Non-proliferation, disarmament and arms control
Australia is committed to the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. It has long championed international nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament efforts through a pragmatic, realistic and progressive approach.
Eliminating nuclear weapons will take sustained, practical, and incremental effort and will require inclusive processes that engage all states, including those that possess or rely on nuclear deterrence for their security. As a non-nuclear-weapon state, Australia engages with other countries to advocate disarmament and non-proliferation. Australia consistently promotes cooperation within existing disarmament architecture based on the cornerstone Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Australia is involved in numerous bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral treaties and arrangements which seek to reduce or eliminate certain categories of nuclear weapons and to prevent the proliferation of such weapons and their delivery vehicles. Australia consistently works to promote support for the NPT through the work of the cross-regional Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), progressing nuclear disarmament verification, and promoting risk reduction measures such as transparency and confidence building to underpin practical progress towards disarmament. Australia was also instrumental in pushing for a comprehensive ban on nuclear tests, was a key force behind the drafting of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and is a committed party to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (also known as the Treaty of Rarotonga). Although not a party, Australia fully supports the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (also known as the Bangkok Treaty).
Does Australia Have or Want Nuclear Weapons?
Australia does not possess any nuclear weapons and is not seeking to become a nuclear weapon state. Australia's core obligations as a non-nuclear-weapon state are set out in the NPT. They include a solemn undertaking not to acquire nuclear weapons.
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)
In February 1970 Australia signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), committing not to acquire nuclear weapons, and to adhere to strong non-proliferation obligations. Since then, Australia has been one of the treaty's strongest supporters. In 1995, Australia and other signatories collectively succeeded in ensuring the Treaty was extended indefinitely.
The NPT has three main pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The treaty provides ongoing security benefits to all States by curbing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and it commits nuclear-weapon states to work towards disarmament through Article VI obligations. The NPT enables the international community to benefit from the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and technology, supporting human health, agriculture, food and water security, and the environment.
The International Atomic Energy Agency is central to the implementation of NPT commitments on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy through its system of international nuclear safeguards, and as a multilateral forum for supporting the peaceful applications of nuclear technology.
Article VIII of the NPT provides that the Treaty be reviewed every five years. The primary objectives of these five-yearly Review Conferences are to assess developments since the previous conference, to address current challenges, and to identify areas for further progress. Australia has been an active and constructive participant in all NPT Review Conferences.
At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, States Parties agreed to a final document that included conclusions and recommendations for follow-on action on nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation, peaceful uses of nuclear energy and the Middle East (see the 64-point 'Action Plan' drawn from the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Final Document).
The 2010 NPT Action Plan has provided an important and consensus-based roadmap in the absence of an agreed outcome from the 2015 NPT Review Conference.
Australia will continue to work to preserve and strengthen the NPT and the norms it enshrines as the cornerstone of multilateral nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation efforts. By focusing on areas of convergence, finding common ground, building dialogue and progressing effective measures towards nuclear disarmament, we can make real progress towards our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons.
Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI)
The Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), established by Australia and Japan in 2010, is a cross-regional group of 12 countries: Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Poland, Türkiye and the United Arab Emirates. The NPDI's mandate is to implement the 2010 NPT 64-point Action Plan which includes the key steps to advance the disarmament and non-proliferation objectives encapsulated in the NPT.
The NPDI has been active in promoting practical actions and maintaining pressure on the nuclear weapon states to meet their commitments under the NPT. Australia is a recent coordinator of the NPDI (from 2018-2020).
The NPDI's current thematic priorities include:
- Encouraging greater transparency surrounding nuclear disarmament efforts
- Addressing the lack of substantive work in the Conference on Disarmament across the four core issues on its agenda
- Increasing support for and conclusion of key legal instruments that safeguard and govern nuclear activities
- Strengthening the NPT regime.
The 10th Ministerial Meeting of the NPDI, Co-Chaired by Australia and Japan, was held in Nagoya City, Japan on 23 November 2019. For further information, see the NPDI Joint Ministerial Statement.
On 27 April 2020, the NPDI issued a message on the postponement of the NPT Review Conference due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
In September 2021, NPDI members submitted a working paper for the tenth NPT Review Conference known as the NPDI Landing Zone paper (formally the Recommendations for consideration by the tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons). At the Review Conference’s opening in New York City on 1 August 2022, the eleventh high-level meeting of the NPDI was convened and members issued a joint high-level statement which reaffirmed their commitment to the full implementation of the Treaty.
