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Almost Oblivious to END, 1945–1957

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Abstract

From the late 1940s to the early 1970s,1 many senior officials in Canberra made serious attempts to acquire and then develop an Australian nuclear weapons capability. However, for more than a decade, Australian thinking about nuclear weapons and strategy remained inchoate. Extended nuclear deterrence (END) as a concept in Australian strategic policy did not yet exist. Canberra was focused almost entirely on British defense policy, and any thinking about the role of nuclear weapons revolved around their tactical use in a war-fighting context, not their strategic utility as instruments of deterrence. Policy-makers first thought about the bomb in purely literal terms: how such weapons could be used against communist forces in Southeast Asia and to destroy forces attempting to invade Australia. There was no discussion of concepts that would guide the use of these weapons. This chapter identifies and examines the prevailing attitude of policy-makers, and how that view was shaped by the geopolitical circumstances at the time. It argues that Australian thinking about nuclear weapons developed primarily through the framework of thinking about Canberra’s strategic ties to Britain, and the idea of being a responsible contributor to the notion of “Empire defense.” Indeed, although Australia was aligned with the United States under the ANZUS Treaty, policy-makers did not think of it as a “nuclear” alliance until around 1956.

Keywords

Nuclear Weapon External Affair Nuclear Capability Defence Committee Lucas Height 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Most of the evidence showing actual efforts to acquire or develop the bomb has already been documented by Jim Walsh and others. For a comprehensive review of the history of efforts, assessments, bureaucratic processes, and debates on the nuclear option in Australia, see Jim Walsh, “Surprise Down Under: The Secret History of Australia’s Nuclear Ambitions,” Nonproliferation Review (Fall 1997), pp. 1–20; Richard Broinonwski, Fact or Fission?: The Truth about Australia’s Nuclear Ambitions (Scribe Publications, Melbourne, 2003);Google Scholar
  2. Wayne Reynolds, Australia’s Bid for the Atomic Bomb (Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2000);Google Scholar
  3. Wayne Reynolds, “Rethinking the Joint Project: Australia’s Bid for Nuclear Weapons, 1945–1960,” Historical Journal, Vol. 41, No. 3 (1998), pp. 853–857; Michael Carr, “Australia and the nuclear question. A survey of government attitudes, 1945–1975,” Unpublished master’s thesis, University of New South Wales, 1979.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 5.
    1953 Strategic Basis; 1956 Strategic Basis; 1962 Strategic Basis; 1963 Strategic Basis; 1964 Strategic Basis. In 1953, Minister for External Affairs Richard Casey identified “communist imperialism based on the mainland of China” as the primary threat to regional peace and stability. Cited in Neville Meaney, Australia and the World: A Documentary History from the 1870s to the 1970s (Longman Cheshire, Melbourne, 1985), p. 593.Google Scholar
  5. For an overview of Australia’s fears of China, see, for example, Alan Watt, The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy, 1938–1965 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1967), pp. 247–248;Google Scholar
  6. Alan Dupont, Australia’s Threat Perceptions: A Search for Security (Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, Canberra, 1991), pp. 58–59.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See also Memorandum of discussion with Mark Oliphant, June 27, 1955. NAA: A1838/1, CS 720/3. Ernest Titterton, professor of nuclear physics at the Australian National University, was another strong advocate of Australia getting the bomb. See Ernest Titterton, Facing the Atomic Future (F. W. Cheshire, Melbourne, 1956), p. 135.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Fears about British military withdrawal in this context were buttressed, as then Secretary of Defence Sir Arthur Tange expressed, by a lack of faith in allied security guarantees. See Wayne Reynolds, Australia’s Bid for the Atomic Bomb, p. 178. No specifications were made regarding the use of British nuclear weapons to deter aggression against Australia (1956 Strategic Basis), and no collective military plans were made for Southeast Asia in the event of global nuclear war. See also Neville Meaney, Australia and the World: A Documentary History from the 1870s to the 1970s (Longman Cheshire, Melbourne, 1985), p. 667.Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    T. B. Millar, Australia in Peace and War: External Relations since 1788 (Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1978), Second edition, p. 170.Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    This does not mean that senior officials in the United States did not (and do not) seriously contemplate the use of nuclear weapons. Declassified documents show the opposite to be true. See, for example, Desmond Ball, “U.S. Strategic Forces: How Would They Be Used?,” International Security, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Winter 1982–1983), pp. 31–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 18.
    A number of elements contributed to this perception. One important factor was US testing of its nuclear devices. David Holloway, Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939–1956 (Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1994), p. 162. Another was the nature of NATO war planning in the 1950s, which inspired the Australian defence establishment to plan in the same manner. Note to James Plimsoll from Defence Liaison Branch, January 12, 1955, NAA: A1838/269, CS TS691/1. It was noted that “nuclear weapons… are being increasingly introduced into the armament of the great powers for employment in all aspects of offensive and defensive warfare.” Memorandum by Defence Committee, “Nuclear Weapons for the Australian Forces,” p. 3. February 6, 1958, NAA: A1209/80 CS 58/5155.Google Scholar
