147 Report by Non-Proliferation Treaty Working Group for Defence Committee

Canberra, 12 August 1968


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Points of Concern to Australia in the Treaty

7. Cabinet Decision No. 1651 of 29th April, 1968, set out Australia's main concerns with the treaty. It directed the delegation to the resumed session of the General Assembly (from 24 April to 12 June) to raise these matters with other delegations or groups of delegations 'on the basis of seeking explanations, clarifications and assurances'.

8. The report of the delegation to the General Assembly on the non-proliferation item has been circulated separately. The delegations views are summarized in paragraphs 123 to 127. Immediately following this paper is a brief resume of the points of concern to Australia raised in Cabinet Decision No. 165. The positions as reported by the delegation, and as modified by subsequent events, will be considered in the order that they appear in the Decision.


(i) Efficacy of the Treaty

  1. The treaty is almost certain to be ratified by a sufficient number of countries to come into force at an early date.
  2. Cabinet however considered it of critical importance to Australia's position that India, Pakistan, Japan and Indonesia should ultimately join. Of these Japan will, it is believed, eventually sign; India will not sign for the present and the intentions of Pakistan and Indonesia cannot be forecast.
  3. The non-nuclear countries which have advanced nuclear technology or are important producers of source materials include Canada, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, Israel, Argentina, Brazil, Czechoslovakia and Romania. Of these Canada, Czechoslovakia and Romania have signed. Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, and perhaps Israel are likely to sign fairly soon; West Germany and Switzerland are likely to sign eventually. No estimate can be given of the attitudes of Portugal, Spain, South Africa, Argentina and Brazil.

Some of these, and other countries, are likely to delay signature or ratification pending the Non-Nuclear Powers Conference in September and/or negotiations with the IAEA. Australia's position in relation to sub-para (b) has not yet been met and is unlikely to be satisfied in the near future.

(ii) Impact on Australia's Commercial Interests

Cabinet noted that Australia as a party to the Treaty must be concerned that markets should not be denied and that e.g. Japan should ratify the treaty. It is believed that Japan will eventually adhere to the treaty. Australia's adherence to the NPT would facilitate the export of nuclear materials. However, exports of nuclear materials could still be made to non-signatory countries subject to IAEA safeguards. France is a nuclear country and therefore export without safeguards is permissible under the treaty.

(iii) Manufacture

On 13th May, 1968, the United States delivered an aide-memoire2 which set out the American replies to enquiries made by the Australian delegation containing an interpretation of 'manufacture'. The subsequent transmission of this document to Britain, the Euratom countries, Canada, Japan and South Africa has added to its interpretative force. The interpretation has since been read into the Congressional record of the US Senate hearings concerning ratification of the NPT. The United States has stated that the USSR shares their view on this interpretation. In addition, in the UN debate the Australian interpretation was unchallenged and was supported in private consultation with a number of significant nations and provides a satisfactory basis with regard to peaceful uses of atomic energy.

(iv) Safeguards

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(c) Cabinet wished to ensure that the mining and refining of uranium (and thorium-from beach sands minerals) would not be subject to safeguards, should Australia become a party to the Treaty. Other delegations, specifically major uranium producers such as Canada and South Africa, took the same view as Australia. In its aide-memoire on 13 May, 1968, the United States stated that safeguards would be applied in accordance with the Statute and safeguards system of the IAEA; and that the definitions of 'source material' in the Statute 'specifically exclude mines or ore-processing plants from the definition of principal nuclear facilities'. The US Congressional record also will state that 'IAEA practice does not involve the application of safeguards to uranium mines and ore-processing plants. The NPT requires no change in this practice'. However, the question as to the point of application of safeguards is still under discussion in the IAEA and Australian representatives should continue to press for satisfactory assurances. The environment for obtaining assurances for 'refining plants' is not favourable.
(d) The definitions in Article XX of the IAEA Statute3 provide for the addition of such material 'as the Board of Governors shall from time to time determine'. Cabinet determined that Australia would not necessarily accept future extensions of the scope of the IAEA safeguards system. The procedure to be adopted for dealing with extensions to definitions will arise at the time of preparing the safeguards agreements to be concluded with IAEA under the Treaty (see also (h) below).
(e) The US aide-memoire recalled the IAEA Statute Article XII A(5) provision empowering the Agency to accept on deposit nuclear material excess to a country's current needs. The aide-memoire pointed out that this provision had never been implemented and that under the NPT national stockpiling of fissionable material was not prohibited, so long as safeguards were applied to it. The US considers that the stockpiling provision of the IAEA Statute does not appear relevant to an NPT safeguards agreement. No delegation mentioned the question in the UN but the British delegation agreed privately with the US view which has now been read into the Congressional record. It seems unlikely, on present evidence, that this Article of the Statute will be invoked.

