15 Cablegram from Menzies1 to Casey and Spender2

Canberra, 15 October 1954

251. Secret Immediate


Your 585.3

  1. McBride,4 Spicer5 and I have given some thought to the situation that seems to be shaping up in New York on this matter, and are somewhat concerned by it.
  2. Vyshinsky6 appears to have put forward proposals7 which have distinct, if superficial, similarity to the Anglo-French proposals of last May in London.8 As his proposals seem to us at first sight entirely unacceptable the mere fact of this similarity puts us at an initial disadvantage.9
  3. The wisest course open to us seems to be that which Selwyn Lloyd10 is reported to be following, namely to seek detailed clarification from Vyshinsky of his proposals on aspects clearly unsatisfactory to us. A process of this kind may show how dissimilar the proposals are in reality and ease the disadvantageous propaganda position in which we find ourselves.
  4. The sort of matters I have in mind on which Vyshinsky has been either vague or silent are:
    1. Verification of levels of armaments, armed forces and expenditure as at 1 December 1953;
    2. Entirely nebulous character of temporary control organ, which has weaknesses of past Soviet inspection proposals, and justification for two control organs, one temporary and one permanent. I am sure you will agree that the permanent organ, which seems to be based on Western proposals, is unlikely ever to be set up;
    3. Simultaneous setting up of control machinery and commencement of reductions and, in stage 2, of prohibitions. Must we not be satisfied with control machinery before disarmament operations start?
    4. What is the significance of responsibility of the temporary control organ to the Security Council? It will be subject to one-sided control of veto while permanent organ is freer from veto.
  5. It seems to me essential that the details of any directions to the Disarmament Commission should be worked out now, and not left to the Commission itself where Soviet opportunities for propaganda based on Anglo-French proposals to that Commission would be plentiful. Furthermore, interrogation of Vyshinsky at this stage will make it pretty plain with what sincerity he approaches the matter.
  6. I have no doubt that these questions, and others, have occurred to you in New York, and that we will join in a carefully conceived plan of action in conjunction with the United States and the United Kingdom to make the best of this debate. There are, however, one or two more general aspects of this matter which concern me, and which I think you and Spender should have in mind when working out the way in which we might join in the debate.
  7. We are not well informed on the strategic effects of the plan put forward by the British and French in London. We do not know what would be the effect on the balance of forces either in Europe or, more important from our point of view, in the Far East, if such a plan were to be accepted by the Soviet Union. The Anglo-French plan looks to the ultimate banning of the manufacture of nuclear weapons and the destruction of all stocks. What we must ask ourselves is whether, if we surrender this deterrent, the conventional forces of the West will deter not merely the Russians in Europe but the Chinese in Asia. How far possession of the nuclear weapon can in fact be made a deterrent to war in Asia or the weapon can be used to significant advantage in limited war in Asia are matters upon which we are not fully informed. It may be that an appreciation directed to ascertaining the effects in the Far East would give less reassuring results than an examination of the situation in Europe resulting from abolition of the weapon.
  8. It is to my mind possible that Anglo-French initiative on the matter may have been based on political rather than military considerations. It is not, to my mind, impossible that the Russians might in large measure adopt the Anglo-French proposals. What would be the position if they did? Would not the present disparity in conventional armaments be at least maintained; and having regard to the absolute size of the forces might not our inferiority be even intensified? If some agreement could be reached on appropriate levels of forces do we then envisage a scheme whereby the United States will throw open all its defence establishments to Russian inspectors? Clearly the Russian chances of effective concealment exceed those of the West. Are we not likely to put ourselves in the position of eventually having to reject our own proposals?
  9. Even if matters never got that far, and we did no more than make a start by reducing conventional armaments as part of a programme looking towards agreement to abolish the bomb, how can we reverse this process if Russian performance did not match up to promises? What the Americans call the 'stigma' attached to atomic warfare, even as a threatened deterrent, would be so much the greater. We should avoid committing ourselves too far on the final stage of the process until we satisfy ourselves that the first stages have worked equitably.
  10. It would be a formidable responsibility to argue that the deterrent value of nuclear weapons (possessed by the Communists as well as ourselves) is so high that we must refuse to join in arrangements for their abolition. We must support a programme for continuing discussions with the Russians of a kind which will disclose the details of their proposals and where possible their motives. But whereas hitherto it has been possible to leave the running to the United Kingdom or French or Americans with no evident prospect that we should need to examine the precise effects of a Russian agreement, it is now evident that a country in Australia's geographic position must ask for full consultation and information on the effects of a disarmament programme. The preoccupations of the major powers with Europe and defence of the American Continent may cause less than due attention to be given to the growing significance of Chinese manpower in the strategic balance of forces.
  11. There ought, in my view, to be Commonwealth consultations before any further significant steps are taken by the United Kingdom on this matter.

For White11 only.

Please make these views known to United Kingdom authorities, particularly our need for consultation and access to United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff appreciations on strategic effects of various proposals, including the Anglo-French proposal. Spender reports some reluctance on part of United Kingdom delegation to consult in New York.

[NAA: A1209, 1957/5684]