206 Minutes of Meeting of Prime Ministers

PMM(46) 1st Meeting LONDON, 23 April 1946, 11 a.m.


opening of Meeting 1. MR. ATTLEE welcomed Mr. Chifley and Dr. Evatt representing Australia, and Mr. Nash, representing New Zealand. He expressed his regret that it had not proved possible for all the Dominion Governments to be represented at the opening meeting but he looked forward to the arrival later of the Prime Ministers of Canada and South Africa.

MR. CHIFLEY thanked Mr. Attlee for his welcome and expressed his pleasure at being able to come to London.

MR. NASH also thanked Mr. Attlee. He expressed the regret of the Prime Minister of New Zealand at his inability to be present.

Review of Foreign Policy 2. MR. ATTLEE invited Mr. Bevin to give a general review of foreign policy.

MR. BEVIN said that the policy which His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom were following in discussion of the peace settlements was founded on the United Nations Organisation, with regard also to the need for safeguarding the defence of the British Commonwealth. Foreign policy was so closely linked with strategic needs that he feared he would be obliged to encroach in his review on questions of defence and British Commonwealth communications.

Mr. Bevin referred to the difficulties that had arisen between the Allies in the post-war settlement. He was trying to work with both the United States and Soviet Governments, but difficulties had been experienced with each, and especially with the latter. He had eventually found it necessary to take a firm line with the Soviet Government at the First Assembly of the United Nations Organisation and he hoped that they would be more reasonable in their attitude at the forthcoming meeting of Foreign Ministers in Paris.

As regards the Mediterranean, the Soviet Government had staked out claims which would establish them in a position threatening British Commonwealth communications. He had so far resisted the Soviet claims, a course which was in accordance with the views expressed strongly by the South African Government.

The United Kingdom Government for their part aimed at the establishment of a security zone from the Iberian Peninsula to Aden to protect the lines of communication to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific and the vital oil resources in the Middle East. Our primary difficulty was that there was no territory in the Middle East on which we could with security build up our base. It remained to be seen whether we could secure reliable facilities in Egypt as the result of the negotiations now going on there. In case that proved impossible, consideration had recently been given to the possibility of establishing the main base for the Middle East in Kenya.

Despite its distance, a base there would have advantages, since it would also face towards the Indian Ocean and would provide a natural meeting-ground for South Africa, India and the United Kingdom.

Mr. Bevin also stressed the importance of our supporting social development in the Middle East. We could not afford to be represented as defending the Pashas while the Communists obtained the support of the common people. He had established a Middle East Office to endeavour to stimulate social progress. It would be able to call on pools of experts in health, irrigation and other matters to advise and assist Arab Governments.

A difficult problem was awaiting settlement in the Straits. The Soviet Government claimed a special position there. The United Kingdom Government took the view that the Straits should be an international waterway and had expressed their readiness to revise the Montreux Convention. Much depended on the settlement reached in this case since it would affect the Soviet view as to the settlement in the Dodecanese and it would also affect the political situation in Greece.

In Eastern Europe generally, it was difficult to penetrate behind the iron curtain let down by the Russians. His policy was to concentrate for the moment on trade agreements which might lead on later to a solution of political difficulties. He hoped that he was about to conclude a reasonably satisfactory trade agreement with Yugoslavia and negotiations were proceeding with Poland.

In Western Europe, the political future of France was very uncertain, and the United Kingdom Government's relations with her had been complicated by the difference of view over the future of the Ruhr and Rhineland. He had, however, worked out tentative proposals with a view to exploratory discussions with the French, Belgian and Netherlands Governments; and the United States Government had communicated proposals for a treaty to provide for the disarmament of Germany, which would, he thought, serve as a useful basis of discussion. In Northern Europe the political position of Norway was difficult. As to Spain, while he disliked the Franco regime, a breach with Spain would involve the loss of valuable supplies of pyrites, ore and resin.

