18 Note by Gilfedder1

Canberra, 23 June 1955

Disarmament—Soviet Proposals2

[matter omitted]

Australian Viewpoint

It will be recalled that because of inherent uncertainties connected with a proposal by the United Kingdom to try to establish the level of armed forces on a population criterion, the Prime Minister telegraphed London in October, 1954,3 stating that in view of the growing significance of Chinese manpower in the strategic balance of forces there should be Commonwealth consultation before any important steps were taken by the United Kingdom on this matter.

The United Kingdom approach4 based on a formula was a real problem for Australia since certain countries with high density populations would actually be able to build up their forces after disarmament had begun. While Australia adhered strongly to the principle of disarmament it was felt that the United Kingdom formula based on population alone was artificial in principle and would be most difficult for the following reasons:

  1. An Asian neighbour, Indonesia, with a population of over 80m. could build up a force of close to one million, while Australia would be held to a comparatively low ceiling on the basis of our population. What would happen if Indonesia became a satellite of the Communists?
  2. We would worry about the effect of any such formula on the U.S. Strategic forces' position in reference to South East Asia.

The United Kingdom has now turned away from its proposal for the use of the population criterion as a sole factor. The new proposal now includes demographic, geographic, economic and political factors.

If we look at the revised United Kingdom thinking in conjunction with the compromise Anglo-French proposals5, there are still some difficulties facing Australia:

  1. Would the 'freeze' of overall military expenditure as at 31st December, 1953, unless followed by some positive measures for disarmament leave Australia in a low state of preparedness.
  2. Would the 'agreed reductions' in the Anglo-French compromise proposals be acceptable if they take account of all essential strategic conditions in addition to 'economic', 'political', 'demographic', and 'geographic' factors.

Obviously Australia is and has a special case, not only because of her Treaty commitments, but also because of her actual position on the map in relation to the densely populated areas in Asia. We would therefore expect some system of 'weighting' to be used in relation to any maximum allowable figure. This could be based on the factors already referred to. Furthermore, we would seek for a distinction to be made by any proposals between our permanent forces and citizen and reserve forces. In other words, we would consider, for ceiling purposes only, our permanent forces, the ceiling for which would be adjusted in accordance with the geographic, political, economic and demographic factors previously mentioned.

We welcome any 'real' changes which have developed as a result of the Soviet proposals of 10th May, but we should insist in dealing with the United Kingdom that we have a 'special' case in relation to the compromise Anglo-French proposals to which we broadly subscribe.

When the Defence Department's views on the Russian proposals are received, it should be possible to clarify the Australian attitude very considerably.

[NAA: A1209, 1957/5685 part 3]