secretary
Department of Trade and Industry
Mr K.J. Heffernan, Assistant Secretary
Department of Supply
Mr H.A. Wills, Chief Scientist
Mr G.F. Cawsey, Superintendent, Research Programmes, Defence Standards Laboratories
Department of National Development
Mr R.D. Deas, Engineer in Charge, Power Section, Water, Power and Geographic Branch
Australian Atomic Energy Commission
Mr A.D. Thomas, Head, International Relations
Dr A.R.W. Wilson, Deputy Director, AAEC Research Establishment

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8. Mr Scoville then discussed the position of the more significant countries. He said that the US thought that Japan would support the treaty in its present form and would be helpful in the UN. They might seek some changes in the review provisions.

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10. The most critical countries were the UAR and Israel, and the Middle East was the most critical area for trying to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. There seemed to be no way of bringing these two countries together on a bilateral basis, but the treaty could provide an umbrella for bringing about a more secure situation in the area.

11. The US felt that the UAR and Israel each would probably sign if the other did. The treaty provided a means of applying safeguards on the respective civil programmes and so to some extent of alleviating suspicion of each other's intentions.

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14. The East bloc was solidly behind the treaty, except Roumania. However, he felt the latter's actions were more an assertion of independence rather than real opposition and that it would probably sign eventually.

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28. Mr Bunn said that a majority in the Bundestag supported the idea of non-proliferation. Recently in Geneva, the Germans had circulated a memorandum regarding the treaty, and the final version took care of every point it made except one that sought a promise from the Soviet Union that it would not use nuclear blackmail against Germany. What they wanted came very close to a 'ban the bomb' clause, and the US could not accept this. It considered that German protection would not lie in this sort of provision, but in their alliances. Although they would have liked to have seen this clause incorporated in the treaty, he thought they would be prepared to sign in the last resort.

29. Mr Pritchett said that a member of Adam Malik's staff (the Indonesian Foreign Minister was visiting Australia) had told him that Indonesia would not sign, and then had added that it would want to see a lot of changes first. Mr Scoville said that the US had been expecting that Indonesia would sign, although further diplomatic action in regard to them might be necessary.

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37. Turning to the philosophy of the treaty, Mr Scoville said that it had two major objectives in US eyes. The first was to promote the security of the world as a whole. The spread of nuclear weapons to new countries was a de-stabilising influence and increased tension around the world. A small nuclear conflagration could involve the whole world. He cited the hostilities in the Middle East last June as an engagement that could have got out of control if there had been even the suspicion of the possession of nuclear weapons by either side.

38. America felt that you could no longer afford to have selective proliferation. Local conflicts could become nuclear wars; but also nuclear weapons could be a de-stabilising influence domestically—for instance, custody of the weapons might give rise to conflict within a state. The United States felt that the treaty was the most promising means of averting these situations.

39. He suggested that Australia might join countries that shared awareness of the problem in exerting as much influence as possible on doubtful countries with a view to getting them to sign the treaty. He did not think that Australia could look with equanimity upon the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

40. What protection would a non-nuclear country have if it signed the treaty? The US, the UK and the USSR had agreed to sponsor a UN resolution to provide security assurances under the charter. This did not have much application to Australia as we had stronger military assurances already. It was intended particularly for the non-aligned countries. This kind of assurance will be of some value to countries like India and the fact that the US and the USSR had agreed upon it should give the Chinese some pause for thought if they were contemplating a nuclear threat against India. It would mean that one or the other of the US or USSR would come to India's help and the other would not obstruct.

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49. Mr Scoville said that undoubtedly the US would sign, but it might not ratify. The fact that France and China were not going to sign would not render the treaty ineffective. But India, Israel and the UAR would be serious losses. In this case, too, others might sign but not ratify. Of course, the Russians were particularly concerned to have the Germans become a party.

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Australian questions

53. The chairman turned the discussion to specific questions that the Australian officials wished to ask the American visitors.


54. The chairman said that one of the main problems in guarding against proliferation of weapons was that it could inhibit the progress of civil technology. Did the word 'manufacture' in articles I and II apply only to the assembly of a weapon or did it mean other work as well? What was the US interpretation of the word, and also the USSR interpretation?

55. Mr Scoville replied that research and development work, including the enrichment of U235, was permitted by the NPT. There was nothing in the NPT which prevented either research and development or the production of fissionable material. There were, however, safeguards to prevent diversion of fissionable material to weapons development.

56. Mr Booker asked if this were true even if the real intention were the improvement of a weapons capability. Mr Scoville: Yes.