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)
Australia was instrumental in pushing for a comprehensive ban on nuclear tests and was a key force behind the drafting of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1996. Australia signed the CTBT on 24 September 1996 and ratified the Treaty on 9 July 1998. While the CTBT has yet to enter into force, many of its elements are provisionally applied through the work of the CTBT Preparatory Commission (PrepCom). This includes the International Monitoring System (IMS). Australia hosts the third largest number of IMS stations, totalling 21.
The CTBT bans all nuclear test explosions: a practical step toward nuclear disarmament and an effective non-proliferation measure which limits the technological development of nuclear weapons. For more than twenty years, the CTBT has underpinned the global norm against nuclear testing and developed a world-class verification system which allows real-time monitoring of nuclear tests across the globe.
The Treaty contains a specific list of countries that must ratify it in order for the CTBT to enter into force. Of these 44 countries, listed in Annex II to the Treaty, three (DPRK, India and Pakistan) have yet to sign and five (China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and United States) have signed but have yet to ratify the treaty.
In May 2021 Australia's candidate, Dr Robert Floyd, was elected Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). As the first Executive Secretary to be elected from the Indo-Pacific, Dr Floyd's election demonstrates Australia's active commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, and our practical contribution to multilateral cooperation.
- Australian Elected as Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization
- Dr Robert Floyd CV (English)
- 'Friends of the CTBT' Foreign Ministers' Meetings
- Verification Regime
- Nuclear Monitoring
Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT)
Fissile material (highly enriched uranium, plutonium and potentially other materials) is the key component of nuclear weapons. A Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) is a central element to the "progressive" approach to nuclear disarmament because it seeks to reduce the amount of fissile material available for nuclear weapons.
While the Conference on Disarmament (CD) has been unable to agree on a program of work to negotiate an FMCT, Australia has participated in both a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on an FMCT established under a UN mandate in 2014 as well as a 25-member High-Level FMCT Expert Preparatory Group established under UN auspices in 2016. Both processes have furthered understanding of the composite elements required in a future FMCT.
South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Rarotonga)
A number of regions around the world have established nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZs). These ban the deployment or use of nuclear weapons in those regions. Australia strongly supports the creation of NWFZs and believes their establishment, agreed amongst the States in the region concerned, contributes to the more effective implementation of the NPT. They also serve as a security-enhancing interim step pending the total elimination of nuclear weapons.
Australia is party to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Rarotonga) and implements its obligations under this treaty through the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty Act 1986. The treaty prohibits States Parties from the manufacture, production or acquisition of nuclear explosive devices; research and development relating to their manufacture or production; the possession or control over such devices; the stationing of nuclear explosive devices in their territories; and the testing of nuclear explosive devices in the region.
The Treaty of Rarotonga entered into force on 11 December 1986, becoming the second treaty in the world to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in a populated region, the first being the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (also known as Treaty of Tlatelolco).
Verification of Nuclear Disarmament (IPNDV, GGE)
The negotiation of future nuclear disarmament arrangements will rely on effective verification mechanisms being developed. To this end, Australia has been an active contributor to the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV), a US-led informal partnership consisting of more than 25 countries working jointly since 2015 to develop technical solutions for monitoring and verification challenges across the nuclear weapons lifecycle. Australia participates actively in all of IPNDV's working groups, including co-chairing Working Group 5 since 2018.
Another key verification initiative is the UN-established Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on nuclear disarmament verification. Australia is supportive of this Norwegian-led process and views the initiative as a practical and important step to increase knowledge and understanding of the technical and other challenges of effective verification of agreed arms reduction measures. Australia has joined the membership of the second iteration of the GGE on nuclear disarmament verification, which is meeting in Geneva for four sessions through 2022 and 2023.
Nuclear Export Controls
The NPT authorizes the international supply of nuclear materials for peaceful purposes but does not provide specific guidance on the goods and technology to be controlled. Shortly after the entry into force of the NPT in 1970, multilateral consultations on nuclear export controls led to the establishment of two separate mechanisms for dealing with nuclear exports: the Zangger Committee and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). To ensure harmonisation of national-level controls, these bodies have agreed on lists of nuclear material, equipment and technology, and nuclear dual-use items and technology to be subject to export controls. Australia is a member of the NSG and the Zangger Committee.
Australian Implementation of Nuclear Export Controls
Australia meets its NPT and Zangger Committee obligations and exercises its commitment to NSG export control guidelines through the following legislation:
- Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act 1987 - regulates nuclear material in Australia and is administered by the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO);
- Customs Act 1901 and Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations 1958 - prescribes prohibited exports and is administered by the Department of Defence and Australian Border Force; and
- Weapons of Mass Destruction (Prevention and Proliferation) Act 1995 - covers exports not controlled under the Customs Act which may contribute to weapons of mass destruction programs and is administered by the Department of Defence.
For more information on Australia's Uranium Export Policy please see the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO) page.