88 Record by Evans of Inter-Departmental Meeting

Canberra, 19 April 1967

Top Secret Guard

Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons


External Affairs

Sir Lawrence McIntyre1-Chairman

Mr. K.C.O. Shann2

Mr. O.L. Davis

Mr. C.R. Ashwin3

Mr. W.K. Flanagan4

Mr. D.W. Evans


Mr G.E. Blakers5

Sir Leslie Martin

Mr E.L.D. White


Sir Philip Baxter

Mr A.D. Thomas


Mr A.T. Griffith6

Dr A.R. Wilson7

Sir Laurence McIntyre said that the Department of External Affairs had called this preliminary meeting to look at the kind of policy which Australia might adopt on the question of a treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, assuming that such a treaty were to become a reality.

[matter omitted]

  1. Summarizing, Sir Laurence said that it seemed that a paper was necessary which canvassed fully for Ministers all the advantages, risks and drawbacks. If a draft treaty should emerge shortly, we may need to make decisions on our views in the fairly near future. Our Ambassadors overseas had also been caught up in discussions, but so far had not been able to present views which fully represented Australian Government thinking. The view in External Affairs was that whatever reservations we may have on the treaty which was emerging and what it may achieve, it would be difficult not to sign it. We would be under strong compulsion to do so, unless there were an unexpectedly large number of Governments which jacked up and decided not to (e.g. Germany, India, Japan).
  2. Mr. Shann said that a statement of German views had been put to us recently,8 and there was clearly some German worry at settling its nuclear status in the context of a nonproliferation treaty rather than in a general European settlement. The Germans, however, feel they will have little alternative but to sign a treaty. Mr. Booker had also recently spoken to the Japanese in Tokyo,9 who were still quite disturbed about developments on the grounds that:
    1. the treaty was discriminatory;
    2. it would not contribute to nuclear disarmament;
    3. that it would perpetuate the nuclear monopoly of the present nuclear powers; and
    4. that they would be prevented from conducting peaceful nuclear explosions.
  3. Mr. Davis then gave a brief summary of the talks on non-proliferation with Indian officials which he had attended with Sir James Plimsoll in Delhi from 12th-14th April.

[matter omitted]

Although India has said it will not produce its own nuclear weapons, it is clear that, in significant quarters in India, there are pressures to keep open the options.10 We would need to keep under consideration ourselves a possible situation where India did not sign a treaty and went nuclear. If there were a radical change in Government in India, would this constitute a threat to us? Mr. Davis added that there had been an inconclusive discussion on peaceful nuclear explosions. It was suggested that it might be cheaper for a non-nuclear country such as Australia to obtain devices from the nuclear powers for explosions for peaceful purposes.

[matter omitted]

  1. Sir Philip said that the Germans were opposed to safeguards, fearing international espionage in every industrial firm engaged in peaceful nuclear work. It was generally accepted that the results of international inspections are reported back by inspectors to their own (and possibly other) countries. The United States concerns of Westinghouse and General Electric were out to monopolize the nuclear power station business, and there were objections to this. In summary, the A.A.E.C. felt that nuclear development in Australia would be inhibited by the present Article III. Safeguards on what we buy and sell would be acceptable, but not full safeguards. It might be possible to make a Declaration on this matter.
  2. Speaking of India, Sir Philip said that we should be concerned at a possible change of Government in India. The A.A.E.C. had wide contacts with Indian atomic energy officials, and it was clear from observation that India had created most of the facilities necessary for nuclear weapons production. In addition, it was now storing short burn-up irradiated plutonium. Sir Philip said that it would be no surprise to him if India stood out from a treaty. He had been in Washington last week, and Sarabhai's11 attitude made his U.S. colleagues feel there was little hope of India signing a treaty. India could produce a weapon in 18 months or so.
  3. The question was should we tie our hands to take no steps in the direction of nuclear weapons. These steps are all necessary in any case for the peaceful production of nuclear power. Our U.S. friends are curious about the reasons why we have insisted on sticking to natural uranium in a power programme. It can be explained on the grounds of expense, but it is also relevant to the weapon options. Sir Philip said it was difficult to sign away completely for all time the right to develop nuclear weapons. One of the real problems for the A.A.E.C. was that it was conducting certain experiments in the field of nuclear reactors (classified Top Secret and which the United States had not been made aware of) which the Commission would not like to see come under Agency Safeguards.12

[matter omitted]

  1. Sir Leslie Martin said that he held the view that the options should be retained. It was a strange set of circumstances which left us in the ranks of the non-nuclear powers. No other country outside the nuclear powers knew more than we did on nuclear weapons. Our physicists had participated in explosions. We had seen what was inside a weapon, and knew how to make it. Sir Leslie said he could not understand the approach that would in effect relegate Australia to the ranks of the non-owners. The most unlikely people, the Chinese, had produced three nuclear weapons, and did not take over long to do it. The proposed treaty would not stop a country if it wanted to develop nuclear weapons. Australia had an interest in a particular nuclear reactor which would make an exercise of the option too easy. Sir Leslie said he was a little distressed at the apparent readiness by some to accept a treaty. There would be pressures on us to do so, but he hoped Australia would drag its feet and not be the first to say yes.

[matter omitted]

  1. Dr Wilson spoke of the danger of assigning too much value to the withdrawal clause. If India and Japan left the treaty they could produce weapons in a year to 18 months. It would take Australia from now 7 years. Mr. Blakers recalled his point as to whether Australia would be frozen from any nuclear development of relevance to a weapons programme. Sir Philip Baxter said that we would not be frozen from creating facilities for peaceful purposes, but our activities would take place in the full knowledge of the international inspectorate. Our opponents would know exactly what point we had reached.

[matter omitted]

  1. Mr. Davis said that assuming one of our motives was to deter the emergence of new nuclear powers, and assuming that countries such as India and Japan could go nuclear in say 18 months, and other countries such as UAR and Israel in a relatively short period, we would need to examine very carefully to what extent we would really be preventing proliferation by signing. Could we not continue with our peaceful nuclear development which would bring us closer to the day when we could, if we needed to, develop nuclear weapons. Sir Laurence McIntyre said that if the inspections difficulty were overcome, there would not seem to be prohibitions in the treaty on peaceful development. Sir Philip felt that Australia would not want to conceal any nuclear weapons programme, and that if it signed a treaty, it would abide by it. It seemed that the Test Ban Treaty prohibited the use of nuclear explosions in Australia (some radio-active fallout would go across the national boundaries). Even the United States might be disposed to interpreting the treaty more liberally than we would.
  2. Sir Leslie Martin said that there was now no need for trials in producing a nuclear weapon. It could be guaranteed to work the first time.

[matter omitted]

[NAA: A1838, TS919/10/5 part 1]