1. I attach for your consideration a draft brief for the discussions with the U.S. Secretary of Defence1 during his visit to Australia from 8th to 13th October.
Question of a Nuclear Capability for the Australian Forces
- The question of whether the Government may wish to take opportunity of these talks with Mr. McElroy to raise with him the possibility of achieving a nuclear capability for the Australian forces, in some form or other, is submitted for your consideration. To our knowledge, this matter has never been broached with the United States, though there have been some exploratory discussions with the United Kingdom (e.g. with the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations2 during his visit to Canberra in March 1957, with the U.K. Prime Minister3 in Canberra in January 1958 and again the U.K. Minister of Supply4 in August 1958).5
- Present Australian Government policy on this matter, as announced6 by the Prime Minister in 1957 and reaffirmed on a number of occasions since then, is that Australia's immediate plans or defence should be in the 'conventional' field; but the Prime Minister has also stated that the possibility of future procurement of nuclear weapons, as distinct from their manufacture is not excluded.
- The latest Defence view on this subject was expressed by the Defence Committee in February 1958,7 as follows—
- On the information available, Australia has no requirement for high yield (megaton) nuclear weapons.
- The acquisition of a low yield nuclear capability by the Australian forces would vastly increase our defensive and offensive strength for national defence, and also enhance the value of our contribution in operating under collective security arrangements.
- There is a wide range of possibilities on this matter, apart from actually obtaining lowyield nuclear weapons under direct Australian control; for example-
- Australian forces might be able to obtain a nuclear capability possibly on the 'key of the cupboard'8 basis, under arrangements such as exist between the U.S.A. and various European NATO countries.
- Australia might possibly be assured of supplies of nuclear weapons for Australian forces in the event of war and plan in peace on that assumption; this would involve the training and re-organisation of the forces, as appropriate, in the use of nuclear weapons, and the inclusion in the Australian defence armoury of the necessary vehicles capable of carrying such weapons.
- Australian bases might be used for nuclear attacks by U.S. forces against South East Asian targets.
[NAA: A1945, 186/5/10]