57. Dr Wilson asked if the treaty would prevent a country from developing a fast reactor programme and building up stocks of U235.

58. Mr Scoville said that there was nothing to stop this activity but that it would have to come under safeguards. Dr Wilson asked if there were any hazard in allowing states to build up stocks of U235. Mr Scoville said that there was always the hazard that countries could abrogate the treaty after stockpiling this material. But, in doing so, they would bring down upon themselves the wrath of the world.

59. Mr Booker asked if the US were confident that such stockpiling would be known under NPT safeguards. Mr Scoville said yes. Under safeguards, they would be able to keep a check on this.

60. Mr Thomas asked whether, when the treaty was in force, the US would release information on enrichment processes, which were now under some limitations.

61. Mr Scoville said that the US had kept the technology of U235 production classified as it was such an important factor in the development of weapons. It had agreed, however, to make available U235, in accordance with agreements, to countries for use in their peaceful programmes on a non-discriminatory basis and at the same price as it was sold domestically in the US. This benefited everybody and helped in reducing the risk of proliferation.

62. Mr Thomas asked what would be the position in the future when there was likely to be a big expansion of nuclear power stations. Some countries might wish to make enriched material themselves even if they could not do it as cheaply as the US.

63. Mr Scoville said there was nothing in the treaty to stop countries from building their own enrichment plants. These would have to be under safeguards. He repeated that the US had no plans to de-classify its information on enrichment processes at the present, and he could not say if this would change in the future.

64. Mr Bunn said that he could not see a situation where a country would want to use this information to a point where it could make enriched uranium. From the points of availability, cost and needs, this was not economically feasible at present.

65. Dr Wilson asked if a country would have to show an economic case for undertaking a specific activity. Mr Scoville said no.

66. Dr Wilson said that it had been reported that there was a general discouragement to let new information about the centrifuge process circulate to other countries, and asked if the climate of the treaty would end this situation.

67. Mr Scoville said that it might, but he saw no real need for it at this stage. They were worried about the centrifuge process because this process was susceptible to use in a clandestine weapons plant.

68. Mr Brown said that they had discouraged the release of information on the centrifuge process as an impediment to proliferation. If developments warranted a review of this policy, the US would review it. He argued that press reports suggesting that there had been a spectacular breakthrough in this process in the Netherlands were exaggerated, and suggested that a perusal of the record of the debate in the Dutch parliament would confirm this view.

69. In answer to a question from Mr Thomas, Mr Scoville said that there was nothing in the treaty to stop the Europeans from building an enrichment plant of their own.

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75. In response to a question from Mr Cawsey he said that research on plutonium metallurgy would not be stopped. But it was precluded to put nuclear material in a device and explode.

76. Mr Cawsey said that this was not the point. Some countries might feel it necessary to reach a stage of knowledge about weapons not worse than other countries. Mr Scoville said that research short of assembling a device would probably be allowed. If research were carried out but no weapon produced, this would be all right.

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83. Mr Thomas said that it was important to know what constituted manufacture. Mr Scoville said that the IAEA would decide what was allowed and what was not. Some things clearly were allowed, for example basic physics research, and others were clearly not, for example building prototype weapons or explosive devices.

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92. Dr Wilson went on to ask about work directed solely to the improvement of nuclear weapons capability, short of actual assembly. Countries could do a number of things without being involved in manufacture, for example studies in plutonium metallurgy and work on initiators. If no agreement had been reached on this question with the USSR and the IAEA ultimately were to make the determination, this left the definition of manufacture fairly open. What was the philosophy in this respect? Was the treaty simply to stop people producing weapons or to stop them improving their capacity to do so if they wished to go outside the treaty?

93. Mr Scoville said that he thought the former interpretation was the correct one. The basic obligation which the non-nuclear weapons countries assumed under the treaty was not to acquire nuclear weapons. If one developed an initiator would this be allowable? He did not know. He was not prepared to say if this were manufacture and whether or not it would be allowed.

94. Mr Booker said that the interpretation that would suit our position and for which we would hope for endorsement in the General Assembly was one which said that, under the treaty, manufacture for any purpose for which there was a peaceful use, notwithstanding that there might also be a use for weapons, would be allowable. Thus an initiator which had only a weapons application would presumably be banned. Would this definition hold in international debate, he asked.

95. Mr Scoville said that he would like to think about it. The definition made sense to him, but he had not thought about it in those terms. Personally, he thought it a mistake to try for too precise a definition, because you could not anticipate all circumstances.