The general aim of the United Kingdom Government in Europe was to support the principle of social democracy, which was not acceptable to the Soviet Government. The United Kingdom Government were handicapped by their temporary inability to offer either credits or supplies, and the ultimate success of this policy must for a time remain in doubt.

MR. CHIFLEY said that the main question which the Australian Ministers wished to discuss with their colleagues from other parts of the British Commonwealth was that of future arrangements for defence in the Pacific. Australia had been in a very difficult position in 942-43. They had recognised then that the British Commonwealth must use the greater part of its resources to preserve the United Kingdom-if that had been overrun, the rest of the Commonwealth could scarcely have survived-and that in those circumstances they could not expect that much material assistance could be given towards the defence of Australia and New Zealand.

They wished, however, to do their best to ensure that such a situation should not arise again in the future. It was possible that Japan might again become capable of aggression in the Pacific; and the security of Australia and New Zealand might be threatened from other quarters. They were anxious, therefore, that properly coordinated arrangements should be made in advance for defence against aggression in the Pacific, so that the future security of Australia and New Zealand could be assured.

DR. EVATT added that it was the desire of the Australian Ministers to see that the United States was associated with arrangements for defence in the Pacific. Thus, while they were willing in principle to give the United States Government facilities for military bases in the South-West Pacific, they would wish to be assured that these bases would be used in accordance with a common defence policy for the area.

Dr. Evatt said that he had been greatly interested in Mr. Bevin's suggestions for building up a line of communication from the United Kingdom through Africa to the Pacific.

As regards the Peace Conference, the Australian Government recognised that United Kingdom Ministers had special interests in and special knowledge of Europe's problems; but Australia was anxious to play its part in the negotiation of the peace settlements with European Powers, and felt that it was entitled to do so in view of the contribution which it had made as a belligerent in Europe in both the great wars of the twentieth century. At the meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers in London Australia and other Dominions had made their views known.

They had requested the calling of a conference of active belligerents in the European war, which would review all recommendations of the Council of Foreign Ministers. Subsequently, at the Moscow Conference it had been agreed that the draft Peace Treaties should be considered at the wider Peace Conference, at which Australia would be represented. He hoped that at this wider Conference there would be real consultation with the Powers not represented on the Council of Foreign Ministers. He requested that, if there were problems which could not be solved at the forthcoming meeting of Foreign Ministers in Paris, the wider Conference would be given a practical opportunity to solve them.

Dr. Evatt agreed that relations with the Soviet Government constituted the greatest current problem of foreign policy. This problem could best be considered in relation to specific issues, as they arose in the course of the conferences. He hoped, however, that none of the Governments of the British Commonwealth would wish to proceed on the postulate that conflict with Russia was inevitable. Such a postulate would result in the problems of the peace settlement and of territorial adjustments being solved, not in accordance with principles of justice, but solely in accordance with military and strategic planning with Russia as the designated enemy. Such a possibility was disastrous and utterly inconsistent with the principles of the United Nations Organisation.

MR. NASH said that during the last war the United Kingdom had saved civilisation, in the sense that the great contributions made by the British Dominions and the United States of America would have been of no avail if the United Kingdom had not stood firm in 1940. Now, however, the United Kingdom was confronted with a situation more difficult than any which she had faced before, and he did not see how she could maintain her influence unless all parts of the Commonwealth came closely together in peace, as they had done in war. The time had gone when the United Kingdom alone could tell other countries what to do. if the British Commonwealth could be regarded as a unit in foreign policy there would now be three world Powers of roughly equal influence-the British Commonwealth, the United States and the Soviet Union. Each had a different outlook and philosophy in world affairs; and it seemed that the policies of only two out of the three were reconcilable.

Throughout South-East Asia and the Far East there was a rising tide of nationalism. Public attention was now focussed on the problem of famine in these areas; but we should realise that these peoples had never in the past had enough to cat. As they became better educated they realised the extent to which the Western peoples had drawn from them resources with which they might have improved their own standards of life, and they were ready to set higher standards for themselves. They were no longer prepared to accept domination by the Western Powers. The peoples of the British Commonwealth were now prepared to assist them to develop their economy and to raise their standard of living. We could no longer defend policies which maintained half the world in plenty at the cost of leaving the other half in conditions of starvation.