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(g) Cabinet felt that it was not necessary to instruct the delegation on regional groupings. The delegation heard of no suggestion in New York that any states might be considering the formation of a regional grouping such as Euratom to negotiate a safeguards agreement. The Study mentioned in the Cabinet decision is proceeding. An important development has been an approach by the Japanese Ministry of Science and Technology to the AAEC suggesting preliminary discussions in a regional grouping in Asia and the Pacific, at the non-nuclears' conference.
(h) As regards Cabinet's requirement for certainty about safeguards and the nonmandatory nature of subsequent amendments to the Statute and safeguards system, the delegation considered that a satisfactory response was forthcoming from most delegations. In bi-lateral talks and through the circulation of the US aide-memoire Australian requirements have been well established for future negotiations. The delegation said that there was significant support for the position that acceptance of the obligation to negotiate a safeguards agreement established no legal obligation to accept automatically subsequent amendments to the Statute and/or the safeguards system. The Americans said in their aide-memoire that they did not think it would be useful or desirable to raise in the UN, questions of 'model agreements' or additional interpretations of Article III.4 The aidememoire said that the matter of model agreements raised technical considerations which could best be handled in the context of the IAEA; the US would want to consult Australia closely, both bi-laterally and in Vienna, on these questions. No specific reference to either matter will be incorporated in the Congressional record. These are all questions on which the delegation's activities will have to be followed by continued pressure and probing and by the enlistment of support among like-minded countries. Action could be taken within the IAEA context and bi-laterally.

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(vi) Peaceful Nuclear Explosions

Cabinet wished to ensure that nuclear explosives for peaceful purposes:

  1. were not withheld for political or economic reasons;
  2. could be supplied on a bi-lateral basis, and
  3. were under international surveillance which would be limited to safety aspects and to ensuring that they would not further weapon developments.

Despite pressure for exclusive international control and consequent amendment of treaty, Article V which deals with peaceful nuclear explosions, principles (a) and (b) above remain clearly in the treaty and were reaffirmed in the Congressional record. Principle (c) is not embodied in the treaty which does not enlarge on 'appropriate international observation'.

There will be pressure at the non-nuclears conference to pursue international control of the use of nuclear explosives. (Some peaceful uses will require modification of the 'Limited Test Ban Treaty'.)

(vii) Withdrawal

No delegation suggested an interpretation of Article X (on withdrawal) that would restrict Australia's right to withdraw. The Australian statement stressed the need for the withdrawal provision. An American official said privately that the interpretation of this clause was left to parties to the treaty. [...]

(viii) Proposed Security Council Resolution

The Australian statement stressed the importance of the re-affirmation of the right to individual and collective self-defence. It said that Australia relied upon mutual security arrangements as the firm basis of its security. The Security Council has approved the resolution to provide security assurances to non-nuclear parties to the treaty. The question of security will probably be one of the main topics for consideration at the conference of non-nuclear countries. During the Senate hearing, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Wheeler,5 said that the JCS believed that any international agreement on the control of nuclear weapons must not operate to the disadvantage of the USA and its allies. Further it must not disrupt any existing defence alliances in which the US was pledged to help in protecting the political independence and territorial integrity of other countries. He said these principles had been observed.

