150 Record by McIntyre of Conversation with Soviet Charge D'Affaires1

Canberra, 22 August 1968


Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

The Soviet Charge d'Affaires called on me by appointment at midday today. He had asked yesterday morning to call on the Secretary, who had asked me to accept the call. I had first fixed an appointment for 10 am today, but following news of the developments in Czechoslovakia2 I had asked the Charge d'Affaires to postpone the call until noon.

  1. Mr Plustchenko [sic], reading from notes through an interpreter, made a lengthy oral presentation of an appeal to the Australian Government to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as soon as possible. He pointed out that more than 70 nations had already signed the Treaty, and insisted that it would be helpful in furthering the Treaty's purposes if Australia should become a party to it without delay. Apart from helping to achieve the broad objectives of the Treaty, this would assist efforts towards closer co-operation between the Soviet Union and Australia.
    [matter omitted]
  2. I said that [matter omitted] Australian Ministers needed to have a clearer picture of the likely effect of some of the Treaty's clauses before they could commit themselves to it. After all, Australia and all the other non-nuclear powers were being asked to undertake a very solemn act of self-denial, to extend over a lengthy period of years into an era where the international political situation could not be foreseen. It was only natural that the Australian Government, like any other responsible Government, would want to study closely the balance of advantage against the possible disadvantages of committing itself to the Treaty.
  3. I was bound to say, furthermore, that the Charge d'Affaires had chosen a singularly unpropitious time for making his appeal on behalf of the Soviet Government. I knew that he had had an interview with the Prime Minister and the Minister for External Affairs3 also this morning, and there was nothing I need say to him about the reaction of the Australian Government and people to what had happened in Czechoslovakia in the last few days. I had listened to Mr Hasluck's statement in Parliament and a debate that was taking place there at this very moment. I was sure Mr Plustchenko would realise that the present atmosphere here was by no means conducive to the sympathetic consideration by the Australian Government of a Soviet request that it hasten its decision to adhere to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
  4. Mr Plustchenko pressed on with his argument. Surely it was better, he said, to have a treaty, even if it was not entirely satisfactory, than to have no treaty at all. Without a treaty there was a great and constant danger of wider dissemination of nuclear weapons. The putting into effect of the present Treaty would contribute greatly to a lessening of tensions everywhere, which must be a worthwhile objective in itself, and should be considered in this light-regardless of what was happening in Czechoslovakia.
  5. I said that the two things could not be divorced; the events in Czechoslovakia could hardly fail to have some influence on the attitude towards the Treaty of Ministers here in Australia and everywhere else. As regards Mr Plustchenko's point about a less than satisfactory treaty being better than none at all, this was of course an important argument; but it was only one argument, to be considered in the overall balance of factors that had to be studied.
  6. The Charge d'Affaires said that he was aware that Australia had reservations about the Treaty. Could I say what these reservations were in detail? Perhaps there were still points on which the Soviet authorities could give us clarification or reassurance. I said that all the points on which the Australian Government was less than satisfied - questions of safeguards, the unknown extent to which inspection procedures would limit Australia's freedom to develop nuclear energy for industrial and other peaceful purposes, and various other uncertainties - had been set forth in Mr Shaw's statement in the General Assembly.4 Some of these points had been partially clarified, but there were still a number of uncertainties.
  7. In conclusion, Mr Plustchenko asked whether I could forecast when the Government might reach any decision. I said I could not do so.

[NAA: A1838, TS680/10/2 part 7]