208 Minutes of Meeting of Prime Ministers

PMM(46) 3rd Meeting LONDON, 24 April 1946, 11 a.m.


Military Bases in the Pacific The Meeting had before them- (a) A note by the Secretaries (P.M.M.(46)3) covering (i) a record of a meeting held in London with the United States Secretary of State on the 22nd January, 1946, regarding the request of the United States Government for military bases in British and other territory; (ii) telegrams from His Majesty's Ambassador in Washington reporting the results of informal technical discussions with United States representatives in Washington; and (iii) a report by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff prepared after consideration of the results of these informal technical discussions;

(b) A memorandum by the Prime Minister of Australia (P.M.M. (46)6) [1] setting out the views of the Australian Government on the general approach to the problem of regional security in the Pacific, including the use of military bases by the United States.

MR. CHIFLEY said that the Australian Government had reviewed the problem of defence in the South-West Pacific in the light of their experience in 1942/43. In the past, Australia and New Zealand had relied for their defence mainly on the military resources of the United Kingdom. They recognised that in the future they must themselves make a larger contribution towards the defence of the British Commonwealth; and they believed that it was in the Pacific that this contribution could best be made. The extent of their contribution would depend on the proportion of their national income which they found it possible to allot, in money and man- power, to defence purposes; but he believed that in this area Australia and New Zealand could make a substantial contribution.

He hoped, therefore, that it would be possible to devise a common scheme of defence for this area after discussion, in the first instance, between the Governments of the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, and thereafter with the United States Government.

At a later stage it might be possible to bring into the scheme the Governments of France, Portugal and the Netherlands, all of whom had possessions in this area. If such a common scheme of defence could be agreed upon, it would be appropriate that its operation should be controlled through the defence organisation in Australia.

It was against this background that the Australian Government viewed the United States' request for military bases in the Pacific. Base facilities should, they considered, be conceded to the United States only in return for the acceptance of defence obligations under an agreed scheme. It followed that the United States claims to sovereignty, or to exclusive rights, in certain islands in the Pacific should be resisted. The aim should be to agree upon joint use of all these bases in accordance with a common plan for the defence of the area as a whole.

DR. EVATT said that discussions about bases had been proceeding between the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States since November 1945, and in the earlier stages of these discussions the United Kingdom Government had been considering the matter on a world-wide basis. From a memorandum by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff, prepared in November last, which had not reached the Australian Government until February 1946 [2], it appeared that the question of Pacific bases was then being considered against that wider background, with the implication that concessions in this area might be balanced against the demands which the United Kingdom wished to put for-ward in respect of other areas. This was no doubt a natural approach for the United Kingdom Government, which had to look at the picture as a whole. It had, however, been somewhat disturbing to the Australian Government, who were primarily concerned with the problems of defence in the South-West Pacific; and he was relieved to find, from paragraph 9 of their later report annexed to P.M.M.(46)3, that the Chiefs of Staff now endorsed the view of the Australian Government that requirements for bases should be considered on a regional basis and as part of a regional plan for the South-West Pacific.

At the outset the United States Government had sought to support their request by putting for-ward claims to sovereignty over some of these islands in the Pacific. It now seemed unlikely that they would press this claim. They were now asking for exclusive rights in Canton, Christmas and Funafuti, and joint rights in other islands, some of which were under Australian mandate. Their claim to exclusive rights at Canton, Christmas and Funafuti was based on the ground that these islands were important stepping-stones in the direct line of communication between the United States and Australasia. But that was the very ground on which the Australian Government could not agree that exclusive rights should be conceded to the United States; for these islands were vital links in Australasian communications to the United States-and the islands were much nearer to Australia and New Zealand than they were to the United States.

The Australian Government considered that this problem of bases could not be taken in isolation, as the United States Government desired, but must be viewed as part of the problem of securing a common defence scheme for the area. In their view, military bases were incidental to defence obligations assumed under a common plan by the Governments interested in the defence of the area. The first step should be to agree upon a regional defence scheme consistent with Article 52 of the Charter of the United Nations Organisation; and the arrangements for the use of military bases in the area could then follow the obligations undertaken by the various countries under that regional scheme. The Australian Government favoured the principle of joint use of bases, rather than exclusive rights, for joint use was the natural corollary to joint obligations under a common defence scheme.