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Non-explosive Military Use.

10. While Cabinet made no specific comment on the diversion of nuclear material to nonexplosive military use, the Australian delegation was instructed to state support for such diversion without application of safeguards. It did so, despite some demure by the United States and the fact no other delegation referred to the matter. The US delegation said that the Soviet Government agreed with the Australian understanding. It was in line with a prior US statement. Later contacts between AAEC and US ACDA showed that the ACDA thought that before diversion was accepted by IAEA, credibility of the end-use would have to be established. This could, perhaps, be done by revelation of the overall programme, its funding etc.

The Next Steps

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12. Two main grounds of concern remain for Australia in regard to the Treaty:

  1. The degree of support that the treaty attracts from the 'critical' countries in the Asian region and the so-called 'near-nuclear' countries.
  2. Certainty regarding the nature of the safeguards agreements to be negotiated between non-nuclear parties to the treaty and the IAEA.

[matter omitted]

14. It will be some time before we know what our obligations will be under the safeguards agreements. The Embassy in Vienna has reported that the IAEA Secretariat interprets Article III (4) of the treaty as precluding the start of negotiations on safeguards agreements, as distinct from informal discussions, before the treaty enters into force. From the outset of these informal discussions Australia must seek to influence the course of negotiations.

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Question of Signature

16. The question arises as to whether or not it would be desirable at this stage for Australia to sign the NPT. The final step of ratification, thereby making Australia a party to the treaty, would be for later consideration; hence signature at this time should be on the basis of withholding ratification until certain requirements, which should be specified prior to signature, have been satisfied. A suggested form of a statement upon these requirements is attached as Annex 5.

17. The arguments for signing at this stage may be stated as follows:

  1. An effective non-proliferation treaty would be in Australia's political and security interests and is an important objective of our policies. A basic condition for an effective treaty is the necessary degree of support. Our signature, or an indication of our willingness to sign, would enable us, should it be so decided, to use our influence in support of the treaty.
  2. Our example might serve to encourage other countries whose adherence would be important to us, either because we wish them to take positions similar to our own on particular matters or because they are significant in the political and strategic context of our geographical region.
  3. It would increase our standing in future discussions related to the treaty. In particular, it would enhance the authority of our views in seeking elucidation of Articles IV and V of the treaty and of the nature of the safeguards agreement to be negotiated under Article III.
  4. It would be an important expression of our earnest desire to contribute significantly to a lessening of tensions and to an improvement in international relationships, particularly in Asia and the Pacific. Specifically our signature, in assisting to bring the treaty into force, could assist in some degree in promoting the environment necessary for agreement on general nuclear arms limitation and eventually, perhaps, a measure of nuclear disarmament.
  5. It would facilitate our co-operation with the United States and thereby open improved opportunities for working with the US to achieve our desired objectives with respect to the implementation of the treaty (e.g. safeguards etc.). The USA has urged repeatedly that the treaty should come into force quickly while at the same time it has been especially helpful in considering our problems and points of view. Should Australia withhold support for the treaty by failing to sign for a significant period, we could expect US confidence in our attitude to be weakened and our political relations in other fields to become affected.
  6. Our position vis-a-vis the two other Depositary Governments (the UK and USSR) would be enhanced and may encourage them to lend their weight to interpretations of the treaty favourable to our interests.
  7. It is important that Australia should not acquire an isolated position, either alone or in company with nations of significantly different political outlooks. It may prove a wise decision to avoid the risk by indicating now a willingness to sign in the near future.
  8. It is unlikely that we shall achieve greater certainty on the nature of the safeguards agreements with the IAEA for some months. Withholding a signature on this account could therefore mean a prolonged deferment.
  9. Should Australia continue to withhold signature after the bulk of countries in the various geographical regions and political groupings have signed, which is expected shortly, we should invite suspicion as to our motives and policies and doubts about our support for an NPT.
  10. Signature would not imply ratification. Internationally, there is a strong distinction between the two. It would be essential for Australia to state, at the point of signature, the requirements it wanted to see met before it ratified.