The result of raising the standard of life of the peoples of the East would be to increase their power; and, unless we were to make them more dangerous to ourselves, we must at the same time find positive means to convince them of the advantages of a peaceful way of life. We must seek a positive policy in which we could persuade the United States Government to join us; but we should be handicapped in making progress in this direction so long as we were uncertain of the policy of the Soviet Union. It would be tragic if that uncertainty forced us to abandon progressive policies and concentrate on measures of self-defence; and the consequences for the world's future over the next 100 years would be disastrous. He hoped that it might be possible to find some means to avoid this policy of despair.

Mr. Nash said that his primary object in attending the present conference was to see how New Zealand could best contribute towards a common scheme for the defence of the Pacific area. The defence of this area could be assured only by the co-operation of the Governments of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom; and he agreed that there would be great advantages if the United States could also be induced to play a part in such a common plan. If a common scheme of defence could be arranged, New Zealand would be ready to play her part, both financially and otherwise.

The following points were made in discussion:(a) The future development of Japan must, for the time, remain uncertain. A country of this size could not be held down indefinitely; and, if the victorious Powers attempted to follow that course, by military occupation or control, they would bleed themselves white in the process. Our policy must be to seek to transform Japan into a useful and reliable member of the comity of nations. We should, in particular, avoid the type of treatment which had left Germany eager for, and capable of, further aggression within twenty years after 1918.

We could not exclude the possibility that China and Japan might draw more closely together. China might become interested in such a rapprochement. There were already Chinamen who felt that there were no great divergencies of interest between China and Japan.

And advantage might be taken of conflicts of interest in China between the Great Powers. There were already signs of conflict between Soviet policy in Manchuria and United States policy in North China. The Japanese population in China might also increase.

It seemed likely that members of the Japanese armies in China would remain there in substantial numbers. And the payment of reparations by Japan might have the same effect if China's claim to reparations (which was larger than that of any of the other Powers) could be satisfied only through the importation into China of large numbers of Japanese technicians. Such a movement might have the effect of creating a considerable war potential in China.

Finally, it should not be overlooked that the Chinese bitterly resented the secret treaty between the United States Government and the Soviet Government about the disposal of Port Arthur; and this might become a further rallying point between China and Japan.

(b) MR. CHIFLEY stressed the importance of securing facilities for British Commonwealth bases in the Netherlands East Indies. This was a point which should be kept in mind in discussion of any political settlement between the Netherlands Government and the Indonesian leaders. If an independent Indonesian republic were created, it would become even more important that we should secure appropriate military facilities in such places as Batavia, Sourabaya and Koepang. This was in the outer ring of any defence scheme for the South-West Pacific and was almost as important for that purpose as New Guinea.

(C) MR. HALL said that he would like to put it on record that- except in North Borneo, which was still under military administration-civil government had been re-established in all the British Colonial territories in South-East Asia and the Far East.

(d) Reference had been made in the discussion to the growth of nationalist feeling in various countries throughout the world. It would be mistaken to suppose that these movements were always inspired by Communists acting on the instructions of the Soviet Government. In addition, there had been a widespread swing-over of political opinion towards the Left. MR. CHIFLEY said, in particular, that Admiral Mountbatten was convinced that the nationalist movement in Indonesia had not been inspired by Communists.

MR. ATTLEE emphasised that in the circumstances created by the development of new weapons, the United Kingdom had become very vulnerable to attack. The Empire had many of her eggs in a small basket in an uncomfortably exposed position. It was, therefore, of first importance for the United Kingdom to stimulate the independence of neighbouring European States.

As regards the route through the Mediterranean, this must necessarily remain of great interest to the British Commonwealth.

