Both the degree of interest in nuclear weapons and the decision to renounce a nuclear option, Hymans postulates, were largely unrelated to changes in the perceived external security environment
or the state of the international non-proliferation regime. Rather, he argues, Australia's nuclear posture must be understood in terms of the NICs of different prime ministers. Consistent with this thesis, he finds that the only time Australia actively sought to acquire an independent nuclear capability was when it was led by John Gorton (1968-71), the one Australian prime minister between 1949 and 1975 to fit the oppositional nationalist NIC profile. According to Hymans, Gorton believed that Australia was both entitled to and capable of developing a nuclear deterrent. He therefore insisted that Australia remain outside the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) while seeking to
develop indigenous uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities (pp. 126-129).
Significantly, Gorton's nuclear orientation was not based on the perception of a more hostile international security environment than those of his predecessors. Indeed, if anything, Prime Minister Robert Menzies (1949-66) viewed the world in more threatening terms, especially following the Chinese nuclear test in 1964. Unlike Gorton, however, Menzies' NIC profile was that of an
oppositional subaltern who was far more inclined to seek protection through assurances from "great and powerful friends" in the West than through an in-dependent nuclear deterrent (pp. 115-117).
According to Hymans, Gorton's efforts to launch nuclear weapons pro-gram ultimately were stymied by his shaky hold on power and bureaucratic opposition from the Atomic Energy Commission (pp. 130-133). When Gorton's government fell and Gough Whitlam—a sports-manlike subaltern, replaced him—Australia predictably (from Hymans's perspective) soon adopted a new nuclear posture, renounced nuclear weapons, and ratified the NPT.