The Australian Government also considered that this was a matter in which the principle of reciprocity should be applied. The United States Government had argued hitherto that there was no question of reciprocity, since none of the Governments of the British Commonwealth had incurred expense in establishing bases in United States territory. This, however, was not what the Australian Government meant by reciprocity in this context. What they desired was an arrangement by which all the parties to a common defence scheme should be enabled in case of need to use each other's bases. Thus, if the United States Government obtained a mandate over the Caroline Islands, it should be possible for Australian forces to use base facilities in Truk.

MR. NASH said that the New Zealand Government agreed with the approach to this problem which was suggested by the Australian Government. He offered the following information about the particular islands concerned:-

Canton Island-Agreement had been reached that there should be an Anglo-American condominium of 50 years in this island. This seemed to be a satisfactory settlement of the sovereignty question. The island was a central point in Pacific communications and afforded unrivalled facilities for civil aviation.

Viti Levu-It was important that Nandi airfield should continue to be available to the British Commonwealth. The United States had not in fact borne the whole cost of the installations for the New Zealand Government had reclaimed only about half the expenditure which they had incurred.

Christmas Island-With the concurrence of the United Kingdom Government, the New Zealand authorities had made plans for civil aviation installations here as far back as 1937. The rights granted to the United States during the war were for military purposes.

Funafuti-It was important that the British Commonwealth should have joint rights in this island.

Johnston Island-While this was not mentioned in P.M.M.(46)3, the United States Government had built up certain installations on the island.

MR. BEVIN gave a short account of the discussions which he had held with the United States Secretary of State about the desire of the United States Government to secure bases in Iceland, the Azores and the Pacific.

Mr. Byrnes had first raised these questions during the first meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers in London in September 1945. He had then put forward the suggestion that the United States should secure a permanent base in Iceland. Mr. Bevin had been afraid of the repercussions of this proposal, which might have encouraged the Soviet Government to press for a base on Spitzbergen. An exclusive American base in Iceland would also directly affect the interests of the United Kingdom. We could not accept a situation in which the United States had exclusive rights there which we could not enjoy if we were involved in a war in which the United States were neutral. He had therefore endeavoured to persuade Mr. Byrnes to content himself with asking for a renewal of the present lease for a stated period. Mr. Byrnes had rejected this suggestion, but he had not yet secured a permanent concession from the Icelandic Government; and, if the Communist party won the forthcoming elections in Iceland, he might well fail to secure his object.

Mr. Byrnes had also invited the assistance of the United Kingdom in obtaining military air bases in the Azores. He had at length been per suaded to agree that his purposes would be served by a free base for civil aviation in the Azores. The United Kingdom Government had undertaken to use their good offices with the Portuguese Government to secure their consent to this proposal, and negotiations were about to begin.

Subsequently, Mr. Byrnes had informed Mr. Bevin that it would assist in securing Congress acceptance of the Loan proposals [3] if an arrangement could be made for the United States to obtain bases in the Pacific and on Ascension Island. Mr. Bevin had not responded to this suggestion, but Mr. Byrnes had reverted to it during the First Assembly of the United Nations Organisation. Mr.

Bevin had told him that the subject was not one on which the United Kingdom could act except in co-operation with other members of the Commonwealth who were intimately concerned. He had therefore arranged for the discussion of the 22nd January between Mr. Byrnes and Dominion representatives, a record of which was contained in Annex I to P.M.M.(46)3. It had then been agreed that there should be further discussions between experts in Washington.

The result[s] of these discussions were set out in the telegrams from Lord Halifax reproduced in Annex II to P.M.M.(46)3.

Mr. Bevin said that he had tried to ascertain from the United States authorities the scope of their requirements as a whole, but he had failed to elicit a complete or satisfactory reply. His suggestions for reciprocity, e.g., in the form of British Commonwealth use of United States bases in Manila, had been evaded. He had also been unable to learn precisely what facilities were required by the United States on defence grounds as distinct from facilities required primarily for civil aviation. Mr. Byrnes had denied that considerations of civil aviation carried weight, but it could not be overlooked that the force of civil aviation interests in the United States politics was considerable.