96. Mr Booker said that he thought the best approach was definition by elimination. Mr Scoville agreed.

97. Mr Pritchett said that this seemed to be different from what Mr Scoville had said earlier. He had understood that all work short of manufacture would be permissible. Mr Bunn said that if you made all the parts of your weapon but did not put them together, you would presumably be in breach of the treaty.

98. Mr Booker said that this was a question to be resolved. Was it all right to make fissionable material for whatever eventual purpose, provided you did not divert this to weapons use? Was it also true that if you were engaged in manufacturing processes which had no other conceivable purpose than making a weapon, it would be banned? If both these things were true Australia would be deprived of the right to work on the ultimate stages of technology for which there was no other purpose than the manufacture of an explosive device. It would not however be deprived of the whole range of work for which there ere peaceful purposes, whatever its real intent. Mr Bunn agreed.

99. Mr Booker asked if, under the treaty, a number of countries would be able to approach the brink of nuclear weapons manufacture. Mr Bunn thought that the incentives pointed the other way. Under the treaty countries would be undertaking not to develop nuclear weapons, so why rush to the brink? This was relevant to the argument for a shorter duration of the treaty. If it had a shorter duration, countries would be encouraged to approach the brink, so that they would be ready if necessary to make weapons when the treaty ceased.

100. Mr White asked if work on non-nuclear high explosives, which could be used in a bomb, would be permissible. Mr Scoville said that he would read article 1 to mean that nuclear countries would breach the treaty if they transferred non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear nations. Mr White commented that the treaty only provided for safeguards on source and special fissionable materials.

101. Dr Wilson said that it was important to know how far one could go and still be within the treaty. There was no disagreement about work which had dual purposes, but there was general uncertainly about steps leading to the brink of weapons manufacture.

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142. Mr Thomas said that the present definition of a principal nuclear facility excluded mines and ore processing plants. The board of governors in February this year approved an extension of the safeguards system to conversion plants. Under certain circumstances, this extension would cover part of an ore processing plant. Would ore processing and mining continue to be free of safeguards under the NPT? Should we do anything about amending the safeguards system to provide for that? It was not clear how this freedom could be consistent with the treaty requirement that all source materials should be under safeguards.

143. Mr Scoville said that the US did not think it necessary or desirable to have safeguards on mines and unprocessed ore. This would involve enormous practical and technical problems. Where did you start? What was a mine? The time to begin safeguards was when you had concentrated material in a manageable form, and at the point where diversion had practical meaning.

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169. Mr Thomas said that article XII (A) 5 of the statute1 provided that fissionable materials recovered as a by-product shall be deposited with the agency and returned when required, and asked how the US saw this being applied under the NPT. Was it contemplated that the material must be deposited outside the country of origin, and if so would very significant costs be involved?

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172. Mr Labowitz asked whether Mr Thomas regarded depositing with the agency as different from depositing under safeguards. Mr Thomas said that he thought so. This material was always under safeguards whether or not you had to ship it out of the country of origin. It seemed that the term 'deposit with the agency' implied some kind of action, for instance shipment of the material out of the country.

173. Mr Scoville said that he did not agree. He thought shipment was just one possible method and a costly one. As time went by, the amounts of material would get bigger and he thought they would be stored in sealed containers in the country of origin and checked by the IAEA from time to time. Dr Wilson said that it seemed the drafters of the treaty wanted control of by-product material to rest with the agency.

174. Mr Scoville thought that, whether or not material was stockpiled, it was still in the control of the country that produced it. The IAEA just made sure that it was not diverted to weapons. One way of doing this was to put it in sealed containers in the country of origin. This presented a problem in that, if the country violated the treaty, it would have a nice stockpile. Another way would be to stockpile it outside the country of origin and in this case the country could get it back at any time. But this would involve additional expense.

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183. In response to a question from the chairman, Mr Scoville said that the treaty did not prevent building up a stockpile, although this would be under safeguards. Such a stockpile could of course become a matter of concern.

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191. Mr Scoville said that at present there were no procedures for safeguarding enrichment plants. The whole subject was at an early stage. But they were doing research and were looking at techniques that would involve little or no intrusion into the plant. They might involve input and output checks but would not require disclosure or any secret processes. In any case, he could not believe that the basic process would be a great secret, giving great commercial advantage. The advantages came on more detailed points of engineering—how you made this or that stage more efficient. Even if there were to be inspection of plants, you might still carry this out without letting the inspector see your approach on these more detailed questions.

