38 Submission from Townley1 to Cabinet

Canberra, February 1959

Top Secret

Submission No. 59: Strategic Basis of Australian Defence Policy

I submit for consideration by Cabinet the attached report of the Defence Committee on the strategic basis of Australian defence policy.

  1. The report re-affirms some of the main principles of the previous strategic basis approved by Cabinet in March 1957.2 In particular, it is still assessed that global war is unlikely as a deliberate act of policy, and that the most likely wars are limited wars which could occur with little warning. Communist leaders will continue to rely principally on cold war tactics in pursuing their expansionist aims (Paras 6-9).
  2. The Defence Committee makes the following points, some of which involve important reappraisals of the developing situation in South East Asia, our area of primary strategic interest:
    1. In the global sphere, the nuclear delivery capability of the U.S.S.R. is overtaking that of the West, and a state of parity could soon be reached (Para. 6);
    2. Communist China, already the predominant Asian nation, may be expected to consolidate its influence in the Far East (Para. 11);
    3. It is possible that in the very near future tactical nuclear weapons, under Russian control, will be deployed in China (Para. 11);
    4. The countries of South East Asia are politically unstable and militarily weak and unreliable. The strength of the United States and United Kingdom positions in the area is being prejudiced by nationalism, neutralism and communist influence (Paras. 12 and 17);
    5. Experience has demonstrated that SEATO is limited in certain important respects. It has, however, had some success in deterring further communist expansion in South East Asia. The Asian members will probably adhere to the pact (Paras. 20-22);
    6. A new and important factor which must be taken into account is the rapidly increasing military strength of Indonesia and its potential threat to Australia's interests in the area (Paras. 13 and 14).
  3. An innovation in the report is its aim to cover as far as practicable the next ten years. This has been done because the complexity of modern equipment is such that many years now elapse between the statement of an operational requirement and the final incorporation of a new weapons system in the Services; and once committed, the Services are unable to afford the cost of frequent re-equipment programmes (Paras. 1-3).
  4. The Committee further recommends that priorities for provision of war materiel should be in accord with the priority for the provision of forces (Paras. 48-52).

    Matters for Cabinet

  5. I consider that the conclusions of the Defence Committee are soundly based and accord with the realities of the politico/military situation with which Australia is likely to be confronted in the years immediately ahead. If accepted, they will involve far-reaching changes in our defence preparations, particularly in the shaping of the forces to fit them for independent action; the organisation of reserves, and the future of National Service training; the structure of the forces; and preparations for the provision of war materiel. All these matters will be the subject of further reports by the Committee and submission to Cabinet in due course. In the meantime I seek a general endorsement by Cabinet of the Strategic Basis presented in the attached report.

Strategic Basis of Australian Defence Policy3

Top Secret Guard

[matter omitted]

Use of Nuclear Weapons in Asia

  1. The Allies lack the conventional forces to oppose effectively large-scale attacks by the greatly superior Communist ground forces. In such a case, a successful defence would require the use of nuclear weapons. However the increasing Communist strategic offensive capability and the possible deployment of nuclear weapons to China would make their use a most serious step; not only would it have a profound effect on world opinion, particularly in Asia, but it would greatly increase the risk of nuclear retaliation and an extension to global war. The decision lies with the United States and United Kingdom Governments, at the highest level, and will not finally be made in advance of particular situations. However, provided the Communists believe that the Allies would use nuclear weapons in Asia, a deterrent to open aggression will exist.

    Military Effectiveness of Regional Arrangements

  2. It is accepted that Australia cannot defend herself unaided against a major power, and reliance has been placed on collective security arrangements. In recent years the major objective of Australian defence policy and planning has been to develop the means to contribute forces in support of such arrangements, particularly in SEATO.
  3. SEATO has probably contributed to the change in Communist tactics in the area in that emphasis has moved away from armed aggression in favour of subversion, and the Asian members are confronted with a less serious threat from subversion than other countries in South East Asia. Moreover, SEATO involves the United States in a general obligation to assist in the defence of the Treaty area against Communist aggression.
  4. Strategic concepts for the defence of South East Asia in the event of aggression by Viet Minh and/or Chinese Communist forces were developed during 1956/57. These concepts assume the use of nuclear weapons by the west and envisage that substantial external ground, air and naval forces will also be required to defend the mainland of South East Asia.4

[matter omitted]

[NAA: A1838, TS677/3 part 2]