102 Minutes of Meeting of Prime Ministers

PMM (48) 11th Meeting LONDON, 20 October 1948, 11 a.m.


CONFIDENTIAL ANNEX MR. ATTLEE said that the discussions on foreign affairs had been an essential preliminary to the consideration of defence problems.

At the outset of the Meeting, the United Kingdom Government had circulated a paper (P.M.M.(48)1) [1] in order that all members of the Commonwealth might be informed of their views on the defence aspects of the world situation. They recognised that the facts set out must be seen in a different light and approached from a different angle by each of the Commonwealth countries. Principles of policy might be generally agreed, but their practical application must vary with the special interests, status and geographical position of each country. The Meeting should by this time be well informed as to United Kingdom views. The United Kingdom Government in its turn was now seeking the views of the Commonwealth countries, so that, if possible, a common view might be established.

[matter omitted]

Lord Tedder [2] then discussed the broad outlines of strategy in a possible war. The conclusion had been reached that the fundamental basis for United Kingdom strategy must rest on the defence of the United Kingdom; on the maintenance of sea communications between the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth and the United States; and on the defence of the Middle East. The strategy of a world-wide war would have many facets. Each country would have problems of its own; groups of countries in various regions would have their different regional problems. The United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff thought that these regional problems might be discussed and worked out amongst those immediately concerned so that they might be fitted into the world-wide problems with which all Commonwealth countries were concerned. In Western Europe some progress had been made in this direction; the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff would like to feel that similar progress was being made in other fields, especially as regards the defence of the Middle East, in which so many members of the Commonwealth were more or less directly concerned. If, without setting up any complicated organisation, Ministers could give authority for their military advisers to consult on this specific problem and to draft concerted plans, without committing their Governments, an advance would have been made towards filling a very dangerous gap in the armour against aggression.

[matter omitted]

DR. EVATT said that his Government were in general agreement with the views and proposals contained in P.M.M. (48) I, though this did not imply acceptance in detail. He thought that this paper contained three basic assumptions: that the Soviet Union was unlikely to provoke a major war in the immediate future; and that the Soviet Government hoped to obtain their objectives by methods such as political pressure and infiltration which fell short of active aggression; and that the democratic Powers must maintain a firm and united front against further Soviet pressure, and prepare themselves against the eventuality of unforeseen war. Whatever estimate might be made of Soviet intentions, prudence demanded that the Western Powers should take into account the possible risk that a minor incident might result in war, and experience had shown the risks attendant on failure to maintain Commonwealth defences in an adequate state of preparation. For these reasons, the Australian Government were in general agreement with the views of the Chiefs of Staff, as set out in the Appendix to P.M.M. (48) 1. The Australian Government had, indeed, already adopted a five- year defence plan, which would involve a total expenditure of 250 millions; and a large part of this expenditure would be devoted to the technical and research side of defence. When Commonwealth Prime Ministers last met in 1946, there had been agreement on the need for the development of close consultation in defence matters;

but only the Australian and New Zealand Governments had attempted to give concrete effect to the recommendations then made. In their view, it was not sufficient for Commonwealth Governments to consider defence problems on a regional basis; for instance, in the last war, Australian and New Zealand troops had early been employed in defence of the Middle East. If war came, it would not be a regional war; and consultation on defence matters should take place on the Commonwealth as well as a regional basis.

The second major consideration which Commonwealth Governments ought to keep in mind was the close interconnection of political and defence policy. It was an axiom that international collective security could only he established in an atmosphere of international confidence, though it might be true that, once such confidence had been secured, little attention would be given to building up arrangements for security. There was no doubt that even a limited agreement on the restriction of armaments would contribute significantly towards the growth of international confidence. The Charter admittedly contemplated the establishment of regional defence arrangements, but it ought to be remembered that, in so far as this involved the division of the world into two groups, the ultimate aim of world-wide collective security might not be furthered. He did not dissent from the view that in military planning the assumption must be that the enemy would be Soviet Russia. The assumptions on which military planning took place necessarily governed also the political decisions on such matters as policy in relation to Spain, but there was a risk that excessive concentration on the purely military aspects of any problem might obscure the equally important political issues involved. Political action based on considerations of justice might at times have to outweigh immediate military advantage; but there was a real sense in which action arising from moral considerations might bring substantial material advantage. In general, the basis of Commonwealth policy should be adherence to the principles of the United Nations and a determination to ensure the success of the Organisation. Reference had been made to the weaknesses which it had so far displayed; these had been accentuated by Soviet policy, but had not been unexpected. All were agreed that, in the economic and social fields, it had done work of the greatest importance; and in the political field its achievements had been substantially greater than many of its critics were willing to admit. For instance, the recent discussions in Paris had undoubtedly had a sobering effect on the Soviet authorities. Dr. Evatt did not think that there was any hope of a comprehensive agreement with the Soviet Government covering the whole field of the questions at issue, but he was not unhopeful that agreement could be reached step by step. It must, however, be made clear to the Soviet Government that an essential condition of a general settlement was that they must cease to intervene in the affairs of other countries through the means of Communist agents and parties.

MR. FRASER said that he was much impressed by Lord Tedder's remarks. He did not deny the importance of supporting the United Nations; but in his view a meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers had equal importance. If Commonwealth Governments agreed on unity and on the need for pooling their resources in time of trouble, a major contribution towards world peace would have been achieved.

Was it not possible for the Commonwealth and the United States together to declare their intention of defending world peace against any aggressor? He agreed with Dr. Evatt that each Commonwealth Government was necessarily closely interested in the regional arrangements covering its own area; the New Zealand Government was immediately concerned with the problems of the Pacific. But it was obvious that the events which affect the major issues of war or peace did not take place in the Pacific. In his view the right course was for all Commonwealth Governments to pool their knowledge and plans in the defence field. Even if the Meeting could not commit Governments, yet much could be achieved by securing identity of outlook between the Commonwealth representatives present. In 1946 the Prime Ministers Meeting had agreed on the need for establishing Military Liaison Staffs; but conditions had not been created in which this arrangement could work effectively. The New Zealand Government were anxious for the fullest information about the international situation and to learn what, in the view of the United Kingdom Government, was the best contribution which New Zealand might make in time of war and what form this should take. His Government wished for this information because both they and the people of New Zealand were fully alive to the necessity for an effective defence policy. In modern conditions of war, no country could hope to stand apart in isolation. The universal sense of danger underlined the need for co-operation; and he hoped that all Commonwealth Governments would recognise the need for mutual co-operation and consultation in the defence field.

The discussion was then adjourned until the afternoon meeting.

1 Document 100.

2 Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Tedder, Chief of the Air Staff.

[AA: A6712, 4 COPY 2]