  12. 20.
    Moreover, even as late as the second half of the 1960s, the government was expressing serious reservations about the effectiveness of any future regional agreement for the limitation of the spread of nuclear weapons. See Anthony Ross and Peter King, Australia and Nuclear Weapons: The Case for a Non-Nuclear Region in South East Asia (Sydney University Press, Sydney, 1966), p. 93.Google Scholar
  13. 33.
    However, unbeknownst to Australian policy-makers, the United States had already begun devising plans for the use of nuclear weapons in East Asia, and even provisions for the circumstances in which they might be used in assisting allies. See, for example, “Far East Command Standing Operating Procedure No. 1 for Atomic Operations in the Far East Command,” January 11, 1956, Document no. FEC AGJ 370.2. Available at: http://nautilus.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Far-East-Command-Standing-Operating-Procedure-No.-1-for-Atomic-Operations-in-the-Far-East-Command-1956.pdf; F. J. Dyson, R. Gomer, S. Weinberg, and S. C. Wright, Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Southeast Asia (U), (Institute for Defenses Analyses, Washington, DC, 1967).Google Scholar
  14. 35.
    A number of excellent works on the history of US thinking about nuclear weapons and strategy already exist. See, for example, Samuel R. Williamson and Steven Rearden, The Origins of U.S. Nuclear Strategy, 1945–1953 (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1993);Google Scholar
  15. Martin Sherwin, A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies (Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 2003),Google Scholar
  16. Third edition; Stephen Younger, The Bomb: A New History (HarperCollins, New York, 2009);Google Scholar
  17. Elbridge Colby, “U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy and Policymaking: The Asian Experience,” in Tom Nichols, Douglas Stuart, and Jeffrey McCausland (Eds.), Tactical Nuclear Weapons and NATO (Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, Carlisle, PA, 2012), pp. 75–105.Google Scholar
  18. 36.
    Stephen Younger, The Bomb, p. 51. For an overview of the process of nuclear war planning in the United States during this period, see David Rosenberg, “U.S. Nuclear War Planning, 1945–1960,” in Desmond Ball and Jeffrey Richelson (Eds.), Strategic Nuclear Targeting (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1986), pp. 35–57.Google Scholar
  19. 37.
    A. Wohlstetter and F. Hoffman, Defending a Strategic Force after 1960 (RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, 1954), p. 4.Google Scholar
  20. 38.
    See, for example, Samuel Williamson and Steven Rearden, The Origins of U.S. Nuclear Strategy, 1945–1953 (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1993).Google Scholar
  21. 39.
    Margaret Gowing, Independence and Deterrence: Great Britain and Atomic Energy, 1945–1952, Policy Making, Vol. I (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1974), p. 310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 40.
    Simon Duke, U.S. Defense Bases in the United Kingdom: A Matter for Joint Decision? (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1987), pp. 47–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 41.
    For more recent works on American nuclear weapons in Europe, see, for example, Tom Sauer, “Ceci N’est Pas Une… American Nuclear Weapon in Belgium,” European Security, Vol. 23, No. 1 (2014), pp. 58–72;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Liviu Horovitz, “Why Do They Want American Nukes? Central and Eastern European Positions Regarding U.S. Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons,” European Security, Vol. 23, No. 1 (2014), pp. 73–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 44.
    See, for example, Charles Wolf, The Uses and Limitations of Nuclear Deterrence in Asia (RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA, 1964).Google Scholar
  26. 45.
    For a comprehensive overview of the various debates on this issue, see Desmond Ball, Politics and Force Levels: The Strategic Missile Program of the Kennedy Administration (University of California Press, Oakland, 1980).Google Scholar
  27. 46.
    William Kaufmann, The McNamara Strategy (New York, Harper & Collins, 1964).Google Scholar
  28. 49.
    On the development of concept of massive retaliation and flexible response and how and to what extent they were actually applied to designing US nuclear posture, see Desmond Ball, “The Role of Concepts and Doctrine in U.S. Strategic Nuclear Force Development,” in Bernard Brodie, Michael D. Intriligator, and Roman Kolkowicz (Eds.), National Security and Interna-tional Stability (Center for International and Strategic Affairs, University of California Los Angeles, Oelgeschlager, Gunn & Hain, Cambridge, MA, 1983), pp. 42–52.Google Scholar
  29. 54.
    For an excellent history of the project, see Peter Morton, Fire across the Desert: Woomera and the Anglo-Australian Joint Project, 1946–1980 (Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1989).Google Scholar
  30. 56.
    Desmond Ball, A Suitable Piece of Real Estate: American Installations in Australia (Hale and Iremonger, Sydney, 1980).Google Scholar
  31. 57.
    Bill Bryson, Downunder (Doubleday, New York, 2000), p. 6.Google Scholar
  32. 58.
    For a more detailed account of the history of this conflict, see P. Dennis and J. Grey, Emergency and Confrontation: Australian Military Operations in Malaya and Borneo 1950–1966. Official History of Australia’s Involvement in Southeast Asian Conflicts 1948–1975, Vol. 5 (Allen and Unwin and the Australian War Memorial, Sydney, 1996).Google Scholar
  33. 67.
    Alan Stephens, Going Solo: the Royal Australian Air Force, 1946–1971 (AGPS Press for the Royal Australian Air Force, Canberra, 1995), pp. 106–107.Google Scholar
  34. 73.
    Bill Hayden, Hayden, an Autobiography (Angus & Robertson, Pymble, NSW, 1996), p. 459.Google Scholar

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© Christine M. Leah 2014

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