146 Summary Record of Inter-Departmental Working Group Meeting

Canberra, 23 July 1968

Secret

[matter omitted]

  1. Mr Booker said that he had been informed that the Prime Minister and Mr Hasluck had decided to seek Cabinet's agreement to a proposition that Australia should sign the nonproliferation treaty now, and at the same time should state its requirements for ratification. They had also discussed the conference of non-nuclear weapon states. Here the External Affairs view was that the conference was directly relevant to the treaty, and Australia could not afford not to participate. At the ministerial level, however, a case still had to be made for representation. He sought the views of the meeting on these two subjects.
  2. Mr Timbs, Australian Atomic Energy Commission, said that the commission felt that Australia should participate in the non-nuclear conference, and that it should be represented fairly strongly from a technical point of view. As a result of recent talks he had had with atomic energy authorities in Japan, Britain, Italy and West Germany, he expected that the conference would be used for talks about safeguards. The Japanese had suggested that we talk to them about regional arrangements for safeguards. Others would want to discuss the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
  3. Mr Timbs said that the British atomic energy authorities were unhappy about the treaty safeguards. They wanted the safeguards re-examined and the system simplified. They had agreed with the U.S.A., however, not to raise the question in public until a number of countries had signed the treaty. They would be canvassing their views at the non-nuclear conference. It was essential that Australia should be able to counter threats to its positions on safeguards and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy at the conference.
  4. As regards the draft Cabinet submission, the A.A.E.C. did not and could not support the proposition for signature at this stage. The delegation's report was reasonable as far as it went. But we could not assert that it provided all the answers to Cabinet's questions.
  5. Mr Timbs argued that if we did sign, we would be eroding the pressure we could bring to bear to get the assurances we wanted. He said that he did not agree with paragraph 25 of the draft submission (which set out the conditions Australia might want to see met before it ratifies). The report of the delegation was useful as a jumping off point in the search for future clarification.
  6. In regard to the points of concern with the treaty, the report did not say much about Euratom or Europe. What would happen if two regional blocs emerged in Europe, and the inspectors came from within those groups? The Russians wanted to get Russians into West Germany. The U.S. would continue to support Euratom.
  7. He had always felt that the question of 'manufacture' was a red herring. The situation had not been dealt with properly at all. We were trying to delude ourselves that defence industries would not be subject to inspection and that if we declared that something was for a nonexplosive purpose this would suffice. We would not be able to reduce the lead time for the production of nuclear weapons to one or two years under the treaty since if material went into defence establishments it would still be subject to inspection. In a talk with Mr Scoville,1 the latter had said that non-nuclear parties to the treaty could not avoid safeguards simply by declaring that a particular piece of work had a non-explosive military purpose.
  8. Mr Timbs said that we would be able to use material for non-explosive military purposes, but only after the project had been evaluated. It would be necessary to do this to establish credibility. We should not be misled by what had happened about manufacture.
  9. In comments on the report, he said that two I.A.E.A. inspectors were coming to Australia now instead of as formerly one. We could expect two inspectors in future. Contrary to the official view given in New York, some American firms were very worried about the likely incidence of safeguards. The U.S.–Mexico–I.A.E.A. agreement2 on safeguards provided for the application of article XX (of the I.A.E.A. statute).3 This matter was not sufficiently clear at present.
  10. Mr Timbs [matter omitted] declared that the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. would expect to follow source and special fissionable material everywhere, unless the credibility of a project were established openly, that is unless we disclosed what we were going to do.
  11. He asked if we would gain anything by signing now. If we did sign, for example, would it mean that the McMahon Act would be amended to allow the U.S.A. to do more for other countries? He believed that it would not. Would it mean that the Dutch and Germans would give more help? No it would not. After quoting from a record of his talk with Mr Scoville, he concluded that we would get no more information on nuclear subjects under the treaty than we got now, but under the treaty it would be an obligation to give the information, not an act of grace as it was now.

[matter omitted]

  1. In answer to a question from the chairman,4 Mr Timbs said that until we signed the treaty we would be in a strong position. When we signed, we would lose influence. The arguments for delaying ratification in fact were arguments for not signing now. Mr Timbs left the meeting at this point.
  2. The chairman sought comments on the proposition that Australia should sign the treaty now and ratify later, if and when its residual points of concern had been satisfied.
  3. Mr Booker said that the External Affairs view was that, unless the treaty damaged Australia's interests, we should sign it and ratify it. The proposition was based on the assumption that we would sign in good faith, and if we were satisfied on our points of concern we would ratify.
  4. Mr Booker said that he interpreted Mr Timbs as having said we should not sign now because it would damage our national interests. It seemed, however, that most of Mr Timbs' points had been directed towards Australia's being able to make nuclear weapons rather than towards preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. He wondered about the status of Mr Timbs's talks on weapons policy with representatives of other governments. It was a fundamental question for ministers whether we accepted that our security was better met by nuclear nonproliferation or by the development of our own weapons. He had also been concerned to hear Mr Timbs mention that he had discussed the possibility with other countries of a regional safeguards organisation in our area, and wondered how far this question had been taken. It was a matter on which the government had not yet determined policy.
  5. Mr Booker said that there were three separate areas in regard to the treaty. First, there was the political–diplomatic area. Here government policy was clear: effective control of armaments should be sought through international arrangements. The second field was that of Australian defence and weapons policy; this was the responsibility of the Department of Defence. The third was safeguards and the disabilities we might suffer in the civil field. This was the legitimate concern of the A.A.E.C. It would be for Cabinet to decide the balance between the advantages and disadvantages in these three fields of our adhering to the treaty.
  6. Mr Booker said that we had pursued the question of manufacture at the instigation of the A.A.E.C. It may now have been shown to be a will-o'-the-wisp indeed; but the result of our efforts was to show that—notwithstanding the existence of a small 'grey area'—the words of the treaty meant what they said. We still had to seek many answers; but the chances of getting these might now come more quickly—at the non-nuclear conference and in the I.A.E.A. If the answers were the ones we wanted, we could decide to ratify the treaty; if they were not, we need not.
  7. If we were going to sign the treaty, he believed that we must do our best to carry other important countries with us. Our influence with other countries would be enhanced if we signed.

[matter omitted]

  1. Mr Griffith commented that we would have to have our non-explosive military uses of nuclear energy evaluated. Mr Booker said that the question was whether you would be able to reduce the lead time for the production of nuclear weapons under the treaty, and whether in the 'grey area' it would be possible to defeat the treaty. If we signed the treaty, he did not think it would be our intention to break it in secret.
  2. The chairman asked what was the view of the A.A.E.C. regarding the possibility of reducing the lead time for the production of nuclear weapons under the treaty. Mr Thomas said that he now felt, as a result of what Mr Scoville had said to Mr Timbs, that we might not be able to reduce our lead time as much as we had thought.

[matter omitted]

[NAA: A1838, 680/10/2 part 6]