Our difficulty there was that we had no secure foothold of territory in the Middle East west of the southern end of the Red Sea. Mr. Bevin had already explained the difficulties in Egypt;

and Palestine would not provide a satisfactory alternative.

Mention had been made of the problem of India. There was one aspect of that problem not always realised. Thanks to the peace and security which we had maintained throughout India, her population was increasing at the rate of 5 million a year without a corresponding increase in her food resources.

LORD ADDISON said that two points in particular seemed to him to have emerged from the discussion; first, a general recognition of the need for more effective machinery for co-operation between the different parts of the Commonwealth; secondly, a general recognition that co-operation with the United States in many spheres of policy would also be necessary.

He wished to suggest that the possibility of closer economic cooperation should be explored. For instance, Australia was the producing area geographically marked out as the natural one to supply food to India, and he would like to suggest that there were here possibilities of building up trade on a very large scale. He hoped that the future Government in India would be willing to build up large stocks of grain as a reserve against recurring famine.

Reference had been made to the growth all over the world of the spirit of nationalism and the demand for better standards of life.

It would be a mistake for the Commonwealth to regard this as necessarily a menace to its well-being. That would depend on our method of approach to these movements. They might well be turned to our advantage.

The immediate question, as epitomised by Mr. Nash, seemed to him to be that the Meetings should think out machinery for making co- operation between the different parts of the Commonwealth more effective, particularly in the great area between New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. It seemed to him that there were great possibilities of building up a more coherent system than that which existed at present. It had been shown in the war that the different parts of the Commonwealth could co-operate closely to their mutual advantage. The same should be possible in peace.

Regional Organisation in South-East Asia and South-West Pacific 3. MR. BEVIN, during the course of his review of foreign policy, referred to the organisation which had recently been established in South-East Asia under Lord Killearn as Special Commissioner for the area. It seemed to him that this was an organisation which had great possibilities. There was great need for economic development in all the countries of South-East Asia, where there were great resources and the general standards of living were still low. It would be to the common advantage if these standards could be raised. There was here a vast potential market at present largely untapped. The area was one in which many countries were concerned.

Thus it was pre-eminently an area in which co-ordination of effort would be to the common advantage. He saw Singapore as the focal point in this co-ordination. Lord Killearn's headquarters would be there. He hoped that it would be the focus round which the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and India could build up the development of the whole area. The British Commonwealth and Empire was somewhat strung out in this part of the world; he looked to the new organisation at Singapore to provide a meeting ground for certain practical purposes, and he hoped that it could be built up to provide a binding link between the different parts of the Empire. While we should need and value the co-operation of foreign countries immediately interested in the area, such as France, Siam and the Netherlands East Indies, he did not see that a forward policy in this area need bring us into conflict with any of the other Great Powers.

Lord Killearn's organisation was starting in a modest way. At the moment it was primarily concerned with the urgent problem of organising and coordinating food supplies for the area. Lord Killearn had just held a useful Conference on this subject, at which the heads of the administration of all the territories had been present and also a representative from Australia. Mr. Bevin saw further useful work to be done in the field of nutrition, a subject on which Australia and New Zealand had already contributed much. There seemed to him also room for the development of broadcasting and other publicity services and for the coordination of shipping facilities. The organisation would be able to draw on the experience gained by the South-East Asia Command which had covered the whole area. He suggested that the opportunity should be taken of the meetings of Prime Ministers to discuss fully the possibilities of developing the new organisation.

DR. EVATT said that he had been much interested in Mr. Bevin's statement. He welcomed his emphasis on the need for improved economic standards in the area. That was important from the point of view of both security and welfare. He recalled that Australia and New Zealand had themselves proposed a year or two ago the establishment of a regional commission for the South-West Pacific.

The area which it was to cover did not extend so far to the West as Singapore. He believed that there were great possibilities in the idea of closer association for regional purposes. He suggested that in studying the subject as suggested by Mr. Bevin, the earlier proposals made by Australia and New Zealand should be included. Mr. Bevin agreed to this suggestion.