Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Business and Public Management

First Supervisor

Dr Gail Lugten

Second Supervisor

Dr Alan Tapper


This Dissertation presents a study of Australia's involvement in the negotiation and early interpretation of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), an instrument which remains the most important global nuclear arms control measure in international law. Using data from recently released Australian government documents, the study analyses the process by which Australia was transformed from an ambivalent nuclear sceptic within the Western alliance, into a steadfast global campaigner against the spread of nuclear weapons. It concludes that Australia's urgent search during 1967 and 1968 for coherence in its policy on nuclear weapons acquisition, largely played out within sections of the Australian bureaucracy and political leadership, was not only the catalyst for that transformation, but also an important step in Australia's search for "middle power" status in both a regional and wider sense. The study uses an interdisciplinary theoretical model which asserts the complementary nature of international law and international relations theory in explanations of relations between states. That model proposes that each discipline is capable of enhancing the insights of the other, in order to account - more closely in concert than each does individually - for the rule-following behaviour of nation-states. Beginning in Chapter One with a critique of the NPT and the regime of institutions and understandings which surround it, the study moves, in Chapter Two, to a review of the domestic and international context in which Australia's nuclear weapons policy debate was conducted, while introducing the elements of division within the Australian federal bureaucracy which largely prosecuted that debate. Chapters Three and Four analyse the debate in detail, concluding that its inconclusive result induced Australia's refusal to agree to America's request for immediate accession to the NPT. This, in tum, resulted in Australia exercising, through its recalcitrance, disproportionate influence over the US on the interpretation of the terms of the treaty. Chapter Five moves analysis to the international arena, and the forum of the United Nations General Assembly, in which Australia finally found the limit of America's willingness to accommodate the concerns of a small but significant Western ally located in a region of strategic importance. Chapter Six examines the process by which Australia's influence over the US on the interpretation of the terms of the NPT was translated into guidance to other nuclear threshold states through the Western alliance. It also examines the level of influence exerted by Australia through its bilateral discussions with other states over the terms of the treaty. It concludes that Australia, mainly through the former process, could claim a significant role in the formulation of the world's most important multilateral nuclear convention through its insistence on interpretative clarity. Finally, the study draws general conclusions on the significance of Australia's nuclear weapons debate for its aspirations to "middle power" status. It concludes that its indisputable leadership role, after 1972, in global nuclear disarmament efforts of many kinds, is an example of that status. Its most important theoretical conclusion concerns the demonstrated utility of an interdisciplinary model for the study of relations between states.