On the 23rd April a message had been received from the United States Government pressing strongly for some pronouncement on this question with a view to facilitating the passage of the Anglo- American Loan Agreement through Congress. Mr. Bevin hoped that he might be authorised to inform Mr. Byrnes that, in order to meet the wishes of the United States Administration, the British Commonwealth Governments concerned had been considering these issues and invited the United States Government to join them in a Conference to discuss these and connected matters. In making this suggestion he had taken into account the proposal in Article 34 of the Australia - New Zealand Agreement of 1944. [4]

MR. CHIFLEY said that he agreed in principle that some such communication should be made to Mr. Byrnes. He would, however, be glad to have an opportunity for comment on the precise terms of the proposed communication. He would prefer that the emphasis should be on the need for a common defence scheme for the area, to which the bases question would be a corollary.

MR. BEVIN said that he would circulate the draft of his proposed communication and would welcome suggestions for textual amendment.

In further discussion the following points were made:-

(a) MR. CHIFLEY drew attention to the recommendation, in paragraph 30(b) of the report by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff annexed to P.M.M.(46)3, that 'the problem should be approached on a regional basis in the light of a general appreciation of our mutual requirements, but need not necessarily entail an overall Regional Agreement'. What was meant by the last part of this sentence? LORD ALANBROOKE said that the Chiefs of Staff were in favour of approaching this problem through a review of the defence requirements of the whole area and not, as the United States Government desired, by examining claims for base facilities in particular islands. At the same time, they thought it might be inexpedient to stipulate that there should be a formal Regional Agreement. The United States authorities might find difficulty in signing a formal agreement, which might have to be ratified by Congress. And the conclusion of a formal agreement which had to be notified to the United Nations Organisation might have the effect of bringing other countries into the discussions.

(b) it was pointed out that the general approach which British Commonwealth Governments wished to make to this problem was the opposite of that hitherto favoured by the United States Government, who had sought to deal with these matters in a series of bilateral discussions with the interested Governments. Thus, the United States had made it clear that they wished to deal separately with the Australian Government in respect of islands under Australian mandate, and would prefer that the United Kingdom Government should not be brought into these discussions. It also appeared, from paragraph 5 of the telegram dated the 10th April, 1946, from His Majesty's Ambassador at Washington (Annex 11 to P.M.M.(46)3), that they intended to ask the French Government for a joint base at Bora-Bora and the Dutch for joint bases at Biak and Morotai; and they evidently intended that the progress of each of these separate negotiations should, so far as possible, remain unknown to the other parties.

There was general agreement that British Commonwealth Governments should oppose this bilateral method of approach.

(c) It had been suggested in the discussion that the United States Government had decided not to press their claim to sovereignty over some of the islands. MR. BEVIN said that, while less emphasis had recently been placed on the sovereignty argument, he doubted whether these claims should be regarded as withdrawn. There was some reason to believe that they might be revived.

MR. ATTLEE, summing up the discussion, said that the Governments of the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand were evidently in broad agreement regarding the lines on which these United States requests for bases in the Pacific should be handled. He hoped, that within the next day or so, agreement would be reached on the text of a formal declaration which the Foreign Secretary might make to the United States Secretary of State during the course of the forthcoming meetings of Foreign Ministers in Paris; and Mr.

Bevin would, in addition, take that opportunity of an informal talk in which he could explain to Mr. Byrnes the difficulties which Commonwealth Governments would find in dealing with these requests on the basis on which they had been put forward by the United States Government. He would, in particular, make it clear that we should find special difficulty in conceding the claim to exclusive rights in Canton, Christmas and Funafuti; and that we considered that facilities for the joint use of military bases should be granted as part of an agreement involving the acceptance of common obligations for defence in the area. Mr. Bevin would no doubt be able to report the result of his discussions with Mr.

Byrnes before the Dominion Ministers left London; and it might be possible, if that became necessary, to arrange for Mr. Byrnes himself to discuss these matters with Dominion Ministers before he returned to the United States.

1 Document 207.

2 See Document 96, note 3.

3 See Document 121, note 3.

4 For a conference between governments with 'existing territorial interests' in the South and South-West Pacific on problems of security, post-war development and native welfare.

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