49 Memorandum From Cumpston to Watt
Memorandum, Wellington, 16 February 1951
NO. 83. TOP SECRET
At a combined meeting of Officers of the Department of External Affairs and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, [held on 31/1/51] various possible courses with regard to the security arrangements in the Pacific, involving the participation of New Zealand, were discussed. These were as follow:-
1. A direct treaty arrangement with the United States, involving a formal American commitment to secure New Zealand and Australia against any threat arising in the Pacific. It was agreed by the meeting that a formal treaty of this kind was clearly unattainable. In particular, it was felt that New Zealand was not in a position to offer an adequate quid pro quo for an American guarantee, restricted to Australia and New Zealand. It was suggested that the offer of potential bases in the Ross Dependency, for operations in Antarctica, might be of some practical value. The point was made, however, that Antarctica did not have the same strategic significance as the Arctic and that in any case, the conducting of sea and air operations, south of New Zealand, would probably be the responsibility of New Zealand rather than the United States. It was agreed that further consideration should be given to the strategic significance of Antarctica.
2. A comprehensive security pact in the Pacific including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Asian Commonwealth countries and other non-Communist countries of the Far East and South-East Asia. It was agreed that the disadvantage for New Zealand of being associated with a wide Pacific Defence Pact would be outweighed by the advantage of the accompanying United States guarantee of New Zealand's defence security. It was felt that the provision by New Zealand of significant forces for the defence of certain South-East Asian countries would be a misdirection of military effort.
3. The present United States 'insular' proposal for a limited defence pact including New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines and Japan, together with the United States and the United Kingdom, the last named in respect of Pacific Island territories only. The discussion made reference to the fact that New Zealand could not expect to obtain an effective long term guarantee without paying a high price for it, in this case a formal commitment to contribute towards the defence of the North Pacific, while it was not clear that it would offer any guarantee against Japanese aggression in the future when the Communist problems have been solved. It does not thus necessarily attain the fundamental aim of obliging the United States to assist in the defence of New Zealand.
The conclusion of a formal treaty on these lines would prima facie over-ride New Zealand's existing undertaking to the United Kingdom to employ forces for the Middle East in the event of war against the Soviet Union and its associates and it would run counter to the spirit of the British Commonwealth that member countries should first render assistance to each other.
It might entail New Zealand forces being committed to the defence of the Philippines for instance, when we would rather elect, for political and military purposes, to employ them in the defence of Commonwealth territory, such as Malaya. It also had the implications that New Zealand might, in certain circumstances, have to accept assistance from Asiatics in defending New Zealand against other Asiatic powers. Such assistance might be as unwelcome as the aggression being resisted. It was also uncertain whether such a pact could be evoked in the event of aggression by one signatory against another.
4. An informal American undertaking, giving assurance to New Zealand and Australia that the United States would not stand aside should any attempt be made to disturb the peace of the South Pacific area. The Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand would make reciprocal statements identifying their respective defence interests with those of the United States. The present reciprocal arrangement between Canada and the United States would provide the pattern for such an undertaking. In the discussion of these courses, the point was made that that there was not the same economic interdependence between Australia and New Zealand on the one side and the United States on the other, as there was between the United States and Canada. An attack on the United States, would mean an attack on Canada. Because of the lack of similar close associations between New Zealand and the United States, a proposal of the kind under consideration would necessarily remain imperfect. It had, however, the great advantage in that it would save all embarrassment of undesirable partners.
The meeting felt that the two fundamental considerations were that from the political point of view they were concerned first to ensure the maintenance and security of the British Commonwealth of Nations and, from the purely military point of view, to preserve and present commitments to the United Kingdom to employ our forces in war to the maximum possible advantage.
Although on military grounds there were no reasons for an approach by New Zealand to the United States for he conclusion of a Pacific Defence pact, nevertheless there was no military objection to such a pact, provided that New Zealand's commitments under it did not conflict with the proposed contribution to Commonwealth and Allied strategic plans in a vital theatre of war.
At a meeting of the Joint Planning Committee on 9th February, 1951 a suggestion was put forward that the United States should publicly state that they recognised that New Zealand, through its indirect association through the United Kingdom in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is prepared, if making any prudent provision for local and regional defence, to employ its forces to the maximum advantage of the Allies in war and that the United States, because of this, will ensure the security of New Zealand against attack. This course would not impose any additional complications on New Zealand, other than to continue to plan to use its forces to the maximum possible advantage in war, while it would probably not depend on day to day consultation to remain effective.
The meeting reached the following conclusions:-
(a) It is in the interests of New Zealand that an early peace treaty should be concluded with Japan and the necessary supporting arrangements should be determined as soon as possible.
(b) A security arrangement in the Pacific, parallel to the North Atlantic Treaty, is desirable as a long-term object of policy.
(c) There would be no fundamental military objections to a formal treaty linking the United States, Australia and New Zealand if it were possible of attainment.
(d) A comprehensive Pacific Pact would be unsound at present from the military point of view.
(e) The Dulles proposal would be acceptable on military grounds if it were the only means of arranging for an early Peace Treaty, for the reasons given in sub-paragraph (a) above, and provided the United States would agree, and could ensure that the other signatories agreed, that New Zealand forces should always be used in war in accordance with the agreed allied policy and overall strategy and not restricted to the defence of any countries, signatory to the Pact, which might be directly threatened. Even so, to attain our fundamental aim it should if possible be linked with one of the two courses examined below.
(f) An informal undertaking on the pattern of the Canada/United States arrangement would probably be ineffective because of lack of sufficient mutual problems.
(g) From the purely military point of view effective recognition of the part New Zealand plans to play in war would be the best means of associating the United States with the Security of New Zealand.
At a meeting of the New Zealand Cabinet held on Friday, 9th February, 1951, immediately prior to the departure of the Minister of External Affairs the Hon. F. W. Doidge, for Australia to consult with the United States Ambassador at Large, Mr. J. F. Dulles, and the Minister of External Affairs, the Hon. P. C. Spender, at Canberra, it was decided broadly to follow the recommendations of the General Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Planning Committee, set out above.
While it is realised that most of the foregoing will have been communicated to you by Mr. Doidge and his party, nevertheless it is felt that you may wish to have it on record, as it represents the considered opinion of those concerned with the question in this country.
It will be noticed that the New Zealand Government considers the obligation that it has undertaken to supply troops for the defence of the Suez Canal area as its primary commitment. The Suez Canal area is considered to be of vital importance and is likely to remain as New Zealand's first consideration.
Copy of the minutes of the meeting of the Chiefs of Staff Committee on 31st January, 1951 and the Joint Planning Committee on 7th February, 1951 have already been despatched to the Department of Defence by the Defence Representatives.