205 Minute from Pritchett1 to Barnard2

Canberra, 9 October 1974


Nuclear Non-Proliferation

Attached is a paper3 which takes a preliminary look at the issues confronting non-proliferation generally, and recommends courses of action for Australia to follow to help strengthen the non-proliferation regime.

  1. The paper is the product of a series of inter-departmental meetings involving Foreign Affairs, the Atomic Energy Commission and Defence. A copy has been submitted to the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs (i.e. the Prime Minister) for endorsement.
  2. There has been a considerable Defence input into the paper, reflecting the concern which we have been expressing departmentally that the NPT may be jeopardised by a number of factors. These include the continued failure of many countries advanced in nuclear technology to ratify the Treaty (India, Japan, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Israel, West Germany and South Africa in particular); the lack of leadership by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in rallying support for the Treaty in establishing membership of the Treaty as a concomitant obligation of countries acquiring nuclear technology; dissatisfaction among many countries with the Treaty's alleged restraints on legitimate nuclear activity in the commercial, scientific and developmental fields; resentments that only certain powers should be permitted nuclear weapon status and criticism of slow progress by the U.S. and U.S.S.R. in reducing their nuclear armaments as required by the Treaty; and the challenge to the Treaty represented by India's nuclear explosion of last May.
  3. The essential theme of the paper is that the NPT still offers the best means we have of furthering the cause of non-proliferation, and that our efforts, therefore, to bring about institutionalised non-proliferation should be focussed on restoring and enhancing the authority of the Treaty. Specifically, the paper concludes that we should ...
    • seek to strengthen the treaty by measures which do not involve amendments to it (which could jeopardise existing commitments);
    • resist moves toward international acquiescence in national PNE4 development by non-nuclear weapon states, and work towards an international PNE service available to all states, at low cost, and conducted in accordance with strict and internationally agreed health and safety standards;
    • as a long-term fall back position, not to be broached publicly at present, keep under review the possible development of an international agreement that would cover independent national PNE programs; and
    • keep under review Australia's policy on technical assistance and supply of nuclear materials, equipment and technology in the light of the obligation, under Article IV of the NPT, on states parties to the NPT to give preference to the non-nuclear parties to the NPT in co-operating in the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
    In many respects the NPT Review Conference (scheduled for May 1975) and events between now and then will be of critical importance.
  4. The paper skirts around the questions, how successful are these efforts likely to be? What if they fail? Our own feeling, which we believe is shared by others on the inter-Departmental group, is that we cannot be fully confident of success; that the efforts made over the next few months may be decisive, one way or the other, as regards the continued efficacy of the Treaty; and that if these efforts fail, thought will need to be given urgently to possible alternatives for the prevention of nuclear proliferation. As discussed further below, our fear is that some countries may already, in effect, be canvassing alternatives, thereby tending unwittingly to diminish the chances of restoring authority to the NPT.
  5. There are other matters on which the paper does not reach any conclusions. The first is what Australia's attitude should be towards applying sanctions against countries which do not adhere to, or breach, the NPT. No final views have been reached on this. Nor does the paper deal fully with the question of Nuclear-Free Zones. This is under active consideration. Our preliminary studies suggest that some kinds of zonal arrangements may be advantageous, especially should we and other[s] fail to restore or enhance the authority of the NPT. But for the time being it could be wise to exercise some caution about zonal proposals which might offer some countries excuses for avoiding the central issue (ratification of NPT) and in any case might dissipate the efforts which we consider should be focussed on the NPT path to nonproliferation.
  6. Because of the importance of this subject for our Defence policy, it is recommended that you endorse the conclusions of the paper from the Defence standpoint.

[NAA: A1838, 919/10/5 part 43]