41 Brief for Casey by Department of External Affairs

Canberra, [23] March 1959

Australian Attitude on the Disposition of Nuclear Weapons

In accordance with Australia's policy of support for moves towards an agreement on the discontinuance of nuclear weapons tests under an adequate system of control, the Australian delegation at the recent session of the UN General Assembly co-sponsored a resolution urging the three present nuclear powers to reach agreement on the suspension of tests at their Geneva Conference which is still going on.2 We also supported a Japanese/Austrian/Swedish resolution along the same lines.3

As long ago as 1957 the Australian Government declared its willingness to accept in principle the establishment in Australia of international inspection posts, as part of a world wide control system to police the suspension of tests. We would of course, require full discussion and consultation in regard to any proposal actually to establish such posts here.

We believe that a supervised discontinuance of nuclear weapons testing, although desirable from a health viewpoint, is not an end in itself and to be of real significance for man's future, should lead towards a reduction of nuclear and conventional weapons and forces.

We do not consider it realistic to distinguish sharply in disarmament schemes between nuclear and conventional weapons. The danger of wars (large and small) waged by conventional means would still exist, even if a controlled ban on tests was in force and, in fact, the considerable stocks of nuclear weapons already possessed by the nuclear powers would be unaffected by an end to testing. While the control and detection of future manufacture of nuclear weapons would be desirable, and might be technically feasible, it is far more pressing to remove the present incentive for additional countries to manufacture nuclear weapons.

We feel the danger of additional powers (friendly and unfriendly) manufacturing nuclear weapons is a real and growing one and makes more urgent the need for a supervised ban on tests. As first expressed by the Prime Minister in Parliament in September, 1957,4 we feel that present nuclear powers apart from their resources, are sufficiently informed about the deadly character of these weapons to find themselves reluctant to cause a war in which they are used. Possession by them is a deterrent not only to prospective enemies but also to themselves.

The extension of manufacture to a number of other powers might materially increase the danger of irresponsible action with calamitous repercussions.

While this position logically leads us to oppose also the unrestricted disposal of nuclear weapons to other countries by the three nuclear powers, the stationing by the Western nuclear powers of nuclear weapons in other parts of the free world is essential at present for its defence.5 (Control over the use of the weapons remains with the nuclear power concerned.) Without a most detailed system of control it would be very difficult to prevent the clandestine movement of such weapons between the Soviet Union and its allies. It can only be hoped that the Soviet Union itself is convinced of the dangers to world peace of spreading such weapons beyond its immediate control.

A disarmament system must, in our view eventually cover all nations and authorities, whether or not they are members of the United Nations or have recognition from all the members of the United Nations. Australia is particularly concerned in this regard with the problem of bringing Communist China under a general armament agreement. A special disarmament problem exists in the Pacific area because of the overwhelming superiority of Communist China in military manpower.

[NAA: A3092, TS221/3/3/1/3/1 part 5]