18. The arguments against signing at this stage may be stated as follows:

  1. The assurances sought on many points considered important by Cabinet have not been met and these requirements should be stressed and explored further at forthcoming international conferences and in the IAEA.
  2. If Australia were to sign the treaty now this would weaken our capacity to influence the nuclear powers and other important non-nuclear countries and weaken our ability to secure the explanations, clarifications and assurances necessary to a meaningful decision regarding the treaty.
  3. The present signatories both in terms of their numbers and their individual significance, fail to meet one of the essential requirements of Cabinet for an effective treaty.
  4. Once we sign the treaty, we will have committed ourselves in principle to the final step of ratification and thus will come under political pressures to do so, notwithstanding any reservations we might state.
  5. Deferment of a decision on signature is likely to improve the opportunities for achieving our objectives in discussion and negotiation, not only in international fora but especially in bi-lateral exchanges with the USA. In this context, it should be noted that the USA continues to show readiness to explore problems with Australian officials. In the IAEA, our position may well be enhanced, because of the support which we will be able to attract from other important States which also have not signed.
  6. There is no evidence to suggest that the US will reduce the flow of information etc. because we have not signed; if anything the contrary appears to be the case, there having been an increase in the past two months in the interest shown by USAEC in maintaining exchanges at the technical level. Curtailment of these exchanges would be contrary to the USA-Australia Agreement for Co-operation concluded in May 1967.
  7. Prudence points to the avoidance of any further commitment to the treaty, when so much has still to be ascertained regarding its implications for vital areas of national development and commercial secrecy. At this stage and for quite some time to come (perhaps a year or more), the terms of the safeguards agreements and arrangements cannot be known. These will be developed within the IAEA Vienna.
  8. The question of the costs of implementing the safeguards has not been settled. This is a matter for consideration in the IAEA. The costs, however, are likely to be substantial.
  9. In the absence of specific information regarding the US Republican party platform on the NPT, it would be advisable to take into account the outcome of the US Presidential Elections. This suggests that the question of Australian signature should be deferred until at least, early 1969.

Annex 5

Statement of Requirements


If it were decided to sign the treaty it would be desirable to state publicly the requirements which would have to be met before the Government would be prepared to ratify it. Such a statement might be issued on behalf of the Government on the following lines:

  1. Australia was prepared to support an effective treaty that did not endanger its own vital interests.
  2. A number of uncertainties in regard to the meaning and application of the present treaty still existed and it was unlikely that these uncertainties, especially in the safeguards field, would be removed for some time. Until this was done it would not be possible for the Australian Government to commit itself to ratifying the treaty.
  3. In the hope however that the present treaty would ultimately prove to be an effective and satisfactory treaty from Australia's viewpoint, the Government was prepared at this stage to sign.
  4. Before ratification, the Australian Government would need to be assured that a sufficient number of politically important states and states that have a significant nuclear capability or potential would adhere to the treaty and honour its terms.
  5. The Australian Government, moreover, believed that the treaty should not prohibit or impede nuclear research, development, production or use for non-explosive purposes. The supply of knowledge, materials and equipment should not, by the terms of the treaty, be denied to non-nuclear weapon states nor any nuclear development prohibited except when such activities could have no other purpose than the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
  6. Before ratification the Australian Government would wish to be satisfied in regard to the details of the safeguards agreements which the non-nuclear weapon states party to the treaty must conclude with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It would regard it as essential that the safeguards should be such as not to impede or burden nuclear research, development, production or use for peaceful purposes; and that they should not constitute an obstacle to a nation's economic development or trade. It would attach importance to continuing research into safeguards that has as an object the simplification and mechanisation of the safeguards process.

[NAA: A1838, 680/10/2 part 7]