From Ambivalence to Influence: Australia and the Negotiation of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Article excerpt

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. …