192. It was the feeling of US industry that safeguards inspections did not involve a serious risk of the disclosure of industrial secrets. This had come up in earlier discussions in the US and their industrial people had not expressed any great worry about the industrial secrets problem. They felt that the information that they had to disclose for safety purpose at the beginning of their work was far more sensitive than that which would be necessary for ascertaining whether diversion existed.

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228. Mr Booker said that in Australia there seemed at present better possibilities in excavation. But these could not be undertaken because of the test ban treaty. What were the chances of amending the treaty? Mr Labowitz gave it as his personal view that, until the technology of excavation was developed to a point permitting realistic assessment, the chances of getting an amendment to the treaty would probably be small. It might be a questionable tactic to seek an amendment at this stage. To do this when the technology was not developed might arouse excessive controversy.

229. Dr Wilson said that Australia might be hindered in the application of most immediate use to it. 'Cratering' technology was the most advanced, yet under the test ban treaty you could not engage in the experiments most needed to develop that technology. You could not carry out nuclear excavations. Mr Labowitz said that last December the US conducted a cratering experiment and that in February it carried out a gas-buggy experiment. It considered that these had been successful and felt confident that it could continue to develop excavation technology. In fact, it was continuing in the context of a specific project. A commission had been directed to investigate the feasibility of building a trans-isthmus canal and included in its instructions was an investigation of the use of nuclear explosives.

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235. The chairman asked what were the extraordinary circumstances that might justify withdrawal.

236. Mr Bunn said that the wording came from the test ban treaty. The US had wanted the option to withdraw from that treaty in the face of continuing Chinese testing. It was clear that the extraordinary circumstances related to nuclear matters. If a non-nuclear country belonged to the NPT and were threatened with nuclear weapons or believed its neighbours were acquiring these it could exercise the right to withdraw from the treaty. The determination of this threat rests with the country concerned.

237. Mr Booker asked if this meant that the right to withdraw rested on a nuclear threat and that you could not withdraw in the face of a conventional threat. Mr Bunn said that this had been the general thinking. It had not been clearly defined. Mr Booker said that, on the face of it, this denied parties the right to withdraw if threatened with conventional aggression. Mr Bunn said that he thought this was a reasonable interpretation, but it was not one that the US had made in public.

238. Mr Booker asked if it were open to a country to say it wanted nuclear weapons if it had no other way of meeting a conventional threat. Mr Bunn said that the US had said at one stage that it would not use nuclear weapons on a non-nuclear country unless the latter was engaged in an act of aggression assisted by a nuclear weapons country. This nuclear threat must be in the background.

239. Mr Booker said that he assumed that the US would still be prepared to assist its allies to meet a conventional threat with conventional means. But on the basis of the wording of article X of the treaty it appeared that to justify withdrawal you could not rest on the argument that you had to have nuclear means to meet a conventional threat. Mr Bunn said that this was for each country to decide, but he believed that any attempt to withdraw on the basis of a conventional threat would be widely challenged.

240. Mr Booker said that this question raised issues fundamental to the security not only of countries like Australia but of non-aligned countries. Could we look forward to being able to withdraw without challenge if we could not point to a specific event to justify this. Mr Bunn said that he did not think we could.

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244. The chairman asked if Mr Bunn could visualise an extraordinary event in Australia's case. Mr Bunn said that in the case of an attack by a massive conventional force in which the US refused to supply nuclear aid, speaking personally, he would have thought this would clearly be an extraordinary event. He was not saying that the USSR or someone else might not object.

245. Mr Pritchett said that this may be a classic weakness in the treaty. You were denying states without alliances that were faced with conventional weapons attacks the right to protect their supreme interests with nuclear weapons. Mr Scoville said that the object of the treaty was to prevent nuclear war. It had to be read tightly. Mr Booker agreed, but said that up to now some countries had taken comfort by replying on the use of nuclear weapons to guard against massive conventional attack.

246. Mr Scoville said that nuclear war would be a worse situation. Countries were better off without nuclear weapons. You would then solve conflicts by other means.


247. The chairman said that the treaty was to last 25 years, then you would meet to see for how long you would extend it. It was impossible to foresee the security situation for that long a period or what technological developments would have taken place. The treaty might be more acceptable if the duration were shorter.

248. Mr Bunn said that the 25 years was a compromise between those who wanted a treaty of indefinite duration (like the Russians and Canadians) and those who wanted a treaty of 10 or 15 years (like the Italians). He felt that a duration of 10–15 years would make for a very unstable treaty. We could have a count-down situation where five years from the expiry date states would start wondering about their neighbours and perhaps preparing to get weapons. A period of 25 years would remove much of this uncertainty.

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[NAA: A1838, 680/10/2 part 4]