171 Kevin to Burton
Minute 9 May 1947,
CO-OPERATION IN EMPIRE DEFENCE SOUTH EAST ASIA
The Australian Memorandum
The accompanying memorandum is the outcome of the Prime Ministers' Conference in London in 1946. It embodies the Australian reaction to certain British proposals, which proposals, Mr. Chifley said at the time, would be examined in Australia, after which a memorandum, based on conclusions reached here, would be prepared for consideration at an inter-governmental level. Before submitting the memorandum to the Prime Minister for his approval, Mr. Dedman requests the views of Dr. Evatt on whether paragraph 7 is satisfactory from the External Affairs aspect.
United Kingdom Proposals
2. Paragraph 7 recites the British proposal, made at the conference, 'that each member of the British Commonwealth agrees that it is in their (its) strategic interest to assist both politically and militarily in maintaining our (the British Commonwealth) interest in those protective areas which directly effect the security of their (its) territories and communications'.
3. The general principle is to be implemented by each member agreeing 'to take all steps, political and military, in those areas in which it is directly concerned so as to maintain conditions favourable to the British Commonwealth and to accept joint responsibility for their defence in war'. Here again the proposal is a British one.
Implications of the Proposals
4. As the memorandum remarks, the practical application of these proposals involves important considerations, and impinges on the sovereign control of policy. It therefore seems desirable that some of their implications be closely examined.
5. In the first place, do the proposals as they stand mean a transfer to Australia of the political initiative on behalf of the British Commonwealth in South East Asia, such initiative being shared with New Zealand.
6. If this is the intention, it is to be presumed:-
(a) that the initiative will be ours in a real sense. Especially in relation to Indonesia, instances have occurred where a Foreign Office policy, based largely on non-area considerations, has supplanted the possibility of any other policy. It is true, with respect to Indonesia, that Australian policy was only infrequently expressed and then only in narrow contexts, e.g. the sale of arms to the Dutch. In these cases, however, the United Kingdom attitude has sometimes been emphatic to the point where it virtually excluded any policy but its own. The same remark might be applied to Sarawak, although here the complaint is initially on the score of consultation.
(b) that the initiative will embrace the whole field of policy, including in particular such problems as recognition which have important practical consequences. Here again the United Kingdom and Australia approaches to the Indonesian situation provide examples of divergence.
(c) that no unilateral actions will be taken by other British countries, which in practice means by the United Kingdom.
7. On our side, a genuine acceptance of the initiative would presumably carry with it the understanding- (a) that the formulation of area policies will be expedited.
(b) that our representation in the area will be expanded, and in some places, considerably strengthened.
(c) that there will be a full transmission of regional information from Australia.
(d) that there will be an adequate measure of consultation on area problems.
(e) that Australia will undertake primary responsibility for the handling of defence problems arising from the application of Australian policy to particular areas.
8. If the proposals contemplate the transfer of political initiative, this should more clearly be brought out in the Australian memorandum, assuming that we are ready to accept the responsibility. The above understandings should at the same time be expressed in some way. If, on the other hand, the United Kingdom intends to retain the initiative, there should be some clearer indication of that intention than is at present the case.
Any failure, here or in the United Kingdom, plainly to recognise the nature and degree of our respective responsibilities in South East Asia from this point onwards can only have the most damaging results.
9. An entirely distinct question is this: Is Australia prepared to accept as a fundamental ingredient of her area policies the rule, embodied in the second proposal, that those policies must at all times be such as to ensure not, it is to be observed, conditions favourable to Australia alone but conditions favourable to the British Commonwealth as a whole? If we are ready to accept this formula, it seems desirable that these additional understandings should be recorded in the Australian memorandum or in some other way- (a) that Australia must be the ultimate judge of what in South East Asia does or does not ensure 'favourable conditions to the British Commonwealth as a whole'.
(b) that in estimating what are 'favourable conditions', full regard will be paid to obligations imposed by the United Nations Charter.
Machinery for Consultation
10. The proposals finally imply that, whatever other reading is given to them, the machinery for consultation on political as distinct from purely defence questions will be improved.
11i. Present methods leave much to be desired. There is an insufficiency of consultation on political subjects of regional importance to us. This partly derives from inadequate machinery.
No area problem can be competently handled by the United Kingdom, if it retains the initiative in South East Asia, or by Australia if it takes over that initiative, unless the present political machinery between here and London is radically improved. The initial requirement seems to be that our political representation in London should be overhauled to keep pace with the considerable changes which have been made in our military representation at that centre. The important thing is that nothing should be lost to us through anomalies in channels of communication or through the inability of political staff, on account of inadequate numbers or otherwise, to maintain contact on an appropriate level, exercising an astringent influence where necessary, with British political departments, especially with the Foreign Office, the Dominions Office and the Colonial Office where there is sometimes evidence of a frame of mind altogether out of keeping with the inevitable changes that are occurring in South East Asia.
12. The British proposals raise implications which are so important that both these and the reply given in the Australian memorandum to them should be the subject of Cabinet discussion. No doubt the present memorandum as a whole will be considered by Cabinet in due course, before it goes forward. Paragraph 7, however, is altogether inadequate from our point of view and it is suggested that an examination of it, posing the above questions, be embodied in a letter from Dr. Evatt to Mr. Dedman. Before preparing a draft of this, however, it would be helpful to have your views and, if possible, an indication of any recommendations which you feel might be conveyed directly or obliquely.