From Ambivalence to Influence: Australia and the Negotiation of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
Hubbard, Christopher, The Australian Journal of Politics and History
The release, beginning in January 1997, by the Australian National Archives of previously embargoed documents relevant to the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (1) debate has renewed interest in Australia's nuclear history. To date, researchers have concentrated on attempts by governments between 1943 and 1968 to secure an independent nuclear deterrent capability. (2) None of the studies so far completed has focused on the conundrum of Australia's influence over the actions of the USA. Australia established and initially maintained a policy position on the NPT that was inimical to its security relationship with the USA while it remained firmly within that relationship. (3) This points to the strength of American desire to have the support of all its allies, including Australia, in preventing the further diffusion of nuclear weapons.
The Strategic Perspective
Australia's security dilemma lies at the heart of the strategic security context within which it exercised surprisingly strong sway over an anxious Johnson Administration during 1968. Its ability to provide for its own defence has always been broadly constrained by its productive capacity and small population. In a region marked by political instability (for example, in Indonesia during 1965-66) and burgeoning regional activism (more recently, for example, by the People's Republic of China) Australia has seen little alternative to the pursuit of alliances as a guarantee of national security. Australia's ANZUS alliance with the USA and New Zealand, signed in 1951, has survived as a mutual defence agreement for over half a century. While ANZUS is an artefact of pragmatic foreign policy, viewed from both sides, it does not provide an unequivocal guarantee of Australia's security, since the USA would never provide such an open-ended assurance. In reality, the nuclear and conventional security which ANZUS represents was predicated both on the engagement of America's interests and on Australia's willingness, as articulated in President Nixon's Guam Doctrine of November 1969, to provide the manpower for its own defence. (4)
While ANZUS supplies Australia's strategic security framework, its defining themes and elements exist within a broad matrix of political, strategic and economic security contexts in which Australia seeks to secure its core values, its survival in a dangerous world, and its prosperity through international trade. Embedded within those security goals are a set of self-ascribed and more widely understood Australian foreign policy values which can be loosely termed its "middle power" aspirations. The Ministerial Statement to the House of Representatives by the Minister for External Affairs, (then Mr) Paul Hasluck, made on 26 March 1968, succinctly articulated Australia's middle power maxim as its nuclear future began to coalesce:
We are conscious of the great world issues of power and their interaction with issues of regional security. We recognise the great responsibilities of the great powers as the [C]harter of the United Nations does, but we also insist on a proper role being accorded to the middle and small powers, which for their part have responsibilities to discharge and rights to be protected. Australia plays its part in collective defence against aggression (emphasis added). (5)
Australia uses a range of bilateral and multilateral fora, both within and outside the United Nations system, to pursue its own interests and those of the global society of states. Thus, the extent to which Australia's own interests coincided, or appeared to conflict with, those of other states (not least the US) during international negotiation of the NPT forms an important component of Australia's nuclear story.
Australia's geography and security alliances have, to some extent, placed it on the periphery of world events. As a stable, liberal democracy and a long-standing ally of the USA on the Pacific Rim, Australia, despite its relatively modest size and military potential, has often regarded itself as able to influence events within its own region. Conversely, at the global level, Australia has often seen itself as economically, politically and diplomatically small enough to be able to run its own race. At the same time, it has been regarded by other states as sufficiently important to matter in the councils of the northern democracies. This confluence gives Australia scope to enhance its reputation as a middle power and "good world citizen", concerned to augment global prospects for peace and disarmament. (6)
Framed in this context, Australia's part in the story of UN and Western efforts since 1968 to halt the spread of nuclear weapons can be understood from three distinct perspectives: its defence and security alliance with the US, its regional and wider status within the international community, and its own reluctance to renounce the option of acquiring an independent nuclear deterrent force. The convergence of Australia's interests in these aspects of its national and international life allowed it the opportunity to exert significant pressure on a US government anxious to engineer a credible multilateral NPT before the genie of nuclear diffusion escaped.
By early 1968, as the NPT (7) text was being finalised in Geneva, Australia's strategic security assumptions were coming under challenge. Its long-held "forward defence" strategy to confront potential enemies beyond Australian shores (for example, in Vietnam) rather than upon them was being called into serious question--as the 1969 Guam Doctrine and the phased US withdrawal from Vietnam after 1970 were about to illustrate. Henceforth, Australia could expect continued nuclear and conventional security guarantees under ANZUS insofar as it was willing to "meet the United States half way" by playing a larger role in the Western Alliance. (8) Australia's physical geography and relatively strong regional military potential would now afford the basis for its own national defence capacity under the aegis of the American alliance.
A more specific contemporary strategic concern was Australia's apprehension about China's growing nuclear capabilities, and the question of an appropriate response. Could Australia rely, for example, on America's nuclear "umbrella" should it come under direct or implicit threat of attack by a nuclear-armed China? Or must it build its own nuclear deterrent, unable to believe, finally, that the USA would sacrifice San Francisco for Sydney? If Australia was to confront this challenge in the late 1960s by creating its own nuclear deterrent capacity, it had first to develop nuclear expertise and an infrastructure including uranium enrichment and nuclear weapons fabrication facilities. These would need to be sufficient to produce a small quantity of deliverable "atom bombs" in the 20 kiloton range within a time frame of seven to ten years. (9) Development of nuclear power generating capacity would go hand in hand with a nuclear weapon manufacturing capability. By 1968, then, Australia stood at a point of strategic decision: security through American help or self-help? Its resolution of the conflicting demands of these alternative strategies continues to resonate within Australia's security environment.
The Australian Nuclear Policy Context
The history of Australian policy on the development and use of nuclear technologies can be understood from two distinct though inter-linked perspectives. First, its own ambivalent attitude towards the use of nuclear energy was reflected in a domestic debate between the so-called "bomb lobby" who sought and championed independently controlled nuclear weapons for Australia (10) and their protagonists, led by senior officers at the Department of External Affairs (DEA). The latter (11) endorsed Prime Minister Menzies' statement to the House of Representatives on 16 November 1964, made in response to Indonesian claims that Australia was developing nuclear weapons:
[...] Indonesia, like Australia, is a signatory to the partial nuclear test ban treaty and is therefore, with us, involved in a state of affairs in which [...] we do not want to see the spread of atomic weapons beyond those countries in which they now exist. (12)
From a second perspective, the internal nuclear policy debate should be viewed in the wider context of Australia's status as an active member of the international community and the United Nations. As a middle power within the Western Alliance, a close ally of the USA and a dominant regional power, Australia sought to enhance its position as a "good world citizen". In that role, it has been concerned, throughout the United Nations era, to strengthen global prospects for peace and disarmament. (13) In this context, and with its reliance on the ANZUS treaty, it can be asserted that Australia's national interest lay in working towards, rather than against, a treaty banning the spread of nuclear weapons beyond those states already in possession of them. (14)
Relevant to both perspectives in the Australian nuclear policy debate was the existence in Australia of large deposits of economically extractable uranium ores. Although the uranium mining industry was at a low ebb by the middle years of the 1960s (15) (with exploration activities reviving only in the late 1960s) potential earnings from the export of uranium remained immense, and would begin to fulfil that potential after the discovery of large commercial reserves in 1970. (16) Their exploitation eventually resulted in a large-scale uranium export industry, which is now based on around …
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Publication information: Article title: From Ambivalence to Influence: Australia and the Negotiation of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Contributors: Hubbard, Christopher - Author. Journal title: The Australian Journal of Politics and History. Volume: 50. Issue: 4 Publication date: December 2004. Page number: 526+. © 1999 University of Queensland Press. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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