464 Lord Cranborne, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Mr A. W. Fadden, Acting Prime Minister

Circular cablegram M93 LONDON, 22, May 1941, [2.55 a.m.] [1]


Following for the Prime Minister. [2]

NETHERLANDS EAST INDIES Following further developments have now taken place since my message of 29th April [3], regarding the question of a declaration concerning the Netherlands East Indies.

(a) Mr. Hull [4] informed the Australian Minister in Washington [5] on 28th April that, in the circumstances then prevailing in Japan and the United States, the United States Government believed that any more public declarations would do more harm than good, but that they had and were taking every opportunity through diplomatic channels to make it clear to the Japanese Government that the latter would be unwise to believe the United States had lost interest in events in the Pacific area.

(b) Mr. Hull informed His Majesty's Ambassador at Washington on 3rd May of his conversation at (a) and said that what he thought would be most useful in the immediate future would be to arrange for some further United States naval movements to take place.

Pending some such action, he did not feel that a declaration would be of any real value, though he did not rule out the possibilities of a declaration at a later stage, and he thought that if and when such a proposal took shape, the declaration should be on parallel lines and need not necessarily be made privately.

(c) M. Van Kleffens, the Netherlands Minister for Foreign Affairs, in a farewell broadcast on leaving the Netherlands East Indies, on 6th May, while disclaiming all aggressive or challenging intentions, promised a resolute reaction to any threat and declared the willingness of the Dutch to fight if necessary and to fight in alliance. He mentioned that the British Commander-in- Chief of the Far East [6], whom he had recently met at Manila, had indicated in a conversation with the press that a line running from Singapore to Australia via the Netherlands East Indies must be treated as one unit and M. Van Kleffens said that an attack from outside on any point situated on this line must thus be considered and dealt with as an attack on the whole line, and an attack which concerned all affected parties alike. He concluded by saying that something similar would also be felt by the British Empire, and that all knew that America would give help to those who showed themselves willing to assist in the struggle against unprovoked aggression.

II In the meantime, the staff conference at Singapore with the United States and the Netherlands participation has made considerable progress. The Netherlands Government, however, have drawn attention to the absence of any prior commitment or understanding on our part, and while they are ready to ratify the conclusions of the Singapore Conference, they would clearly welcome an assurance that the plans drawn up at Singapore will, in fact, be fulfilled on our side, should the Netherlands East Indies be attacked.

III It may be argued that we should be running a risk by entering into any commitment, since, in the event of war resulting from Japanese aggression in the Netherlands East Indies, the whole of our lines of communication from British territory in the Pacific to the Middle East and the United Kingdom would be open to attack by the Japanese navy, and, in the absence of United States assistance, adequate forces could not be spared in the present circumstances to counter this attack. On the other hand, the Defence Committee of Cabinet, who have considered this question, felt that it was most improbable that the United States would not assist in the situation contemplated.

IV The Defence Committee felt, moreover, that it was unthinkable for us to hold back in such circumstances. Our alliance with the Netherlands and the necessity of safeguarding our own communications would leave us with no choice but to make common cause with the Netherlands East Indies. Arguments in favour of a declaration to that effect are:-

(a) A response to M. Van Kleffens' broadcast is likely to satisfy the Netherlands Government as to our intentions and so facilitate solution of the questions left outstanding for political decision by the Singapore Conference. Failure to respond is likely to raise doubts in the minds of the Netherlands Government as to our attitude and to weaken the will of the Dutch to resist.

(b) Help which the Netherlands East Indies can give to us in the air and on the sea is by no means negligible, and their air strength is increasing.

(c) We have hitherto been unwilling to enter into a commitment without some prior evidence of support from the United States. But the action of M. Van Kleffens in coming out into the open introduces a new element into the situation, and evidence of firm determination on the part of ourselves and the Netherlands Government is more likely than anything else to induce the United States Government to take corresponding action.

V The Defence Committee considered the possibility of private assurance, but feels that a public statement, by making the position clear, may have the additional advantage of deterring Japan and encouraging not only the peoples of the Netherlands East Indies but the peoples of other countries threatened by Japan. It will show, also, that our attitude is purely defensive, whereas a private assurance, if its existence leaked out, might be distorted and misrepresented by the Japanese Government.

VI We therefore propose subject to the concurrence of the Dominion Governments that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs [7] should make a statement on behalf of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, corresponding as closely as possible to that of M. Van Kleffens.

VII Such a statement would welcome the determination of the Netherlands East Indies to resist attack, emphasising that we, like the Netherlands Government, have no aggressive intentions, but that we have an interest in any move likely to prejudice the security of the line which runs from Malaya to New Zealand through the Netherlands East Indies and that we agree that any attack on any part of that line equally concerns all affected parties, and must be dealt with as an attack on the whole line.

VIII It seems clear that the statement should be made very shortly, so that it may come as soon as possible after that of the Netherlands Minister for Foreign Affairs.

IX If the Dominion Governments agree, it would be valuable if, when the statement is made, they would be prepared to give it some kind of public endorsement.

1 Inserted from the London copy on file AA: A2937, No. 1. The Pacific. 11th February up to Outbreak of War with Japan. The Canberra copy gave the time of dispatch as 4.40 p. m. on 22 May, but this appears to be incorrect, as the Prime Minister's Dept inward cablegram register (AA: A3642,2) confirms that it was received in Canberra on 22 May.

2 A. W. Fadden was Acting Prime Minister until 24 May, when R. G.

Menzies returned to Australia.

3 Circular cablegram Z154 on file AA: A1608, N41/1/1. It reported that the Netherlands Minister to the United Kingdom, Jonkheer E.

Michiels van Verduynen, doubted that the United States would join in a public declaration on the Netherlands East Indies. He suggested instead that simultaneous declarations should be made by the U.K., U.S. and Netherlands Govts to the Japanese Govt through diplomatic channels. The U.K. Govt had authorised its Ambassador to the United States, Lord Halifax, to discuss this alternative with the U.S. Govt 'as the next best thing if they are not prepared for a public declaration'.

4 U.S. Secretary of State.

5 See Document 436 for R. G. Casey's report of this conversation.

6 Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham.

7 Anthony Eden.

[AA: A981, FAR EAST 26A]